By Mark Hallum
Queens elected officials gathered at Belmont Park in Nassau County to urge the MTA to bring permanent express bus service to the area for residents of the surrounding areas.
The initiative comes as the popularity of the transportation option has increased during what Gov. Andrew Cuomo dubbed the “Summer of Hell,” a period of eight weeks in which subway infrastructure would be overhauled coinciding with 20 percent reduced service at Penn Station due to upgrades tracks and switches.
Those rallying said the LIRR station at Belmont Park, normally only used on race days, should be opened up for daily use.
“Eastern Queens has been a transportation desert,” Assemblyman Clyde Vanel (D-Queens Village) said. “The people of our area that may work in or even want to visit Manhattan are subject to grueling and time-consuming travel. We have a LIRR station in Belmont Park that is used only on race days, a massive parking lot which commuters can access to safely leave their vehicles, but is currently left largely unoccupied. We also need an express bus to the city. This is a quality-of-life issue and the people of Eastern Queens have suffered enough.”
Commuters in northeast Queens face a unique transit challenge with very limited subway service and poor access to bus service in some areas. A permanent bus option would offer a park-and-ride option for riders going into Manhattan for work, City Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) said.
“We have a shortage of mass transit options in eastern Queens and western Nassau,” Grodenchik said. “There is no subway service and limited railroad service; buses are our only form of mass transit. Commuters could park at Belmont and take a direct ride to Manhattan.”
State Assemblyman David Weprin (D-Fresh Meadows) said parking is available to accommodate thousands of commuters and would help to take cars off the over-crowded streets of Queens.
“Allowing eastern Queens and Long Island commuters the option to use Belmont Park as a park-and-ride facility is a common-sense idea whose time has come,” Weprin said. “Utilizing the already available space at Belmont Park for commuter parking will make for an easier commute for thousands, help to reduce congestion on our city’s roads and reduce pollution in Queens and Long Island.”
According to U.S. Rep. Gregory Meeks (D-Jamaica), offering bus or train routes for residents in the transit desert of eastern Queens would open the door to the rest of the city for his constituents.
“Our city has a great opportunity to expand access and opportunity for the residents of eastern Queens and western Nassau,” Meeks said. “The establishment of permanent bus or railroad service at Belmont Park would serve as an essential transit hub for communities that have historically been ignored by public transportation programs.”
Queens Village residents often suffer through the toughest commutes and would likely to be the closest Queens residents to Belmont Park, state Sen. Leroy Comrie (D-Jamaica) said.
“Largely due to the lack of public transit infrastructure, Queens Village residents suffer some of the longest commute times in our entire city,” said Comrie. “We should be seeking to take full advantage of the limited infrastructure that does exist.”
The MTA and Amtrak announced Penn Station repairs were wrapping up in the last week of August with full LIRR service to be restored as planned Sept. 5.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall