State Sen. James Sanders Jr. and Paul Samuelson used the same generalities in their op-ed last week, “Bus rapid transit: just what Woodhaven needs,” to support BRT, also called Select Bus Service, as the city Department of Transportation while offering no specifics, merely claiming it has worked in other cities.
Has SBS worked in New York? We still do not know because other than a few first-year progress reports several years ago showing ridership increases and quicker bus trips, no recent data has been shared. In fact, except for a few routes, ridership has not only declined on SBS routes between 2013 and 2014, they are also more expensive to operate, each costing an additional several million dollars a year. The B44 SBS and M60 SBS are both well over a year old, but neither route has had a first-year assessment because of ridership decreases.
Sanders and Samuelson dismiss new subway lines as impractical and extraordinarily expensive but do not mention studying the reactivation of existing rail lines such as the abandoned Rockaway Beach line, which would cost a mere fraction of a new subway line and may be a viable option to a $231 million BRT proposed for Woodhaven Boulevard, not a very low cost proposal.
They also claim, without any proof, that BRT on Woodhaven will decrease traffic congestion rather than increase it. They only make a general statement that it works in other cities. Are those cities also eliminating 23 left turns? The backups that alone will cause will result in only one moving lane for through traffic when cars waiting to turn are backed up into one of the two through lanes at the few corners where left turns will be allowed. There are now four or even six lanes in each direction if you count turning lanes at major intersections.
How will traffic flow smoother? How many will switch from their cars to the bus? Very few. The mistaken conclusion is if it works in other countries, it has to work on Woodhaven. If the modeling data shows quicker flowing traffic, why hasn’t the DOT shared the results? Why hasn’t the MTA shared the results of the transit forecasting model it is supposedly using?
The DOT may be continually seeking input from the community as Sanders and Samuelson suggest, but it is not responding to questions. The Queens Public Transportation Committee has asked 60 of them, and hasn’t received a single response.
As Assemblyman Phil Goldfeder pointed out in another article in the same issue, a state grant is available to study the feasibility of the parallel abandoned rail line only a few blocks away as an alternative to BRT. That would decrease travel times more without negatively affecting traffic. The MTA hasn’t stated whether it will apply for that funding, although in its 2013 “Looking Ahead” report, the MTA specifically cited “Possible use of abandoned/underutilized ROW for new non-[central business district] Transit?” Why wouldn’t it apply, unless the the fix is in for BRT? Is it fear of what such a study might conclude? It is no coincidence that the same groups supporting BRT also support turning the rail line into a park.
If BRT on Woodhaven is indeed a good idea, we need more than generalities. We need to know the extra benefits a $231 million plan has over the original $15 million SBS plan. Does it provide 15 times the benefit? If not, we need to take a closer look at the Rockaway Beach line.
Allan Rosen is a retired director of bus planning for MTA New York City Transit and blogs for Sheepsheadbites.