Photo: Queens Public Transit Committee Founder Phil McManus led a rally outside the school during the meeting, calling for the reopening of the Rockaway Beach Rail Line Right of Way. Forum Photo by Michael V. Cusenza.
Civic leaders, commuters, business owners and residents last Thursday at a public workshop in Ozone Park delivered mixed feedback to city transportation officials on the first round of block-by-block street designs and proposed Q52/53 SBS bus stops for the Woodhaven/Cross Bay boulevards Select Bus Service project.
Last month, the Department of Transportation announced that Design Concept 2—a “transit-oriented boulevard” in which buses travel in designated lanes in the main roadway—had been selected out of the three that the agency and the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had developed.
The first of four such workshops focused on the Union Turnpike to Rockaway Boulevard section of the Woodhaven-Cross Bay corridor. Attendees were divided into groups of about six to eight, and seated at several tables in the lunchroom at PS 316 on 101st Avenue and 89th Street. Department of Transportation SBS officials at each table then launched into a 20-minute presentation detailing the sweeping project.
“The Q52/53 carries about 30,000 riders each day,” said Jeremy Safran, who works in the DOT’s Select Bus Service division. “That’s a massive number for which it’s worth improving their commute.”
Safran pointed out that Woodhaven-Cross Bay is a Vision Zero Priority Corridor—“so this is also about saving lives.
“Crossing the street, in this particular case, can be frightening,” he continued. “It’s basically a sea of asphalt.”
Safran went on to say that one of the most common comments the agency had received as it solicited feedback for the design concepts was that commuters characterized the current bus service along the corridor as unreliable.
“So our goal is about transforming Woodhaven and Cross Bay into Complete Streets: serve the communities, rather than cut through them,” Safran said.
Design Concept 2 calls for the Q52/53 to go over the Atlantic Avenue viaduct. Since this will eliminate the Atlantic Avenue stops, more stops have been added to either side of the avenue to offset any inconvenience, Safran noted.
One of the main draws of Select Bus Service is the promise of a faster trip. Bus rapid transit cuts commute times, in part, by allowing customers to pay the fare prior to hopping aboard. According to Safran, a lot of the SBS-served corridors in the city have experienced a 20- to 30-percent decrease in travel time.
However, Concept 2 has its opponents. While it calls for adding six miles of bus lanes and more stops, the plan involves, in part, removing a single lane of vehicular traffic in each direction.
“The idea that NYC DOT, through their Select Bus Service proposal, is seeking to remove an entire traffic lane and in my opinion put pedestrians in harm’s way is irresponsible and unacceptable,” said state Sen. Joe Addabbo, Jr. (D-Howard Beach.) “Rush hour traffic would suffer significantly, and as someone who sits almost daily on that roadway during those times, I shudder to think it could get any worse. While SBS has the potential to address many of the needs for public transportation and traffic conditions, this execution will not be effective for motorists, bus riders or pedestrians. Pedestrians, including school children, seniors and parents with strollers, are put at risk with essentially four active roadways to cross, one at each median. I hope to work with the NYC DOT on this matter and implement a smart, practical solution to benefit everyone riding and walking on the street.”
During the workshop, Rockaway resident Stanley Schulman asked, “Won’t taking away a lane of car traffic increase traffic?”
Seeming to anticipate the inquiry, Safran indicated that the timing of traffic signals along the corridor will play an even more crucial role as a result of eliminating a lane of vehicular traffic in either direction. Additionally, he pointed to other aspects of the plan, such as left-hand turn bans at specific intersections, that DOT believes will help to offset congestion concerns.
“[The bans] would increase the flow of traffic,” Safran said. “In places where there’s a lot of traffic, left-hand bans are advantageous.”
Safran later added that nearly all SBS stations would boast several amenities, including real time information clocks. And since Concept 2 calls for high-quality medians, aesthetics become a priority as well.
“We would, of course, be putting in as many trees as possible,” he noted.
Asked if the speed limit along the corridor—currently 35 mph on Woodhaven; 40 mph on Cross Bay—would change, Eric Beaton, DOT director of Transit Development, said that has yet to be determined.
“Forty miles an hour is too fast, but [Vision Zero’s] 25 miles an hour is probably too slow,” he replied. “So we’re looking at 30 miles an hour right now. It’s something we’re still working on.”
Members of the Queens Public Transit Committee, vocal opponents of SBS who have been lobbying for years for the city and state to bring back the long-defunct Rockaway Beach Rail line, rallied outside the workshop last Thursday.
“This is going to be a nightmare for everybody,” said QPTC Founder Phil McManus. “I think it’s going to be such a disaster that people are going to beg for the railway…south Queens has been drastically altered since the railway was shut down.”
McManus has said the Committee will rally at each of the four workshops. Last Thursday, members handed out information packets which included a four-page document boasting 58 questions that the QPTC encouraged workshop attendees to ask of transportation officials.
“We need answers from DOT and the MTA,” it reads.
Inside, when approached about the possibility of bringing back the Rockaway line, Beaton said, “We’re not against better transit anywhere,” but added, “There are destinations along Woodhaven Boulevard that wouldn’t be served by the [RBRL]… This is an opportunity to make Woodhaven Boulevard work well for everyone.”
Just before adjourning the presentation, Safran noted that the project is still in the initial phases.
“We’re doing a lot of data collection here,” he said, “and we’re trying to make this as multi-modal as possible.”
The next public workshop, which will focus on the Queens Boulevard to Union Turnpike section of Woodhaven Boulevard, will be this Thursday, April 23, from 6 to 8 p.m. at Queens Metropolitan High School in Forest Hills.
By Michael V. Cusenza firstname.lastname@example.org