NE Queens leaders wary of Select Bus Service proposal

By Madina Toure

Two northeast Queens lawmakers have expressed concerns about a proposal for a Select Bus Service route in and between Flushing and Jamaica.

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority and the city Department of Transportation are proposing a Flushing to Jamaica Select Bus Service connecting three corridors: Main Street, Kissena and Parsons boulevards and 164th Street in andbetween Flushing and Jamaica.

City Councilman Rory Lancman (D-Fresh Meadows) and state Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) said a travel or parking lane could possibly be eliminated to accommodate the service, hurting motorists, residents and small businesses.

They met with the DOT and the MTA last Friday, where the agencies updated them on the proposal. The lawmakers expressed support for ideas such as offboard ticketing, synchronizing lights and reconfiguring left-turn signals.

“The final proposal could include a menu of strategies for improving bus service and we are only opposed to the closing of a travel or parking lane,” Lancman said.

Simanowitz said other parts of the proposal such as on-street fare collection and displays indicating bus times do not necessitate SBS.

“The rest of the aspects of a BRT proposal are all legitimate things, but things they could be doing anyway,” he said.

SBS is the city’s version of Bus Rapid Transit, an ameliorated bus service that provides fast and frequent service on bus routes that typically have a large number of riders.

The project is currently in the design phase, according to a DOT spokeswoman. The DOT, which plans to meet with other stakeholders in the coming weeks, has held one public workshop and intends to hold another soon.

In a statement, the BRT for NYC Steering Committee, an advocacy coalition, said bus riders in eastern Queens need better transit options.

“By reducing congestion, speeding up travel times, and making busy avenues safer … BRT is a win-win for riders, drivers, pedestrians, and cyclists alike,” a BRT for NYC spokeswoman said.

The MTA and the DOT conducted studies in 2006 and 2009, which identified Main Street and Kissena and Parsons boulevards between Flushing and Jamaica as corridors that could benefit from SBS.

According to the studies, bus trips on the Q20A/B and Q44LTD on Main Street as well as the Q25LTD and Q34 on Kissena and Parsons boulevards were described as long and slow, affecting roughly 68,000 daily raiders. The agencies also formed a Community Advisory Committee to offer guidance on the project.

But in a letter dated Jan. 8 to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and MTA President Carmen Bianco, 11 Queens lawmakers expressed support for the proposal.

MTA spokesman Kevin Ortiz said SBS would connect two of Queens’ busiest business districts and bring more customers to area businesses.

“Councilman Lancman’s specific concerns regarding dedicated bus lanes show a fundamental lack of understanding of the benefits of SBS and depriving 48,000 daily bus customers of faster, more reliable service would simply be unconscionable,” Ortiz said.

Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows) hailed the proposal as good for riders.

“Bus rapid transit is a cost-effective and achievable transit solution that would provide better service to riders while improving safety for drivers and pedestrians,” she said.

John Raskin, executive director of Riders Alliance, said bus riders have been eagerly awaiting better service.

“The evidence shows that these improvements make the streets safer for pedestrians, help bus riders get to their destination faster and it doesn’t have a negative impact on traffic flow for everybody else,” Raskin said.

The DOT and the MTA were scheduled to host a form this week at Townsend Harris HS in Flushing to discuss the first round of designs for the Q44-Main Street corridor.