After a contentious debate premised on pitting express bus service against local business interests, Community Board 5 voted overwhelmingly on July 10 to recommend rejection of a proposed bus lane along Fresh Pond Road from Metropolitan Avenue to Putnam Avenue in Ridgewood.
The plan put forth by the city’s Department of Transporation (DOT) is aimed at reducing the street’s overwhelming rush hour congestion on one of Ridgewood’s most busiest commercial strips.
The Board 5 Transportation and Public Transit Committees had recommended supporting the plan, but during Wednesday’s meeting at Middle Village’s Christ the King High School, the full board voted against it — a rare rebuke, as committee recommendations are usually adopted by the entire advisory body.
While both those arguing for and against the bus lane agreed that the DOT was likely to move forward with their plan regardless of their advisory vote, those who argued for it wanted to tack on additional recommendations like retiming traffic lights that are not currently a part of the DOT’s proposal, and those arguing against the plan wanted to do everything in their power to stall it.
“People have to understand it’s not going to stop this from happening. It’s already set in motion, so there’s nothing that we can say or do that’s going to prevent Fresh Pond from staying the same,” said board member Kathy Masi, who voted against recommendation.
In lieu of the bus lane proposal, the board passed a different congestion-related motion based primarily on the testimony from Geoffrey Elkind, president of the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association. It proposed retime the traffic lights, limiting commercial delivery times and consolidating bus stops.
Elkind delivered a presentation that formed the basis of the congestion recommendations that the board passed after they shooting down the bus lane.
Before he gave his speech, he passed out a six-page analysis of the DOT’s proposal, which recommended suspending the DOT’s current plan until other congestion-reduction recommendations are put into place, the same plan that Councilman Robert Holden advocated for in a letter to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg that he release prior to the meeting.
Board 5 Public Transit Committee Chair John Maier fumed after the committee recommendation was turned down.
“[That] vote was a vote for the historic past of do-nothingness and a delay tactic. I live right off that street and I see it stopped from Metropolitan to Putnam in non-stop traffic. It can literally take 25 minutes to move,” said Maier.
Both sides agreed that congestion on Fresh Pond Road has become intolerable due to the merging of bus and car traffic. The Q58, which runs along the strip, is the busiest bus line in the borough – serving over an estimated 30,000 people per day. It’s also been reported to be the slowest.
The proposed bus lane proposal would increase the average speed of the road from 3 to 4 mph on average, according to Board 5 Chairperson Vincent Arcuri.
Outside the inter-board contention, the majority of residents who attended the meeting gave the appearance of being against the bus lane.
Occasionally, as members of the council raised points against the proposal, attendees broke out into scattered applause. Of the three members of the public who addressed the council during the public forum, two were against the plan, while the other supported it.
The speakers against the bus lane plan emphasized their concern over a potential loss of parking, and how that could impact the business community.
“It will hurt the businessman on Fresh Pond Road. We have various empty stores there. They’re empty not only because of the economy but they are going to be more empty if we add the bus lane,” said Andy Gouzoulis of Krisch Realty.
Several members of the Public Transit and Transportation committees rebutted the business community’s concerns. They said that the metered parking that the proposal would add to the neighborhood addresses this problem.
“The hyperbole from the business community is just that: hyperbole,” said Maier.
Though neither side believes that this is the end of the conversation on the bus lane, Maier ended coming away disheartened about how the DOT would react to the vote.
“Anything that we were asking for changes, like that change in the time frame, they don’t have any incentive to do that. This plan is not part of the Queens DOT, it’s part of the mayor’s bus improvement program,” he said.