The irony was not lost on those who attended Monday night’s transportation forum at the Queens County Farm Museum in Floral Park.
“As much as it is a great place, unless you were riding one of those horses, you’re not getting here by public transportation,” quipped City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens), eliciting laughter from the dozens of residents, business owners and community leaders. He was referring to the defunct Q79 bus, which ran along Little Neck Parkway until it became a budget casualty last summer.
The loss of the 79 was just one of many concerns brought in front of a panel of elected officials, city Department of Transportation Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy, and representatives from the Metropolitan Transportation Authority Bus Co., the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives and the think tank Center for an Urban Future at the conference organized by the Queens Civic Congress.
Moderated by Holliswood Civic Association’s Harbachan Singh, the forum was broken down into two parts: Bus Service and General Transportation Issues.
“Halfway into the borough of Queens, the most important part of the transit system — the subway — stops,” QCC President Patricia Dolan noted. “We here in Queens rely on surface transit; our buses are our lifeline. When they cut our bus lines last year, they cut our circulation.”
Singh added, “Queens residents are upset at the lack of participation in the decision-making process.”
But it quickly became apparent at the outset that the MTA officials who could speak about the cuts were not in attendance on Monday.
“We do not have any input on reductions in bus routes and service; that’s handled by Operations Services,” said Brian Brennan, general manager of MTA New York City Transit’s Department of Buses Queens North Division. “Our focus has been in getting the buses in a better state of repair.”
Jim Trent, president of the farm museum, asked Brennan if routes, particularly overnight, go uncovered when a driver calls in sick.
“The policy of the company is to cover those runs,” Brennan said. “There are some runs that are left open sometimes due to manpower, but night bus services are to be covered a hundred percent of the time.”
Richard Hellenbrecht, of the Bellerose Commonwealth Civic Association commented on how viewing “convoys” of out of service buses rolling along Little Neck Parkway — the same thoroughfare from which the Q79 was removed — is like “salt in the wound.”
Brennan replied, “We’d like to have buses in service on Little Neck Parkway, but that’s not in our purview.”
Anna Peck, who is in charge of road operations for MTA buses, said the presence of empty buses on the LNP is a result of a request the agency received six to eight months ago to remove the vehicles from the Cross Island Parkway “due to a safety issue.”
The dialogue later returned to the 79. Bob Friedrich, president of the large co-op Glen Oaks Village and former candidate for city and state office, said the elimination of the line “left many residents prisoners in their own homes.” He then asked why other routes could not be extended or re-worked in such a way that those who relied on the 79 could be served.
“Bring me a proposal, but do not give me ‘restore, restore, restore,’” Councilman Jimmy Vacca (D-Bronx), chairman of the Transportation Committee, said to Friedrich. “You’re on the right path. I will advocate for something that will make some people happy — not everybody.”
Friedrich promised Vacca a specific proposal.
Kicking off the second part of the forum, Vacca talked about pedestrian plazas, bicycling and ferry service. He said he wants “community input from the beginning” when it comes to the plazas.
“Before you construct a pedestrian plaza, we have to know: Where is the traffic going to go? To what degree will traffic increase on surrounding streets?” Vacca asked. “If so, how do you ameliorate that traffic? You have to make sure traffic isn’t increased inappropriately, and deliveries are provided for.”
Vacca called bicycling a “good thing and environmentally clean activity,” but that the DOT needs to take into account the character of the neighborhoods in which they plan to accommodate cyclists.
“My concern is there are parts of our city that are car-dependent,” he noted. “You can’t eliminate parking for a bike lane.”
To that end, Vacca said he’d eventually like to see affordable, quick ferry service that would bring people from other boroughs to Manhattan.
McCarthy spoke briefly about the DOT’s focus on maintaining the city’s infrastructure, including filling potholes.
“The safety of everyone who uses our streets is our highest priority,” she said.