Addressing a crowd of angry Kew Gardens Hills residents, Councilman Rory Lancman urged the group to “express yourselves in a respectful manner” on Wednesday night as MTA and city officials met with residents who would be affected by a proposed express bus service line.
The new express line, known as Select Bus Service, would run between Flushing and Jamaica.
But residents had their own ideas on how to express themselves during the city workshop that was held at Townsend Harris High School.
“You are wrecking our neighborhoods,” one woman said as a gaggle of scowling women surrounded a city official. “You’re all morons. We do not want this.”
City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg also attended the meeting.
The city is considering two routes between the neighborhoods for SBS. The first would travel along Main Street where the Q44 and Q20A/B run. This route was the source of contention for residents. City officials and representatives from the MTA held the meeting to collect feedback from people who would be directly affected by any changes to create a new express bus.
The second route under consideration is along Parsons and Kissena boulevards, currently serviced by the Q25 and Q34.
Members of the community were worried that the city would sacrifice a traffic lane on Main Street to create a dedicated bus lane for a Select Bus Service line. Many saw the city trampling over the needs of the residential neighborhood of Kew Gardens Hills to solve traffic problems in Jamaica and Flushing.
“There [are] no traffic problems in this neighborhood,” said David Deutsch, who lives and works in the area. “There may be a problem in Flushing and Jamaica, but that has nothing to do with here.”
But Sheldon Goodridge disagreed. Standing apart from the angry crowds, he said that most people, like Deutsch, are criticizing the plan even though they don’t use buses to commute.
“Sometimes I wait so long that I have to take a risk and use the dollar vans, and that’s a very harrowing ride,” Goodridge said. But when the buses actually come he takes the Q44 on Main Street and 58th Avenue to the No. 7 train in Flushing for his morning commute to work.
“Having a bus lane would cut down on my commute,” Goodridge said. “We should emulate what Manhattan has.”
Mark Henry, the president of a transit union representing bus workers in the areas between, and including, Flushing and Jamaica, attended the workshop and was unimpressed by the city’s proposal.
“They make it very attractive. Give it a world view. And talk about how other transit agencies across the world do similar things,” Henry said and then pointed out that adding another bus to a street that already has a bus wouldn’t help. “But we see it as a duplication of the service that’s already there. This SBS line will be redundant. It already exists.”
With over 25 years of experience as a bus driver in the city, Henry said that the city should create new bus lines in areas that don’t have buses. And that many of these new lines should run in areas where there are no trains, like routes between Bayside and Rockaway or from Rosedale to Queens College.
“As bus drivers we feel that we are part of the community and we want to help people,” said Henry. “And the SBS is going to bypass the community.”
In Queens, the city has been slowly moving toward creating SBS along Woodhaven Boulevard, and routes between Jamaica and Flushing are in the early stages of planning.
The city hasn’t released any official plans on what will ultimately be done, so residents and elected officials like Lancman are hoping to dissuade the city from implementing dedicated bus lanes in Kew Gardens Hills and other neighborhoods that are sandwiched between the busy downtown areas of Flushing and Jamaica. Lancman also sent a letter to the Department of Transportation opposing any proposals that would include a bus lane.
During the workshop at Townsend High School, Lancman and Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz suggested that many of the elements of Select Bus Service are useful. They approved of time-saving ideas like coordinated traffic lights and installing kiosks at bus stops so that people could buy MetroCards instead of fumbling with money as they step onto the bus.
But, Lancman added, “We do not want to see this happen if they’re going to insist on a bus lane.”