‘This lawsuit should be dropped’: Fresh Pond bus lanes create further tension as business owners lodge legal complaint

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Photo: Mark Hallum/QNS

Property owners in Ridgewood are banding together to take on city hall in court after the Department of Transportation installed southbound bus lanes on Fresh Pond Road they claim is impacting business on the busy corridor.

The Fresh Pond Coalition has filed an Article 78 proceeding in Queens Supreme Court that claims the city DOT’s decision to implement the bus lanes on the gridlocked section of road was based on insufficient evidence such as polls and figures that do not add up to locals.

As well as having doubts about the accuracy of the data gathered by DOT, including a figure that said 30,000 bus riders travel down Fresh Pond a day or that they polled 45 businesses, Ridgewood Property Owners Association President Geoffrey Elkind even criticized the benefits of the bus lane.

“This isn’t about privileged car owners or equity for bus riders. But if you want to talk about equity for bus riders, is 25 percent of a three mile an hour improvement really equity?” Elkind said. “Andy Byford, President of New York City Transit, in his Better Bus Action Plan, identified traffic congestion as the primary cause of slow bus speeds in New York City, and we agree. Congestion is the real problem and the real scourge on Fresh Pond Road.”

The seven-block corridor acts as one of the few major north-south routes between Ridgewood and Middle Village, but average speeds of buses and likely all other vehicles on the road has a recorded average of about 3 mph.

Elkind argued that if the city was really committed to thinning out auto traffic, they would consider curbing for-hire vehicles that add to more cars on the road than every before. The two biggest contributors, however, as the activists see it, are 18-wheelers offloading goods at two of the supermarkets north of the M train and the bus depot below the elevated track serving lines from both Brooklyn and Queens.

Stephanie Burgos-Veras, campaign manager with the Riders Alliance, responded to the lawsuit claiming it ignored the needs of black and brown people who consist of the highest demographic of bus riders, who on average make $28,000, she claimed.

“The lawsuit filed to stop the bus lane on Fresh Pond Road is frivolous. It’s unfortunate that a small group of people are trying to block something that would benefit tens of thousands of riders. More than 28,000 people depend on buses that crawl at just 3 mph along Fresh Pond Road — and are benefiting from the bus lane. Adding bus lanes is part of the mayor’s Better Buses initiative to improve bus speeds by 25 percent and improve reliability for the almost 2 million New Yorkers who ride the bus daily,” Burgos-Veras said. “When you block bus lanes, you block access to economic opportunity to bus riders who, on average, make $28K a year and are 86 percent people of color. Bus riders should have priority on New York City streets. This lawsuit should be dropped.”

DOT’s press team did not respond to a request for comment before press time, but in early August, the agency did make a concession to the community.

“While I realize that you still have ongoing questions, I would like to report that we have heard your concerns with regard to the hours of the bus lane operation and will be reducing the hours from 2 to 8 p.m. to 3 to 7 p.m. Monday through Friday,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said to Councilman Robert Holden.

“You can be assured that DOT will monitor the conditions along the corridor following the implementation of our proposed plan and will be ready to make adjustments, as needed,” Trottenberg said.

Tony DiPiazza, from the Federazione Italo-Americana di Brooklyn and Queens, said the new situation with the bus lanes could put some businesses out of action within six months.

“It’s not something you try and in six months reverse. In six months those business could be out of business and who’s going to repay them,” DiPiazza said. “They just went from plan A to Plan Z … There were easier fast solutions.”

DiPiazza has taken the heat in the past for supposedly making a traffic hell in Ridgewood with Fresh Pond Road Street Fair, an Italian cultural event that takes over the asphalt for four days.

“The traffic lights are still not synchronized, I drive down here and every two blocks I hit a red light,” Holden said at the Wednesday press conference. “They’re not really serious about moving traffic. They’re only implementing their plans and it’s rushed, by the way. They had to meet the mayor’s deadline, they weren’t meeting the community’s [concerns].”

Holden added that one step to reducing congestion would be to establish a bus depot to serve the Brooklyn lines that are stored in Ridgewood such as the B48.