By Alex Robinson
A historic church in downtown Flushing received some relief last week from heavy bus traffic that has burdened it for years.
State Assemblyman Ron Kim (D-Flushing) announced the Metropolitan Transportation Authority agreed to divert two bus routes from around St. George’s Episcopal Church, which is wedged between 38th and 39th avenues on Main Street.
“This is one of the most symbolic churches in New York City, and the fact we have buses blocking the entrance of this church was simply unacceptable,” Kim told reporters outside the church, where he was flanked by other elected officials and community leaders.
The MTA’s plan calls for the Q17 and Q27 to change their turnaround routes in the hope this will alleviate the church’s traffic problems. These two buses will now turn around on streets on the opposite side of Main Street.
Three other buses will still use the church’s adjacent streets to turn around, but they do not run as frequently as the Q17 and Q27.
“The community requested the MTA study on how to decrease the number of buses stopping near the church,” MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said. “This reroute does that with minimal inconvenience to customers.”
For the church’s pastor, the Rev. Wilfredo Benitez, this was a small victory that did not go far enough.
“We want all the buses moved as soon as possible,” he said. “We’re the only church in New York City that has three active bus stops in front of it.”
The layover and bus stops around the church have prevented disabled and elderly parishioners from having an easy access point where they can be dropped off, Benitez said. The church, built in 1854, holds services five days a week, runs English as a Second Language classes and operates a thrift store.
The route changes for the Q17 and Q27 will not go into effect until September, as the MTA will have to create new schedules for the routes which cannot take place until Aug. 31. The city Department of Transportation will also need time to remove parking from 39th Avenue and 138th Street for the new routes, Ortiz said.
As well as being a parking headache, the pastor said he has also witnessed MTA drivers at the end of their route urinating on the church’s walls.
“It doesn’t make for a very welcoming church when you have a urine stench all around it,” he said.
Although Benitez said this is an ongoing problem, the MTA said it has addressed it.
“When we periodically check the location, we have found all bus operators in full compliance,” Ortiz said.
The solution was announced as part of Kim’s Clean Flushing initiative, a beautification program the assemblyman launched last year to deal with the neighborhood’s litter and pollution problems.
Reach reporter Alex Robinson by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.