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.