Consensus elusive over proposed Woodhaven SBS

By Gabriel Rom

Woodhaven Boulevard is a dangerous and congested mess. That much, transit advocates, city politicians, transit officials, and local community members can all agree on—but not much else. From the very name of the proposed $200 million redesign to the proposal’s effect on pedestrians, businesses and traffic, consensus is hard to come by.

The MTA contends the Select Bus Service route will provide more reliable service for 30,000 daily riders with an anticipated travel time savings of 25-35 percent and will especially benefit low-income citizens along the Woodhaven corridor who have been plagued with slow buses for years. SBS, which will support Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero and OneNYC programs, has been presented by advocates as a comprehensive program that will help not only bus riders but drivers, pedestrians and all street users.

“I often rely on buses, but I’m tired of their unreliability and how overcrowded they’ve become,” said Jeanne Majors, a Jamaica resident and member of the Riders Alliance advocacy group.

“I want reliable service and Select Bus Service can provide that.”

Skeptics, however, question whether SBS’s benefits justify its drawbacks, which they say are many.

“In general, the people who are skeptical are those who will have to live with the new lanes in the community. They are looking at how this will affect their investments, their properties, their lives,” said Ed Wendell, a board member at the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association “It’s all a matter of perspective.”

Jim Cocovillo, chairman of CB5’s Public Safety Committee, looks to the streets in Woodhaven that have been changed to one-way and he sees a warning sign for the area’s businesses.

“These businesses are having a tough enough time and now you want to restrict access to Jamaica Avenue? Eliminating lefthand turns and access to Jamaica Avenue is a major concern,” he said.

SBS advocates respond that hard data should allay such fears. “It’s a fair observation in the short term,” said Toby Sheppard Bloch, a Glendale resident who has attended numerous SBS workshops, “but drivers adapt quickly, especially if you look at other traffic calming projects in the city.”

According to a DOT report, after the installation of Select bus Service on Fordham Road in the Bronx, businesses along the route saw a 73 percent increase in retail sales.

While three separate design concepts for SBS are on the table, all include a dedicated bus lane for Woodhaven Boulevard, and that worries many drivers in the community.

“The dedicated bus lane is going to create more congestion. That’s the bottom line. If you have a clogged artery, making the artery smaller won’t help,” said Kenichi Wilson, head of CB9’s Transportation Committee.

On Monday a group of elected officials took a bus along the proposed SBS route and discussed their concerns with transit officials.

“We need to make sure we get this right because long after the MTA and these advocacy organizations leave, we will be here living with the consequences. We’re being heard, and as long as we have that kind of dialogue, I’m optimistic,” said state Sen. Joseph Addabbo (D-Howard Beach).

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.