KDAQ Repairs:

2:05am

Wed April 4, 2012
U.S.

Activist Puts Albany Neighborhood On The Bus Map

Originally published on Wed April 4, 2012 1:47 pm

The New York state capital, Albany, is a gathering place for the state's most powerful people.

But in the city's poor and predominately black South End neighborhood, many residents once felt powerless.

They had repeatedly asked for better public transit for South End, an area plagued with poverty and crime not far from New York's gated governor's mansion.

Today, the city's Route 100 bus glides easily up Morton Avenue, a steep hill in the South End neighborhood. Many feel there would be no Route 100 if not for the efforts of local resident Willie White.

White grew up on Morton Avenue and has spent most of his 52 years climbing the hill.

After an injury in 2009, White had to leave his job in the restaurant business. With an income from disability payments and more time on his hands, White looked around his neighborhood and saw that it needed help.

And White felt Morton Avenue, in particular, needed a bus.

For years, the bus stop was at the bottom of the hill. That was inconvenient for residents most of the year and treacherous in the winter.

"You would see seniors walking up the hill, trying to pull their shopping cart, just giving out and just stopping and sitting down," White says. "And you would see wheelchairs that ran out of battery power trying to come up that hill."

Many neighborhood residents don't have cars, and if someone needed to go to the hospital — a little more than a mile away — there was no direct bus route. The ride could take up to 45 minutes.

Residents had requested a bus route before, but White decided to make it happen.

He printed up and posted more than 1,000 fliers calling for a community meeting.

At first, only a few people showed up. But the group eventually grew and called itself "AVillage."

At the time, the Capital District Transportation Authority was in the midst of restructuring all of its bus routes.

"Believe me, Morton Avenue wasn't in the plans," White says. "We put Morton Avenue in their plans."

White circulated a petition and collected more than 1,300 signatures. His group joined forces with other community organizations.

Carm Basile, chief executive of the transportation authority, doubts the South End would have been overlooked in the new plans. But he still gives White credit for his persistence.

"What Willie made sure of — and I think what AVillage made sure of — is that the people in the South End, and the [bus] connection, [were] never forgotten."

The city launched the new Route 100 bus last November. It makes stops all along the Morton Avenue hill, and South End residents can now get to the hospital in less than 10 minutes.

Transit officials say the new route has attracted plenty of riders, like Deneen Carter, who uses the bus daily to get to work.

"I was so glad when they got the 100 [bus]," Carter says. "I was like, 'Yes! About time!'"

The bus also stops right in front Andrea Maoiville's home. She says she now doesn't have to use her asthma inhaler as often.

"I was miserable walking up this hill every day. Every day, 'cause I had no choice," Maoiville says. "But now, I love it. I go out every day."

White says the new route is long overdue.

Some in the community have likened him to Rosa Parks and the civil rights struggle she sparked. He doesn't mind the comparison.

"She taught us how to fight," White says. "She was fighting for a seat. Now ... forget the seat. We want the entire bus."

AVillage is now working to transform vacant lots in the neighborhood into gardens and helping to turn an old building into a community center. White also holds regular meetings with Albany's mayor and other local officials.

White's next project is to register as many voters as he can, to ensure his neighborhood will continue to be heard.

Copyright 2013 WMHT-FM. To see more, visit http://www.wmht.org/classical.

Transcript

STEVE INSKEEP, HOST:

A poor neighborhood in Albany, New York lived through a bitter irony. As residents of the state capital, they lived close to a center of power, but had no power themselves. Residents of the mostly black neighborhood tried and failed to get better public transit, until one man decided they should approach the problem differently. Marie Cusick from member station WMHT has a story of community activism.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Next stop, Holland Avenue and New Scotland Avenue.

MARIE CUSICK, BYLINE: The number 100 bus glides easily up Morton Avenue. It's a steep hill in Albany's South End neighborhood, an area plagued with poverty and crime, not far from New York's gated Governor's Mansion.

WILLIE WHITE: I've been climbing this hill for many, many, many years.

CUSICK: That's Willie White. He grew up here on Morton Avenue, and he's spent most of his 52 years climbing this hill on foot.

Three years ago, after an injury, he had to leave his job in the restaurant business. With an income from disability payments and more time on his hands, White looked around his neighborhood and saw that it needed help. Morton Avenue especially needed a bus. For years, the bus stop was at the bottom of the hill, which was inconvenient most of the year and treacherous in the winter.

WHITE: You would see seniors walking up the hill, trying to pull their shopping cart, just giving out and just stopping and sitting down. And you would see wheel chairs that ran out of battery power trying to come up that hill.

CUSICK: Many residents here don't have cars, and if someone needed to go to hospital, which is just over a mile away, there wasn't a direct bus route. The ride could take 45 minutes. Requests for a bus route had been made before, but White decided to make it happen.

He printed up and posted more than a thousand fliers, calling for a community meeting. At first, only a few people showed up, but the group eventually grew. They called themselves A Village. At the time, the Capital District Transportation Authority was in the midst of restructuring all of its bus routes.

WHITE: But believe me, Morton Avenue wasn't in the plans. We put Morton Avenue in their plans.

CUSICK: White circulated a petition and got more than 1,300 signatures, and his group joined forces with other community organizations. Carm Basile runs the Transportation Authority. He doubts the South End would have been overlooked in the new plans, but still gives White credit for his persistence.

CARM BASILE: What Willie made sure of, and I think what A Village made sure of is that the people in the South End and the connection was never forgotten.

CUSICK: Finally, last November, the Transportation Authority launched the new route 100 bus. It makes stops all along the Morton Avenue hill, and South End residents can now get to the hospital in under 10 minutes.

UNIDENTIFIED WOMAN: Route 100.

CUSICK: The Transportation Authority says the new route has attracted plenty of riders. Deneen Carter-el uses it every day to get to work.

DENEEN CARTER-EL: I was so glad when they got the 100. I was like, yes, it's about time.

CUSICK: The bus also stops right in front Andrea Maoiville's home. She says she doesn't have to use her asthma inhaler as much.

ANDREA MAOIVILLE: I was miserable walking up this hill every day. Every day, because I had no choice. But now, I love it. I go out every day.

CUSICK: White says the new route is long overdue. He doesn't mind comparisons to Rosa Parks and the civil rights struggle she sparked.

WHITE: She taught us how to fight, you know. And I said, she was fighting for a seat. Now we want the whole bus, forget the seat. We want the entire bus.

CUSICK: Now the group is working to transform vacant lots into gardens, and helping turn an old building into a community center. White also holds meetings with Albany's mayor and other local officials. And his next project is to register as many voters as he can to ensure his neighborhood will be heard.

For NPR News, I'm Marie Cusick. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.