A “Better Buses” busway pilot will continue on schedule in Downtown Jamaica despite backlash from a previous initiative on Merrick Boulevard that was implemented last year and led to a recent modification of bus enforcement times as a result of a petition and complaints from community leaders and elected officials.
“I saw [the announcement],” said Candace Prince-Modeste, the Southeast Queens activist who created a Change.org petition for a modified enforcement period of the bus lane on Merrick Boulevard. “It feels like they’ve moved onto the next project without fully bringing the Merrick one to a resolution. And I don’t believe that enough residents are aware of these proposed changes to the Downtown area.”
The city’s Department of Transportation, however, said it launched a community outreach process with a series of open houses and nearly 20 events with community advisory board to gather feedback on its proposal throughout 2020 and 2021, according to the Sept. 15 announcement.
Prince-Modeste’s “Demand Rush Hour Only Bus Lanes on Merrick” petition, has 875 signatures out of its target goal of 1,000 as of Sept. 16 and brought enough attention to the Springfield Gardens and surrounding Southeast area of the bus lane that elected officials have chosen not to support similar changes in Downtown Jamaica on Jamaica and Archer avenues and the DOT modified its 24/7 bus lane enforcement, which led to excessive ticketing and lack of foot traffic to small businesses in the area. Instead, there will be a 6 a.m. to 7 p.m. enforcement period.
“Despite vocal opposition from the Southeast Queens community against the Merrick Boulevard bus lane, the DOT implemented it anyway,” said Councilwoman Adrienne Adams (D-Jamaica) to the Chronicle via email. “The agency has once again ignored the voices of our community, leading to numerous issues and worsening traffic conditions along this busy corridor.”
Adams also feels that the DOT should have addressed problems with poor street lighting, ill-fitted two-way streets in dire need of one-way conversion and washed out or missing street signs throughout City Council District 28 and surrounding districts first.
“Therefore, I must oppose the new busway pilots on Jamaica Avenue and Archer Avenue,” said Adams. “Until the DOT can truly address our community’s concerns, we stand against this ill-advised pilot program.”
The DOT, however, said that is committed to installing new and improved bus lanes by fall to improve bus speeds for thousands of riders in Southeast Queens.
“Keeping New Yorkers moving is essential to getting our friends and neighbors back to work as New York City’s recovery continues, and these new busways will speed the commutes of 250,000 daily riders through downtown Jamaica,” said DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman in a prepared statement.
The DOT said it is also prepared to tackle any other issues plaguing Downtown Jamaica.
“As we work to install these two new busways that will advance the city’s recovery by speeding the commutes of ... daily bus riders in Southeast Queens, we are happy to address any lighting or signage requests for the area that the Council Member brings to us,” said DOT spokesman Brian Zumhagen via email. “We are also glad to work with the community board on one-way conversions, which must be requested by boards, as they require board approval.”
The DOT has already started removing roadway markings on Sept.15 in order to install the two-way miles of busway coming to Downtown Jamaica, according to the agency. The city hopes the developments will increase the speed of 45 city transit MTA and Nassau Inter-County Express buses, which connect to the E, J and Z train, as well as the Long Island Rail Road, and alleviate traffic in the busiest bus hub throughout the city.
“We’ve seen how busways have brought faster, more reliable service to commuters on corridors like 14th Street in Manhattan, Main Street in Flushing and Jay Street in Brooklyn,” said Gutman.
On Archer Avenue, an eastbound busway will begin 150th Street and extend to 160th Street with the following elements: double bus lanes eastbound from 150th St to 160th St, with no trucks in bus lanes; no curbside access between 150th Street and 160th Street for any vehicles except buses; eastbound traffic restriction from 153rd St to 160th St (all of Archer Avenue eastbound traffic must turn left on 153rd Street); Jersey barriers installed to prevent illegal vans from entering a busway and busway regulations that are proposed for 24 hours a day, seven days a week, according to the DOT.
The agency added that the Jamaica Avenue busway pilot will begin at Sutphin Boulevard and cover to 168th Street in both directions with these components: buses and commercial trucks will have local and thru access; passenger vehicles will be able to access most blocks, but would have to make the next right turn; new parking, loading, and pedestrian space where curbside bus lanes are removed and busway regulations are proposed for 24 hours a day, seven days a week.
“We look forward to the same type of success on Jamaica and Archer Avenues,” said Gutman referring to the other aforementioned service improvement areas.