City plans more SBS routes for Queens 1

Riders in Elmhurst board the Q58, one of 11 Queens bus routes the city is believed to be exploring for Select Bus Service, according to a Department of Transportation report released last Friday.

Nine Queens bus lines and two that run between Queens and Brooklyn will become Select Bus Service routes over the next 10 years, according to a new Department of Transportation plan released last Friday.

When it comes to which exact lines will get the SBS treatment, however, the city is being less than forthcoming.

In the DOT’s report, entitled “Bus Forward,” a map of Queens is provided that features routes and arrows that appear to be consistent with 11 existing bus lines.

But instead of naming the exact routes that will transition to SBS, the legend accompanying the map only says what two neighborhoods the buses run between, as streets are not shown at all.

When asked via email for a comprehensive list of future Queens SBS lines last Friday, a DOT spokesperson first requested the Chronicle reporter send them the agency’s Bus Forward map. After a second request for a list, the representative referred the reporter back to that same map for answers.

Upon additional requests for the list on Monday and Tuesday, the DOT spokesperson simply responded by saying the lines on the map are the proposed routes without providing more specific information.

A Chronicle analysis of the 11 routes that run at least through a portion of Queens revealed 14 possible lines that will receive the SBS treatment — in three cases, multiple buses run along the same stretch of roadway being studied. They include:

• the Q58 between Ridgewood and Flushing;

• the Q27 between Flushing and Cambria Heights;

• the Q43 along Hillside Avenue between Jamaica and Floral Park;

• the Q46 along Union Turnpike between Kew Gardens and Glen Oaks;

• the Q66 along Northern Boulevard between Long Island City and Flushing;

• the Q113 or Q114 between Jamaica and Far Rockaway;

• the Q4 or the Q5 between Jamaica and Rosedale;

• the Q25 or Q34 between Jamaica and Flushing via Kissena Boulevard;

• the Q10 between Kew Gardens and Kennedy International Airport;

• the B15 between Williamsburg and Kennedy, which runs through Howard Beach; and

• the B38 between Fort Greene and Ridgewood.

It is unclear what, if any roadway redesigning will be necessary to accommodate SBS along those streets.

According to the DOT’s report, both ridership and the average speed of buses citywide are down.

However, the agency said that SBS routes have seen an approximately 10 percent jump in ridership since the SBS program began in 2008. When it comes to average bus speed, the increase is between 10 and 30 percent since then.

The Mayor’s Office said 309,000 people — 12 percent of city bus riders — use an SBS route, and the goal is to see that rise to about 800,000, or 32 percent, by 2027.

“Select Bus Service has been a truly great partnership for the DOT and the MTA, as hundreds of thousands of daily riders citywide enjoy its real benefits that make buses faster, more reliable and more convenient,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said. “But as the Mayor notes, our success means we now have much more to do, and so we will now tackle other corridors in neighborhoods around New York City where we believe the addition of SBS and the expansion of our bus-priority treatments on local bus routes could make a major difference.”

In recent years, the Q58 has developed a reputation for being one of the slowest and more-overcrowded buses in Queens, thanks to a winding route through residential streets and stops at transit hubs in neighborhoods such as Elmhurst and Maspeth.

A significant portion of the bus route is within the district of state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), who said in a Monday interview that the Q58 is a sore spot for many of his constituents.

“We have received complaints. People have complained about it often,” Peralta said. “People hear more about what happens with the trains as opposed to buses, but buses are such a huge part of our transportation system too.”

While he noted Bus Forward did not produce many specific details regarding road reconstruction or other changes that come with SBS, Peralta believed the addition of the service “will be welcomed.”

“With SBS, the buses are paid attention to more. The city will pay attention to that route,” he said. “A regular route can fall through the cracks. Now, it won’t.”

The southern half of the Q58’s route runs entirely through Community District 5 — predominantly Maspeth and Ridgewood, where the line terminates.

Community Board 5 District Manager Gary Giordano said he has also found the Q58 to be “quite slow,” with the worst service occuring during the evening rush.

But would SBS be the answer? He didn’t think there were enough details to say one way or the other.

“I wouldn’t say it’s impossible, but a lot of that route is Fresh Pond Road and Grand Avenue. They are not very wide streets,” Giordano said. “But I can understand why the MTA would be looking for something to make bus travel more efficient.”

One thing he hoped the MTA would explore — either before SBS is implemented or if the service is ultimately not brought to the area — is additional limited buses, which skip a number of stops to significantly shorten trip times.

“There’s a lot of ridership there,” he said. “I don’t know the extent to which they run limited service, but more of that could certainly help.”

In eastern Queens, residents are desperate for a faster way to get to the subway in either Jamaica, Kew Gardens or Flushing.

And while Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) said in a Tuesday interview he is open to “any idea that speeds up the amount of travel time from eastern Queens,” the lack of detail offered in Bus Forward makes him hesitant.

“I’ve asked for a meeting with the city on this,” Grodenchik said. “It’s a long process, but the devil is in the details. I’ll have to learn more before I can say I support it.”

Grodenchik’s colleague, Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park), warned Queens residents in a Monday interview to be wary of anything SBS-related the DOT pitches, citing the headaches caused by the controversial planning and ongoing construction of the service on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards.

“I would just caution those communities to ask lots of questions and get very involved from day one because what the city says and what they do are two different things,” Ulrich said. “This is something that’s going to be around for a long time. Buyer beware.”

SBS began in 2008 along the Bx12 route in the Bronx, and 14 buses citywide — including the Q44 connecting Whitestone and Jamaica, the Q70 between Jackson Heights and LaGuardia Airport and the M60 between Manhattan and LaGuardia via Astoria Boulevard — now have such service.

(1) comment


Expect a decade of "David vs. Goliath" style bouts between the bureaucracy and the people: I guaranteed it. [beam]

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