SBS is the transportation alternative Queens needs 1

When he took office in early 2014, one of Mayor de Blasio’s pledges was that we would keep New Yorkers moving on our thousands of miles of roadways, including through the expansion of Select Bus Service. Since the Department of Transportation and the MTA first proposed SBS on the Woodhaven-Cross Bay corridor, we have heard strong opinions about its effects, including at a meeting this week, where concerns about safety, parking and congestion have all been raised.

In 2016, DOT plans to redouble our efforts in neighborhoods served by the Queens Chronicle, listening and sharing our analysis to make sure the Woodhaven project will work for everyone along the corridor. We have taken encouragement from community leaders who are helping convince their neighbors and dispelling myths about SBS.

For example, Katherine Stier of Glendale, who grew up on Woodhaven and Myrtle Avenue, has eloquently noted that “the status quo is not working” for drivers, bus riders or pedestrians.

As we have noted in our many conversations with community members, SBS makes so much sense in these neighborhoods for three major reasons: It increases mobility, it helps achieve economic equality and it increases safety.

First, SBS will move people along this crowded corridor faster. By creating dedicated bus lanes and collecting fares at the curb, SBS has over the last seven years improved the speed and reliability of nine different bus routes operating in every borough.

Along Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards, we have heard the call among 30,000 daily bus commuters: 6,000 of them signed petitions seeking SBS.

Many travel more than an hour on the Q52 and Q53 — routes that are slow and unreliable, with travel times that can vary by as much as 30 minutes.

Neighborhoods across New York City have embraced SBS because their bus commutes have sped up by as much as 30 percent. At the same time, drivers of cars have found that the dedicated bus lane and other changes to the street design had neutral or minor effects on their travel times. Businesses too have benefited, with increased travel on the street being reflected in increased sales receipts.

Second, expanding the MTA’s SBS network will help advance Mayor de Blasio’s goal of reducing income inequality, which includes more and better commuting options for those New Yorkers in so-called “transportation deserts,” far from subways and only served by bus routes like the Q52/53. In fact, Census data shows that 43 percent of people that live within a half-mile of these routes use transit to get to work; in fact, during the morning rush, over a third of Woodhaven Boulevard’s northbound commuters are riding buses. As with the mayor’s plan to reestablish ferry service from the Rockaways by 2017, SBS will give these hard-working New Yorkers less time commuting and more time to spend with their families.

Third and finally, we definitely need to increase the safety of the dangerous Woodhaven-Cross Bay corridor and the intersections along it. In 2013, for instance, 35-year-old Yunior Rodriguez was killed by a speeding vehicle, left for dead in a brutal hit-and-run at the corner of Jamaica Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.

What has not been discussed enough is SBS’s central role in Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan to eliminate preventable fatalities and injuries on our streets. Including Mr. Rodriguez’s senseless death, Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay boulevards had a combined 20 fatalities (14 of them pedestrians) and more than 2,800 injuries between 2010 and 2014.

Two years into Vision Zero, we are very proud of the program’s overall success: traffic fatalities citywide have declined by over 20 percent since 2013, with 2015 seeing the fewest deaths on our roads in recorded history. As part of the Vision Zero process of reimagining and re-engineering some of our most dangerous streets, we have recognized that SBS is part of the solution. It calms traffic, protects pedestrians and has resulted in lower crash rates along SBS corridors. Right now, tens of thousands of Queens bus commuters spend far too much time getting to work. They deserve SBS, a transit option that reduces travel times and makes the city a fairer place. But the dozens of families who have lost loved ones along Woodhaven and Cross Bay deserve something even more: a new and safer boulevard that will help us prevent future tragedies.

Polly Trottenberg is New York City Department of Transportation Commissioner.

(10) comments

VBarbour

As with many issues around the proposed SBS route along the Woodhaven and Crossbay Boulevard Corridor, the devil is in the details. Quoting or misrepresenting irrelevant fact and figures only make support for this or any proposal by the actual communities abounding the corridor unlikely.

First, to say that better communication by the mysterious community leaders that are trying to dispel SBS myths is disingenuous. You can count on one hand the community leaders that support the current plan. It also makes it sound like opponents are uninformed when, in fact, they have brought up numerous issues regarding safety and the viability of the proposal.

Also, let's be perfectly clear, no actual outreach was performed in the affected communities prior to presenting a series of proposals. Contacting advocacy groups like Riders Alliance who ask bus riders if they want better service does not count as a serious effort to have an intelligent discussion about transportation alternatives. Citing Census data about commuters in the less than 50th percentile arbitrarily excludes a majority who, based on that same Census data, may commute to counties not serviced by public transportation.

Members of the affected communities have given suggestions to the DOT and MTA, such as the proposal by the WRBA for a Busway, but other than a summary statement that that acknowledges receipt, no effort at a reasonable compromise seems to be one of the options proposed.

And finally, truly anecdotal evidence from communities where SBS has previously been implemented tends to diverge from the realities in those communities. I expect when it is time for the DOT to release its six-month survey of the new BRT lanes from Metropolitan to Eliot Avenues along that same proposed SBS corridor we will hear that they are turning out to be a great success. How much attention will actually be given to the incredible fury of the vehicular accidents that have occurred since its implementation? Will it delve into the unsafe speeds that NYC buses travel at now that they have smooth sailing? Will it take into account that bunching of buses will, in effect, remove more than one lane in each direction for those who cannot take public transportation?

I think not. Communities along the propose corridor are not yet opposed to SBS in principle. In fact, many who travel in buses along that route every day- like me- want any proposal to work for ALL commuters. Having this terrible plan go forward would just turn all residents against the concept of SBS in general. I encourage the DOT and MTA to come to our communities and listen to what might actually work. Showing up at a Community Board meeting sometime in June to discuss what plans were concocted in private is not the answer. Don't make the same mistake twice.

Vance B Barbour
Woodhaven

100PCCPres

Sorry to say this Commissioner but removing traffic lanes on this stretch of road Woodhaven/Crossbay Bvd is wrong!

BrendanRead

SBS on Woodhaven Blvd. is a head-scratcher. How can you improve safety if you take away traffic lanes from the majority of residents who own cars, not to mention the countless commercial vehicles?

This traffic has to go somewhere, which the Commissioner hasn’t explained where. The time savings from the SBS isn’t that stupendous for commuters to make a wholesale switch to transit that would make a difference in traffic volumes.
New York drivers aren’t going to meekly put up with delays. They are going to seek alternate routes. Having lived in Richmond Hill my guess is that they will be taking the neighborhood side streets: putting pedestrians, especially children and seniors at risk.

If the Commissioner wants to improve safety and transit she should reuse the parallel ex-LIRR Rockaway Beach Line (RBL), just like MTA plans to reuse the Staten Island north shore rail line for BRT.

The RBL, and the north shore lines are grade separated: meaning faster, more attractive transit, and no intersections, therefore less risk of accidents. The stations would also be safer to get to as they are accessible in narrower streets and/or by underpasses, like they were when they had trains, and also with overhead walkways that span the streets, depending how the stations are built.

In contrast, transit customers would have to cross the many lanes of Woodhaven to reach the SBS including transferring between buses. Is that also wise given that frustrated drivers may be tempted to cut corners?

Transit improvements must be done right if they are going to be successful. If the MTA in partnership with the City can find the money for Manhattan subways then they can pull together resources including cost savings (like scrapping the Queensway) to reuse the RBL for transit: at less cost and disruption than building a subway or elevated if we didn’t have the RBL.

Alice

I travel Woodhaven Blvd on the 53 bus almost daily and I support the SBS plan. A designated bus lane will prevent buses from being delayed by double parked cars and commercial vehicles making deliveries. Riders will board more quickly using the kiosks. this will prevent another frequent source of delays. The buses will move more quickly allowing all traffic to move faster. Anyone who rides the 53 bus year round knows that travel time is greatly reduced in summer when there is less traffic congestion. I believe that the SBS will provide a faster and safer ride. The route connects Rockaway residents to several trains - the J,Z,R,F,E, and 7 - allowing access to many parts of the city. Improving this route makes sense for Rockaway.

Boulevard Improvement Group

Commissioner Trottenberg ignores the widespread outrage in the community about DOT's proposal for SBS. Certainly, changes need to be made to Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards, but this specific proposal is not a good one. DOT's unwillingness to consider alternatives is baffling. If you stand with us in opposing this ill-conceived plan, please make your voice heard. Sign our petition: www.SaveOurStreets.nyc. You can also learn more about this issue there.

(Edited by staff.)

Madeline

I don't know why they won't stop with this ridicules Idea of S.B.S. Anyone with half a brain can see that it could never work here on Cross Bay Woodhaven Blvd. Why can't the D.O.T. understand that we do not have any alternative streets, not even one.
Our traffic would be at a stand still. The pollution from all the cars would be unbearable. Don't we already have enough pollution from the airplanes?
Putting the places out in the street for people to board the bus would take away another traffic lane. Not allowing left turns would be very harmful and dangerous. Installing cameras just to ticket us, and don't forget people will get tickets making right turns. Just look at Staten Island. Is the D.O.T. trying in the worst way to harm us? It seems that they are.
Taking away our beautiful covered bus stops that are fairly new, is such a waste of money. Spending 231 million to do S.B.S. is the biggest joke of all.
Wouldn't the sensible thing to do is to use the abandoned Queens rail? Even just paving it and using busses make so much sense. It would be a pleasure to travel
around that way. Just think, another way to get to Manhattan and other boroughs without climbing all those stairs.

RickHoran

Wait, did she say SBS it helps achieve economic equality? How, by slowing down the people in cars and trucks? What does she mean by that? Is the DOT's SBS plan one more example of the mayor's socialist agenda?

Riverduckexpress

How can you talk about decreasing travel times but ignore subway service on the Rockaway Beach Branch ROW, which would be the fastest option of all?

Allan Rosen

NYCDOT Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg continues to mislead and deceive.

How does Trottenberg know that SBS is the best alternative when no other alternatives have been considered? The Woodhaven Community which has expressed major dissatisfaction with that plan has asked DOT to consider buses on the inactive Rockaway Beach Line right of way just east of Woodhaven Boulevard. The Queens Public Transit Committee supports reactivation of rail service on that line. Shouldn't those alternatives be studied before jumping to the conclusion that SBS is the alternative Queens needs?

She further states that she is listening to make sure the project works for everyone along the corridor. However, is she really listening? Queens Transportation Commissioner Garcia replied to a question last November from the Woodhaven Residents' Block Association stating that SBS is a fact of life and they would be receiving it whether they wanted it or not, and that casts doubt if the commissioner is really listening.

Trottenberg misleads by referring to a member of the Riders Alliance who supports SBS as a "community leader" while ignoring all the real community leaders who oppose SBS and for good reason. She refers to the 30,000daily bus commuters who supposedly would be helped by SBS, while ignoring the over 100,000 daily motorists who would be harmed by it. She cites over whelming support by 6,000 bus commuters. Those signing petitions were merely promised better bus service. Who would oppose that?

The fact is that DOT still hasn't proved that SBS will help more people than it will hurt. All improvements are only alleged through selective use of statistics. Where are the data to support her conclusion that "bus commutes have been sped up by as much as 30 percent"? She is equating bus travel time savings with passenger trip times which are two separate entities. To determine the latter, one must also include walking to and from the bus, transfers, as well as waiting times, all of which DOT and the MTA have failed to do.

Here are the facts: Passengers must walk farther to and from SBS bus stops which in many cases washes out their travel time savings. The annual expense to operate SBS routes are millions of dollars more than traditional bus routes. SBS ridership on most routes has declined in 2014 greater than their respective borough averages. When a study of the Staten Island SBS S79 showed that exclusive bus lanes decreased auto travel speeds, DOT chose to dismiss that attributing the speed decrease to "other factors."

However DOT's biggest deception is to deliberately confuse their initial SBS plan for Woodhaven which would cost $15 to $20 million to implement with their current BRT plan costing $231 million. Since they cannot explain how the latter plan provides ten times the benefit, I have asked Trottenberg to return to her original SBS proposal and drop BRT with its center boarding, and to allow HOV vehicles to use bus lanes which should only be in effect during peak hours. No response to that proposal has been received, only a promise it will be studied.

SBS was initially introduced as a plan to speed bus service by making it more attractive, thereby by inducing riders to switch from their private car to the bus. Yet DOT has not predicted how many will do that. That data should be available from the MTA's traffic forecasting model, which is being kept secret. Those who currently drive have little choice because of the number of transfers and fares a mass transit trip would require. SBS does not address that.

DOT has now turned SBS into a Vision Zero component to make the street safer. They are proposing to redesign the entire corridor and have exaggerated dangers to pedestrians, claiming that SBS could have prevented past fatalities, again without any proof. How can boarding buses from the median, which would create thousands of extra pedestrian crossings daily make the street safer?

New islands that would narrow lanes and stall traffic are proposed. For example, the intersection of Metropolitan Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard would be made "safer for pedestrians." However, no data has been presented to show the intersection is "dangerous" and the numbers of pedestrian crossings are too low to justify the expense involved.

DOT continues to promise to share their traffic analyses, but the data they have provided thus far has been woefully inadequate. They have responded to less than half of the questions posed to them over a year ago and have still refused to define the term "reasonable speed" which they claim vehicles will be able to travel at after exclusive bus lanes are instituted24/7, even at times when virtually no buses are operating at all. How does that make any sense?

DOT is ramming SBS down the throats of residents by conspiring with the Riders Alliance and Transportation Alternatives to stack the meetings with supporters to counteract the widespread opposition to their plan. The fact that the alternatives I mentioned did not enter into DOT's analysis, questions if Trottenberg even knows the difference between a roadway and a corridor. No one would refer to I-95 as "the northeast corridor". That term also includes Washington DC to Boston Amtrak service as well. Similarly, the Woodhaven "Corridor" includes the inactive Rockaway Beach line, now referred to as QueensRail.

Yet DOT refers to the Woodhaven /Cross Bay Boulevard as a "corridor." According to Assemblyman Goldfeder, State money is available to study the rail line. So why won't the MTA apply for the funds? It is because they would get federal money to purchase new buses under DOT's BRT plan. That is not good enough reason to expend $231 million.

Toby Sheppard Bloch

I live a block from Woodhaven and am grateful the DOT is working to make Woodhaven safer and more friendly to bus riders. The city has been studying congestion and safety on Woodhaven since early 2008, and it's time to get on with the important work of sharing the roadway in a way that improves safety and allocates roadspace proportionally to road users.

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