Queens community boards urge DOT to reevaluate Woodhaven Blvd. SBS route

Photo via Wikimedia Commons

Several Queens community board leaders had a number of requests at Monday’s Queens Borough Board meeting that they believe will improve the implementation of the Select Bus Service (SBS) on Woodhaven Boulevard.

Representatives from the Department of Transportation (DOT) and MTA attended the Queens Borough Board meeting in Kew Gardens on Jan. 8 to update members on SBS initiatives and to answer questions.

The Q52 and Q53 SBS routes along Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards, which were rolled out on Nov. 12, have faced criticism since their implementation. Residents complained about heavy traffic along the thoroughfare due to construction at the intersection of Woodhaven Boulevard and Union Turnpike last October.

The Woodhaven/Cross Bay corridor contains eight Vision Zero Priority intersections and, in all, more than 30 intersections were upgraded to improve pedestrian safety and traffic flow. With more than 3,000 traffic-related injuries and 24 fatalities on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards between 2011 and 2015, DOT and the MTA began outreach for the SBS route in 2014 in an effort to make the areas safer.

Though the changes have been in effect for less than two months, DOT employees argued that there have been benefits for Q52/53 bus travelers.

“Overall, we’ve been hearing very positive things from bus riders and traffic was again very challenging over the summer and through the fall, but I think were kind of beyond that and seeing the traffic results that we expected,” said Queens DOT Commissioner Nicole Garcia. 

However, Betty Braton, chairperson for Community Board 10 in Ozone Park and Howard Beach, said that since November she has been fielding complaints from residents about the route.

“There are a lot of unhappy campers out there,” she said. “I’d be interested in seeing what the statistics are because anecdotally, residents are complaining about commutes being longer going north bound, [and] they’re complaining going south bound the commute is longer.”

As part of the new features along the corridor, bus-only lanes are in effect on Woodhave Boulevard from 7 a.m. to 7 p.m. on Monday through Friday, and along Cross Bay Boulevard from 7 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday.

Braton, who drives along the route, said that she believes buses do not use the lanes frequently enough to justify these hours. She asked that the DOT take another look at expanding the hours that cars can use the bus-only lanes.

“One of the other things people are complaining about are that private vehicles that go in the bus lanes are going to be summonsed, yet buses are regularly coming out of bus lanes,” she added. “They shouldn’t be playing leap frog with each other.”

Councilman Robert Holden, who represents neighborhoods with little public transportation options such as Middle Village, Glendale, Maspeth and Ridgewood, said that the current traffic light synchronization forces him to stop every two blocks before running into another red light, which causes congestion and frustration.

“Motorists are not happy,” he said. “I know the bus riders might be, but in my neck of the woods, we take our cars a lot because we don’t have a subway. We’re at a point where we have to travel by car but it seems like the deck is stacked against any motorist in the borough.”

As a result of the traffic light issue, Holden argued, motorists are taking shortcuts through side streets and this increased use in side roads is causing a heightened request for speed bumps.

“We might be saving lives on Queens Boulevard and Woodhaven, but I think we might pay the price on our residential streets,” he said. 

Jessica Kuo, a transit development city planner for DOT, said that the signal optimization was “meant to improve traffic, so if you’re seeing issues, I’m going to take that to the head engineers.”

Both Holden and Braton implored the DOT to study whether the bus-only rules can be scrapped during the weekends to give motorists more freedom to move around the corridor.

“It is something we are discussing internally but this just launched so we want to give it a chance,” Garcia said. “It’s not outside of the realm of possibilities.”

In addition, the city agency will look to make street improvements across multiple intersections across the boulevard. Among the changes, DOT will extend left turn bays where possible and construct median extensions with pedestrian islands at six intersections.

These intersections include Union Turnpike at Woodhaven Boulevard, between the northbound side of 81st Road and 82nd Avenue, 91st Avenue in both directions, the northbound intersection at Rockaway Boulevard, between Platwood Avenue and 133 Avenue and between Desarc Road and Pitkin Avenue.

The agency will also construct five new slips between the service and main road on Woodhaven Boulevard at 86th, 88th, 91st, 97th and 103rd avenues.

Officials also announced they would like to implement new SBS routes within the next five to 10 years from Ridgewood to Flushing, eastern Queens, Hillside Avenue, Union Turnpike, Northern Boulevard, southeast Queens, Jamaica to Flushing and a route for JFK access.

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