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Queens Chronicle

Borough Board hits DOT, MTA on SBS

Members ask for more enforcement on bus drivers not following the rules

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Posted: Thursday, January 11, 2018 9:00 am

Representatives from the MTA and the Department of Transportation came before the Borough Board on Monday to discuss future Select Bus Service routes in Queens.

But one existing SBS project was all the Borough Board wanted to talk about — the controversial Q52/Q53 route along Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards.

“There are a lot of unhappy campers out there. Anecdotally, residents are complaining their commutes are longer,” Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton said. “I have not been to a meeting in the neighborhood since November where I haven’t got hit over the head with this. I can’t go to the grocery store without someone complaining.”

Installed in November, the Woodhaven/Cross Bay SBS route has been incredibly polarizing. The DOT said Monday that early reviews from bus riders have been positive, as their travel times have shortened, while motorists say the loss of a travel lane has worsened traffic significantly.

A number of entrepreneurs in South Queens have also complained, saying the removal of curbside parking has hurt their businesses.

Jessica Kuo, the DOT’s project manager for the SBS project, said she understands traffic during lane and median construction was “miserable.” But those issues, according to the agency, are going away.

“It’s still very early. It hasn’t even been two months, but we have been seeing positive benefits for bus travel,” Kuo said. “We’ve also been very closely monitoring the impacts on traffic. It does seem there’s no negative or very little impacts to traffic.”

That isn’t what Braton and others have heard, however.

“It appears to most of the people in the community that it’s all about buses and bus riders and to hell with everyone else,” the CB 10 chairwoman said. “We need to get a handle on if people’s commutes are being affected. You say you’re seeing an impact on bus speed, but what is the impact on our vehicles’ speed?”

“Motorists are not happy,” Councilman Bob Holden (D-Glendale) added. “It seems like the deck is stacked against motorists in the borough.”

Braton and Holden specifically implored the DOT to extend the hours when motorists are allowed to drive in the bus-only lanes in order to alleviate traffic.

From Dry Harbor Road to Metropolitan Avenue and Park Lane South to Liberty Avenue, the lanes are 24/7. From Union Turnpike to Myrtle Avenue, they are bus-only from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday to Friday. On Cross Bay Boulevard, the hours are 7 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Monday to Saturday.

But DOT Queens Commissioner Nicole Garcia said she doesn’t anticipate changing the rules just yet, as it could confuse motorists who are just getting used to the system.

“It is something that we are discussing internally,” Garcia said. “It’s not outside of the realm of possibility, but we just launched and we want to give it a chance.”

Another major issue, according to numerous Borough Board members, has been MTA drivers using regular travel lanes instead of the bus-only ones.

Braton said she and many others in South Queens have witnessed just that in recent months, adding that it only worsens traffic on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards.

“Private vehicles who go into the bus lanes get summonses, but buses are regularly coming out of the bus lanes and using travel lanes,” she said. “They shouldn’t be playing leapfrog with each other up and down the boulevard.”

A much more stern Dolores Orr, the chairwoman of Community Board 14, demanded the MTA take the issue as seriously as possible and crack down on drivers who disobey the rules.

“If I have to stay in my lane, they have to stay in their lane,” she said. “I don’t know what the MTA has done to have bus drivers stay in their lanes, but it’s not happening on Woodhaven Boulevard.

“They just drive wherever they want. There has to be some penalty for failing to follow the rules,” Orr added. “I’m officially asking you to have a supervisor go out and monitor to determine where this is happening.”

MTA representative Luke DePalma said the agency can only take action against drivers when the complaints levied have specific information — including the exact time and location of the infraction, as well as the bus number.

“I’m not sure that we aggressively enforce that, but it’s something we can look at,” he said. “Give us information that’s specific, that’s the best way.”

When traffic is heavy on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards, Holden said his smartphone navigation application Waze will often direct him to drive down area side streets to avoid backups.

One solution to the issue, he says, could be resynchronizing the traffic lights on the thoroughfare.

“You go two blocks, stop. Two more blocks, a red light,” Holden said. “If you sychronize the lights at rush hour, we can get the flow of traffic moving again.”

Garcia said that is something the agency will look into, while Kuo added that it “should not be happening.”

When it comes to expanding SBS in Queens, the DOT released a plan late last year that calls for the transformation of 11 borough bus routes into SBS ones within a decade.

Agency representative Aaron Segura said the expansion is all about simple math: 42 percent of Queens residents work in the borough while just 30 percent work in the heart of Manhattan.

And with much of the borough farther than a half-mile from either a subway or an SBS line, it’s time to add new transportation routes for the 42 percent of residents who don’t leave Queens.

“There’s a focus on commuter-only services, such as express buses and commuter rails to get you into Manhattan,” he said. “We’re trying to bridge the gap here with Select Bus Service.”

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1 comment:

  • pvrjr posted at 10:37 am on Sat, Jan 13, 2018.

    pvrjr Posts: 74

    A perfect example of a Catch-22: Good for Straphangers, bad for drivers. [beam]