The city Department of Transportation’s plans to build dedicated bus lanes along Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards — and perhaps bring select bus service along the route in the future — was met with some concern and even hard-line opposition last week.
Some residents from Woodhaven and other communities who attended a forum on the plan at PS 306 last Wednesday were not so keen on the proposal.
Concerns about parking, traffic and whether select bus service would lead to a reduction of local buses kept DOT representatives on their feet during the meeting.
“We want to know if we are wasting our time here,” one resident said to Robert Thompson, DOT’s senior project manager for transit development, noting the construction of poles to hold “bus lane” signs is already underway along Woodhaven Boulevard in Rego Park and Middle Village. “Is this going to happen regardless of what we want, or are you going to actually listen to us?”
Thompson did not deny that plans to install bus lanes on the boulevard will move forward, but assured the residents that their ideas were desired.
“We want to hear your thoughts and we do take them into consideration,” he said.
The city’s plan is to build bus lanes along Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards and turn the Q53 and Q52 routes into select bus service lines from the Rockaways to their terminuses at 61st Street and Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside and Queens Center Mall in Elmhurst, respectively.
That means buses will have their own dedicated lanes and priority at traffic lights for all or most of the route, and passengers will have a special fare collection system outside the bus to expedite passenger boarding.
The idea is to speed up service between the Rockaways and northern Queens, entice commuters to use the buses over cars and reduce traffic along the congested route.
Later this summer, the DOT is set to install bus lanes on Woodhaven Boulevard between Metropolitan and Eliot avenues, where the agency says the current street configuration — eight lanes in either direction with a fairly wide center median — allows for the lanes to be built with little effect on parking or traffic.
Along that section of the route, the number of traffic lanes would be reduced to three in either direction and the right lane would become a bus lane with curbside parking between it and the sidewalk remaining.
But south of Metropolitan Avenue, things get tricky.
The often-congested overpass that spans the LIRR Long Island City branch between Metropolitan Avenue and Union Turnpike carries only six lanes, and southbound, the left lane also serves cars turning left onto Union Turnpike. That turn, which the DOT attempted to eliminate several years ago, often backs up cars during afternoon rush hours causing extensive delays that can stretch back to St. John’s Cemetery.
“As it is now, we can’t afford to take out a lane on that bridge for buses,” one DOT official said.
Between Union Turnpike and Myrtle Avenue, Woodhaven Boulevard has three center lanes and two service lanes separated by a small center median and two side medians, a configuration the official called the “Champs-…lysÈes,” after the iconic street in Paris which pioneered the design. The boulevard also has that same configuration between Park Lane South and Liberty Avenue in Woodhaven and Ozone Park.
Along those stretches, the addition of bus lanes may mean the reduction of traffic lanes, elimination of curbside parking, or mandate a complete redesign of the boulevard.
The DOT’s forum on Wednesday offered residents a chance to design potential configurations from Glendale through Howard Beach. Breaking up into groups, attendees, who included residents from Woodhaven, Ozone Park and the Rockaways, members of community boards 5, 9 and 10 and transit advocates, used photos of certain locations on the boulevard to design new lane configurations.
Kenichi Wilson, chairman of Community Board 9’s Transportation Committee, lives on Woodhaven Boulevard in Ozone Park. He said he would only support a proposal that doesn’t affect curbside parking.
Wilson suggested wider center medians with a bus stop there. Though the DOT has not done that in New York, Eric Beeton, a DOT planner, noted it has been done successfully in other cities.
“It’s something we would look into if that’s what people want,” he said.
Wilson was adamant that bus lanes should not interfere with parking
“If we were going to do it, this is the only way I would support it,” Wilson told a DOT official.
It wouldn’t be the first time parking issues sunk SBS.
An attempt to institute the service along Merrick Boulevard in Southeast Queens was defeated by local civic leaders several years ago because the DOT’s design would have replaced parking lanes with bus lanes, taking away curbside parking.
At the June 5 meeting of CB 10, concerns over the elimination of parking for several blocks north and south of Liberty Avenue on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards garnered the board’s opposition.
“It will have a real negative effect on businesses in the area,” CB 10’s first vice chairman, John Calcagnile, warned.
The DOT noted that the bus lanes would only be in effect during rush hours, but that didn’t win over much support.
Last week, some expressed concern that select bus service would just pass through Woodhaven and only serve the Rockaways and northern Queens, as the Q53 had for years. Until 2006, the bus ran nonstop between Broad Channel and Rego Park, skipping the neighborhoods in between.
Phil McManus, a resident of Rockaway who formed the Queens Public Transit Committee, a group advocating better transportation options throughout Queens, most notably the controversial proposal to reactivate the Rockaway Beach rail line, said he is not completely behind the select bus service.
“I’m not against more and faster buses,” he said. “But there’s a real possibility that it will affect local service.”
He, and several other residents, asked the DOT if select bus service would stop in Woodhaven and if it would lead to reduced service on the local routes along the corridor, such as the Q11 and Q21 buses. Opponents of select bus service argue that reduction in other service is what happened along Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn when select bus service there started last year.
Neither the DOT nor the MTA would confirm or deny the Nostrand Avenue allegations, but noted that Jamaica Avenue is one of the busiest bus stops on the corridor where there is a connection to the J and Z trains. Woodhaven residents also suggested stops at Atlantic Avenue and Forest Park Drive at the Forest Park Co-Ops, both of which are currently served by express buses to Manhattan.
SBS had been instituted in every borough except Queens until this year, when the M60, which connects Harlem to LaGuardia Airport, became an SBS line.