Middle Village residents grill MTA reps at disorganized bus redesign hearing

Photo: Max Parrott/QNS

Many Middle Village residents left a Feb. 12 public hearing on the Queens bus redesign unsatisfied after heightened tempers and interruptions resulted in an abrupt end to the meeting.

Councilman Robert Holden, who organized the event with Assemblyman Brian Barnwell, stopped the Q&A portion after about 20 minutes of questions and told participants he would be rescheduling another bus redesign event in April as a workshop. His staff said that they were expecting a workshop before they received last minute notification MTA was changing the format to a presentation.

“We’re going to do an April workshop, not this,” Holden told his constituents. “We can’t get feedback and you have to write your questions on a piece of paper with a map on the back that you want to take home.”

An MTA press release challenges Holden’s claim of being blindsided by the format. A spokesperson for the MTA pointed out that a Jan. 31 release billed the event as a presentation. But the spokesperson confirmed that the MTA is working on an upcoming date for a Middle Village workshop.

During the meeting, an agitated crowd first insisted that MTA representatives stop their presentation short to answer questions. Then when the Q&A portion began, many members of the crowd bucked the format of submitting written feedback and shouted their questions and criticism across the P.S. 49 auditorium.

The presentation began uneventfully enough, with MTA representatives introducing the audience to the draft plan timeline, and telling them that there was no planned implementation date. But by the time the representatives had outlined some of the proposed routes going through the neighborhood the crowd began to grow exasperated.

“I don’t want to know about Flushing, I don’t want to know about Elmhurst. I want to know about my neighborhood where I live,” said an unhappy audience member. “Your map has eliminated Middle Village completely.”

The auditorium erupted into cheering. 

The representatives catered to the resident’s suggestion and began collecting written questions. Judy McClain, the chief of MTA operations planning, asked the crowd to keep in mind that the MTA was looking for comments about changes for them to implement in the next draft of the redesign.

“I heard that there’s a big concern there’s not enough service in Middle Village. The more specific the comments, the better,” said McClain.

The audience feedback tended toward open-ended questions, rather than micro-level suggestions. 

“How do you factor in schools?” one asked. “Why isn’t there access to local streets?” asked another. “How can the MTA justify cutting the Q38?”

McClain’s answers as well as those of her colleague Lucille Songhai, kept lapsing into back-and-forth with members of the audience or crowds.

After Holden cut the Q&A off, most of the crowd stormed off, but a small group stuck around to meet individually with the MTA representatives. Several constituents, who patiently waited their turn to take their specific issues up with the representatives, said that they were glad they did. 

The Jurgens family in Maspeth came prepared with map printouts that showed how their two closest routes to them, the Q18 and the Q47, were consolidated in a manner that left large gaps in coverage to the west of Mt. Zion Cemetery. They said that meeting one-on-one with the MTA representative felt constructive.

“I think it’s more venting. They’re just hearing what our concerns are. We’re not going to get anything of substance yet. She spent five minutes listening to us. She was nice,” said Darren Jurgens.

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