Councilman Robert Holden and Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan gathered with local business owners along Fresh Pond Road on Thursday to call on the Department of Transportation (DOT) to delay the installation of the express bus lane along the highly congested transit hub.
Holden and Nolan pleaded with the DOT to institute a “time out” on their plan to begin the construction at the end of the summer, reiterating the concerns of a number of Ridgewood business owners that the elimination of parking in front of stores would detrimental for their shops.
Though both elected officials expressed their eagerness to cut down on the bumper-to-bumper congestion along the street during rush hour, they proposed alternative recommendations under the conviction that a bus lane is too drastic a change.
“All we’re asking on this proposal is that you try different things first before go to the nuclear option of putting a bus lane [in],” Holden said.
Aside from the business owners concerns over their financial interests, several of those who came to the rally objected to DOT’s sweeping approach toward congestion problems.
“The one thing that is the crux of the problem is that DOT has this narrow-minded thinking that if bus lanes worked here, then they should work everywhere. That’s absolutely false,” said Andy Gouzoulis of Kirsch Realty.
The solutions proposed by Holden and Nolan echo those suggested Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association, which were also recommended by Community Board 5. They include synchronizing the traffic lights, limiting commercial delivery times, adding turning lanes, consolidating bus stops and encouraging more rigorous police enforcement of parking violations.
CB5 District Manager Gary Giordano added the recommendation of rerouting a few of the buses that travel along Fresh Pond Road but don’t operate in the neighborhood. He said that they should be assigned to operate a less crowded bus line instead of the nearby Fresh Pond Bus Depot.
Holden suggested that it would take six months to a year of observance to assess whether these measures were an effective way to reduce congestion. Neither gave a definitive answer as to how soon they could expect these changes to be implemented, but Nolan pointed out that she was “shocked” at how fast the DOT has moved to put the bus lane plan in place.
“We’re very concerned that they are moving too quickly without really having a dialogue with us. It’s just by fiat,” she said.
Asked about the Board 5 Transportation and Public Transit Committees’ conclusion that the additional metered parking included in the DOT proposal would resolve the business communities concerns over parking, Nolan suggested that this line of thinking was an unfair criticism by transit activists.
“You know, there are people in our city right now who are very anti-car — and we respect that — but very anti-car,” she said.
She then added that she believed the people of Ridgewood overwhelmingly do not support the bus lane. The majority of CB5 did recommend alternatives to the bus lane by a 29-5 vote.
“We think it’s a fair ask to ask the mayor and DOT to take a look at the suggestions of the people on the ground, not in the people have just an ideology or a goal. The people on the ground who live here and work here every day and that’s what this press conference is about,” said Nolan.
Nolan also said that in the case that the DOT does not take these suggestions into account that she would consider filing an article 78 proceeding to appeal the agency’s decision. “But I’m certainly hopeful that the mayor will listen to the voices of this community,” she added.
DOT released the following statement in response to the press conference:
“DOT has received this feedback and will take it into consideration for implementation. However, a robust solution is needed to fix the mobility problems on Fresh Pond Road that have plagued this commercial corridor.
“Buses, cars and first responders currently crawl southbound during late afternoon and early evening rush hour between Bleecker Street and 67th Avenue on Fresh Pond Road, often at 3 miles per hour — slower than the average person walks. DOT’s design for this critical corridor will make traveling faster for all users, and will benefit businesses, motorists and the 30,000 daily bus riders using this route. DOT’s plan is a comprehensive solution, as opposed to a piecemeal approach, which we do not believe would achieve the kind of meaningful results that the users of Fresh Pond Road need and deserve.
“We have worked closely with the business community to address their concerns and as [a] result are adding loading zones and over 60 metered spaces on the side streets. This and other feedback from the public, including CB5 members, has helped inform and improve the plan, and we will continue to work with the community as we move forward.”