BY KELLY MARIE MANCUSO
A standing-room-only crowd gave a Department of Transportation (DOT) official an earful regarding the proposed Select Bus Service (SBS) plan for the Woodhaven Boulevard corridor during a public forum Monday night in Woodhaven.
The special town hall meeting was organized by the Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation (GWDC) in partnership with the Woodhaven BID and Woodhaven Residents Block Association (WRBA) with the goal of giving members of the community a chance to voice their questions and concerns over SBS directly to a DOT official.
“This is a very important topic that will affect us for decades to come,” said moderator Maria Thomson, executive director of the Woodhaven BID. “These are our lives, our homes, our property values and our avenue being put in jeopardy by this plan.”
Public outcry over pedestrian safety took center stage during the forum. Under the current plan, bus riders would have to wait for and board buses on the concrete median in the center of the boulevard. Paul Capocasale of the newly formed Task Force Committee for an Informed, Safer and Better Woodhaven called the plan a “death trap” and had harsh words for the borough commissioner.
“I would not want my junior high or high school kid standing in the middle of Woodhaven Boulevard,” he said. “Where is the proof that the SBS bus service is going to make our lives better or safer?”
Task Force President Jose Vasquez delivered a presentation complete with photographs and videos of crashes illustrating existing traffic hazards along the corridor. Vasquez also announced that his task force collected over 375 signatures on a petition opposing the plan.
“Chaos is already happening in the neighborhood without SBS,” he said.
Others voiced concerns over the potential negative impact the proposed ban on left hand turns onto Jamaica Avenue could have on local small businesses along the strip.
“Our business district is small mom-and-pop stores that depend on every dollar that comes in,” explained WRBA president Martin Colberg.“No left turns would really turn people away from the community.”
Monday’s public forum comes after the WRBA sent a 12-page letter to DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Nicole Garcia, who was in attendance, urging the DOT to consider the idea of a “busway” along the defunct Rockaway Beach line as a viable and safer alternative. Many in attendance voiced concerns over anticipated delays along the already congested corridor due to the loss of two lanes of traffic under the SBS plan. By a show of hands, the majority of people at the meeting showed support for the “busway” proposal.
“It’s a good idea and something we should explore,” said Assemblyman Mike Miller.
The forum was the first of many to be held on the subject in the coming year. It was just announced last week that the DOT agreed to push back implementation of SBS in Woodhaven to 2017, with talks continuing throughout 2016.
“We’ve committed to taking some time and having some more conversations with the residents and the business owners,” Garcia explained. “The feedback we have received has not been lost on us. We want to balance safety and mobility.”
While she did not discuss or unveil any changes made to the current SBS plan, Garcia did promise to bring the opinions and feedback gathered at the forum back to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. The majority of residents, however, called for further in-depth, on-site studies before any plan is implemented.
“We agree change is good, but it has to be positive change for everyone,” Colberg said. “More needs to be looked at, and more needs to be done, before we change this whole corridor.”