• December 6, 2019
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Queens Chronicle

OPINION Can we trust the DOT on buses and bicycles?

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Posted: Thursday, August 8, 2019 10:30 am

They promised us a safer Woodhaven Boulevard, up to 30 percent quicker bus trips with Select Bus Service and smoother traffic due to reduced merging. Did they deliver?

Last week, the Queens Chronicle reported a traffic fatality at 91st Avenue and a bike rider injured at 1 a.m., both on Woodhaven Boulevard, when motorists do not expect to see cyclists on the road; some do not have required headlights and reflectors. It was also reported that new traffic barriers near Forest Park and new concrete medians have caused traffic problems and made the changes unpopular for Ozone Park residents.

Are bus trips 30 percent quicker? Perhaps in a few cases, but passenger travel times may actually be longer since the city Department of Transportation and the MTA only consider time spent on the bus, ignoring walking and waiting times and delays resulting from fare enforcement or missed buses by having to prepay your fare. Consider my friend’s experience last Saturday. The SBS machine would not accept her 30-day MetroCard. She had to buy a round-trip card at the 61 Street-Woodside station. Cards from other passengers were also rejected.

When the bus finally arrived 30 minutes later, it was standing room only at the first stop. By the second stop, the bus was jam packed. When a wheelchair passenger needed to board, some passengers had to get off to make room. An elderly gentleman had to sit in my friend’s lap to make room in the aisle. The trip to Howard Beach was approximately on schedule, taking 56 minutes; 86 minutes including waiting, or 2 hours 12 minutes for all three buses her intraborough trip required. Has SBS made service more convenient and reliable, increased bus ridership, shortened trip times and provided a viable alternative to driving? You decide.

Total annual paid ridership in the corridor declined slightly in 2018 by 3,041 passengers. SBS ridership rose by 5.1 percent, but local ridership on the Q11 and Q21 declined by 13.9 and 16.2 percent, respectively. One could still argue that riders who switched from the local to the SBS had quicker trips. The counter argument would be they only switched because of longer waits for locals. Bottom line— as long as the DOT and the MTA do not measure total passenger trip time, we will never know if an increase in SBS speed is greater than the time lost from extra walking and/or waiting. We must also wonder, if bus trips are 30 percent quicker, why were Limiteds scheduled to make the entire trip in 64 minutes and SBS buses in 69 minutes?

We cannot even determine if service is more reliable since a Q52 and a Q53 arriving together and a Q11 and Q21 arriving together after 20 minutes, but scheduled 10 minutes apart, are not considered bunched because the route numbers are different. The routes parallel each other for a great distance; many passengers can use either bus; there should be a better way to measure bunching.

Although the DOT promised meaningful community participation, the Woodhaven SBS was instituted amidst numerous community objections, ignoring many of their suggestions. Promises to install signage alerting drivers of the next allowed left turn were never fulfilled. A meeting last week in Brooklyn about installing curbside bus lanes along Church Avenue ended in a shouting match when the DOT announced the plan was going through regardless of community concerns. Several years ago, DOT representatives stated at a Brooklyn meeting that bicycle lanes are only installed when a community asks for them, but in Manhattan hundreds of parking spots are scheduled for elimination so that bike lanes can be installed along Central Park West despite widespread community opposition.

Woodhaven Boulevard is not safer as promised. SBS buses are still delayed, and traffic is noticeably worse although the DOT promised less traffic for all.

Cyclist fatalities for the first half of this year equal the total number for the entire 2018. The DOT’s response? We need more protected bike lanes. However, cyclists still have to mix with traffic to get to these lanes and are especially difficult for trucks to see.

We cannot have protected bike lanes on every street, so why should we believe the DOT that more protected lanes and further encouragement of cycling will make cycling safer? Have they kept any of their other promises?

We need to make real improvements to our transit system, such as restoring the Rockaway Beach rail line, not further encouraging cycling as a means of commuting. Many have turned to cycling only because of a failure in mass transit.

Allan Rosen is a former director of bus planning for MTA New York City Transit.

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Welcome to the discussion.


  • Hunkster posted at 5:32 pm on Sun, Aug 11, 2019.

    Hunkster Posts: 16

    The MTA are taking an emphasis on all SBS routes while not taking care on all local and limited bus routes at all since 2008. 😁

  • Bicycleman posted at 9:08 pm on Thu, Aug 8, 2019.

    Bicycleman Posts: 1

    Very well written and right on target.