Select Bus Service battle comes to CB9

By Gabriel Rom

As the Department of Transportation gave Community Board 9 a status update on Select Bus Service at its monthly meeting, it began to dawn on community leaders that SBS on Woodhaven Boulevard is not a matter of if but of when and how.

After public testimony from nine residents, all opposed to SBS, DOT Senior Project Manager Taylor Gouge faced the board, gave her presentation and fielded questions from skeptical members.

Gouge focused on showing that the DOT is sensitive to community concerns and receptive to feedback. SBS, she said, will be implemented in a phased initiative and that the decision was made in direct response to community input.

“We will have a lot of tools to make sure the short-term project works,” Gouge said.

She summarized the chronology of the project as two phases – short-term and long-term.

Phase 1 will include street resurfacing, roadway and pedestrian safety improvements, bus lanes and transit signal priority and the installation of median bus stops along the 1.3-mile corridor. It will begin in the spring of 2017.

DOT hopes the full roll-out of SBS, which will extend past the Rockaway Boulevard-Liberty Avenue intersection deep into the Rockaway peninsula, will be shaped by the community response to the short-term project. The long-term project, which does not have a completion date, will include new and extended bus medians and additional medians at already existing bus stops along Woodhaven Boulevard.

Yet board members still felt left behind.

“The human element has been left out,” said Maria Thomson, a CB9 member and president of the Woodhaven Business Improvement District. Multiple Board members, Thomson included, also raised concerns over banning left turns along Jamaica Avenue and safety for bus riders at the new medians.

Gouge responded that the DOT has not made a final decisions on the issue and recognized that it was a significant community concern.

“This is also about how to make roadways more consistent for drivers,” Gouge said.

She mentioned that Woodhaven Boulevard suffers both from traffic choke points and speeding.

According to DOT data, at midday over 50 percent of drivers along Woodhaven Boulevard were clocked at speeds over the limit.

There were 17 pedestrian deaths along the Boulevard between 2009 and 2013. Six of the deaths were in CB9.

“This is not just about buses. This is a complete street project,” Gouge said.

Gouge cited a petition which received over 6,000 signatures in support for SBS. That claim was met with an eruption of boos from the board, who questioned whether the petitioners had explicitly voiced support for the SBS project rather than the more general claim of better bus service.

As the atmosphere became tense, Robert Marino, deputy director of Community Relations at the MTA, tried to defuse the situation.

“How is everyone tonight?” he asked.

Toward the back of the room, CB 9 member Alex Blenkinsopp leaned back in his chair.

“We’re displeased,” he said to no one in particular.

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