But wait—what replaced the trolleys? Buses, of course, but Greenwald writes them off. "Buses... were tertiary, connecting commuters first-and-foremost to subway lines." But I don't think that's true; many buses do stop near subway stations, yes, but that's not the only thing they do: they also connect disparate communities, allowing for direct, low-cost travel between neighborhoods that most subway lines don't. Want to get from Bay Ridge to Brownsville? There's a B8 for that. Or you could take the R all the way to Atlantic Avenue and transfer to the 3 all the way back into Brooklyn. (Granted, the bus system is underfunded: the MTA recently cut and consolidated entire routes in reaction to budgetary shortfalls—it seems there's always a rally in some neighborhood demanding more bus service—and other lines can have long waits between buses. Still, particularly in warm weather, it's usually not so bad.)
One commenter on the Atlantic piece scoffs at how difficult interborough travel can be. "We live in Crown Heights," the commenter writes, "and if we want to go to Williamsburg, it's easier to take the train into Manhattan and take the L from Union Sq. back into Brooklyn!" But in fact there's a simple way to get from Crown Heights to Williamsburg: the B43, which goes up Kingston to Throop (through Bed-Stuy) to Graham, stopping by the north end of McCarren and continuing up to around the Pulaski Bridge. So why don't more people take it?
Of course, people do ride the buses. In 2012, more than 200 millions rides were taken on Brooklyn buses alone, according to MTA statistics—more than in any other borough. (Another 1.5 million express-bus trips were taken.) But there's a divide between bus and subway riders that Adelle Waldman identifies in her forthcoming novel The Love Affairs of Nathaniel P.: "He only superficially lived among the poor. They walked the same streets and rode the same subways (the buses, however, were largely ceded to the underclass)."
As a kid growing up in Bay Ridge, my mother didn't drive, so we often took the bus while dad was at work: to the doctor, to a museum or the Brooklyn Botanic Garden. And it's a habit I carried with me into adulthood: when I went to Brooklyn College, I took the B4 to the B6. When I dated a girl who lived in Prospect Lefferts Garden, I took the B16. To get back from Coney Island, I'll take the B64. When I head home from Bar 718, I hop on the B63. One of my earliest published pieces of writing was an op-ed for the Brooklyn Eagle about the potentially disastrous effect of canceling B37 service in Sunset Park.
Which is all to say that, though I ride the subway most days, I'm also a bus guy. But I don't have a single friend who also rides the buses with any kind of regularity, even though most of them are also Brooklyn natives. Sometimes if they meet me in South Slope I'll get them to take the Fifth Avenue bus back to Bay Ridge with me—at that hour of night, it fucking flies—and they always marvel at the fact that they're on a bus. "I haven't been on one of these since high school," one once told me. That had been more than 10 years ago.
Why is that? Why do so many middle-class twentysomethings turn up their noses at riding the bus? I think it's the same underlying Manhattan-centrism that guided the building of the subway system. Underground trains have this romantic allure of fundamental New Yorkness that buses lack. Subways are cool. But that coolness is rooted in the fact that all routes lead to the Big City, while buses take you from fucking Bay Ridge to fucking Brownsville. Even for people who have abandoned this kind of thinking, who participate in arts happening across the outerboroughs or eat in new restaurants and drink in old bars, this assumption still resides—unrealized, unconscious—and informs their opinions of the bus system. Get over it. Ride one every once in a while. It's the Brooklyn thing to do.
Follow Henry Stewart on Twitter @henrycstewart