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What is the City planning to do to Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevard?
The Department of Transportation (DOT) and MTA have been pushing for Select Bus Service (SBS), sometimes referred to as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The agencies claim this will provide faster bus service along the entire Boulevard, stretching from Rockaway all the way to Woodside. The SBS proposal for our Boulevard would remove two lanes of traffic—one in each direction—from use by any vehicles except MTA buses. That means that all the other vehicle traffic on the Boulevard will be crammed into fewer lanes.
In addition, DOT and MTA have proposed banning left turns from the Boulevard onto cross streets such as Jamaica Avenue and Liberty Avenue, because those turns would interfere with the dedicated bus lanes. That means that drivers who want to reach these thoroughfares—including commercial trucks making deliveries—would only be able to do so by making right turns and taking detours through residential side streets.
Moreover, at several busy intersections, bus riders would have to wait on medians in the Boulevard, instead of on sidewalks.
The bus lanes would be enforced by cameras and enforcement officers. Violators would receive tickets.
An artist's idealized rendering of the intersection of Woodhaven Boulevard and Metropolitan Avenue, after SBS is implemented. Source: DOT & MTA.
The City is planning to invest hundreds of millions of dollars in this plan. It will completely reshape the Boulevard in ways that will certainly make it worse, in order to further Mayor de Blasio's agenda. There are plenty of reasons you should be very worried about this:
When he ran for mayor, Bill de Blasio campaigned on having 20 BRT routes in New York City by the end of his first term. The only way he can make good on his promise is if his administration rushes SBS projects through as quickly as possible. Mayor de Blasio is now feeling lots of pressure from transit advocates, some of whom hate cars and most of whom want to expand bus service without regard for community concerns. He and his allies are doing everything they can to try to push through SBS on the Boulevard. The fact that the Boulevard needs improvements makes it a convenient target, but numerous improvements can and should be made without implementing SBS. DOT, MTA, and the Mayor are counting on people like you remaining uninformed and quiet, but by signing this petition, you will make clear you know what's going on, and you don't like it.
No. The City decided to shove SBS down our community's throat before even consulting us on whether we wanted or needed this. DOT and MTA sought input only on how to implement SBS on the Boulevard, not whether to implement it. They had already made up their minds, meaning that any input they gathered was more for show than for anything else.
We absolutely agree that the Boulevard must be made safer. But safety improvements can and should be made without implementing SBS. Those pushing SBS have attempted to conflate safety improvements with better bus service. This is a way of confusing people. We don't need SBS in order to make the Boulevard safer. And, as mentioned above, there are reasons to believe SBS will actually make our streets and our bus passengers more dangerous. If the City took the hundreds of millions of dollars being earmarked for SBS, and instead invested that money in non-bus improvements to the Boulevard, it's exciting to think of how much it would accomplish.
No. Everyone—including SBS opponents—agrees that changes are needed along the Boulevard. There are too many accidents, and there's too much congestion. That is why it's frustrating that the City has chosen to focus on SBS: there are so many good ideas that have been suggested, and so many other ways to use the millions of dollars that will be spent on this SBS plan.
No. There have been many suggestions about other ways to improve bus service. It is outrageous that DOT and MTA did not study them thoroughly before pushing ahead with their SBS plan.
For example, the Woodhaven Residents Block Association has asked the City to study the possibility of a Busway—running bus service along an exclusive "right of way" just a few blocks away from the Boulevard. (Photo at right, from MassDOT Blog, depicts Boston's Silver Line, a busway that runs through Boston.) This right of way is currently occupied by abandoned train tracks. The Busway proposal would avoid buses having to share the road with other vehicles, it would allow buses to travel safely at faster speeds because there are no intersections or red lights, it is a better option for properties abutting the tracks than other proposals, and it allows riders to wait for buses in relative peace and safety, to name a few benefits. And it would have none of the drawbacks of the SBS proposal. The idea of exploring it has already received a great deal of support from Woodhaven residents and elected officials. But the City refuses even to consider the idea before implementing SBS, and it has declined to explain why. (Photo below left shows the abandoned right of way crossing over Park Lane South, just three blocks from Woodhaven Boulevard.)
Other suggestions for improving bus service include adopting off-board fare payment, increasing the number of buses along the Boulevard, using extra-long "articulated" buses, skip-stop service, actually enforcing the traffic laws that are routinely flouted by buses and cars alike, adding bus countdown clocks, synchronizing the traffic lights, a high-occupancy vehicle lane, and redesigning only the truly problematic parts of the Boulevard.
All of these changes should be studied—and probably implemented—before pushing ahead with a dramatic, bus-centric redesign of many miles of the Boulevard. DOT and MTA, however, refuse to explain what alternatives they considered before settling on a dramatic, full-scale SBS implementation.
And by the way, it wouldn't hurt if DOT and MTA improved our subways first, too. For example, the Straphangers Campaign calls the A train one of the very worst in the city for regularity of service and breakdown rate. And the Citizens Budget Commission says of all the city's subway stations, four that are in the worst physical condition are on the J or A lines in Queens, very close to the Boulevard. (Another one is the J line's first stop over the border in Brooklyn.) More than half these stations' structural components are not in good repair.
To improve bus service and public transit in the area, DOT and MTA should focus on easier, faster, less expensive changes, and should maintain the
infrastructure we already have, before embarking on this most disruptive and expensive initiative. Long lines for buses on the Boulevard have been a reality since at least 1943 (see the photo at right, taken in 1943 at the intersection of Cross Bay Boulevard and Liberty Avenue). This SBS proposal is not the only way to address it, and we think it won't work.
I care about the environment. Should I sign the petition when I dislike the environmental impact of cars?Absolutely. We care about the environment too, and that's one reason why we're fighting this ill-conceived plan. By making traffic worse (as SBS undoubtedly will), idling vehicles will be sitting on the Boulevard longer, emitting larger amounts of CO2 and other pollutants. By prohibiting left turns and forcing vehicles to take less direct routes, we're causing them to remain on the roads longer and to burn more fuel, which is also bad for the environment. If the City really cared about environmental impact, it would have examined all the options instead of fixating on this one plan. As the last FAQ shows, there are other possibilities that would not have such a detrimental environmental impact. By signing this petition, you will tell the DOT and MTA that you want them to study all the options and come up with a better plan.
We live near the Boulevard; the last thing we want is for our homes, schools, parks, and stores to be exposed to more smog. And we care about the planet too. Those who claim that imposing the SBS plan on the Boulevard is the most environmentally friendly one are being either naive or dishonest. DOT and MTA do not even seem to have conducted an environmental impact assessment for their plan, let alone a comparison of the environmental impacts of all the alternatives.
No. Bus lanes have been installed along Woodhaven Boulevard
between Metropolitan Avenue and Dry Harbor Road, but this is technically not part of SBS. It's part of a City study called the Congested Corridors Project. This study will supposedly provide data to help with implementation of SBS. DOT has said they haven't yet compiled all the data from the study, which raises a question: Why has the City settled on moving ahead with SBS when they haven't even examined all the data?
(Photo at right shows the bus lanes on Woodhaven Boulevard in Rego Park. Notice how, even in light traffic and during a non-busy time of day, the bus on the right is veering out of its lane into a general-traffic lane. Also notice how cars are in the bus lane on the right, because they must enter the lane in order to make right turns. Photo from DOT.)
Numerous residents report that the bus lanes have worsened congestion and have also increased traffic on residential side streets. There is much frustration from commuters who must spend their time in heavy traffic while bus lanes remain empty and largely underused.
The bus lanes from this study are also different from the SBS proposal in a couple of key ways. First, the existing bus lanes are not in effect 24/7. Other vehicles can use them on weekends and during non-peak hours. Second, only MTA buses would be allowed to use the bus lanes once SBS is implemented. Currently, all buses are permitted to use the lanes.
No. In recent years, DOT has repeatedly made serious blunders in our area, and has consistently failed to listen to community input. Here are just a few examples:
DOT's involvement in the area has been long on errors and short on true collaboration with the community. If DOT cannot do these things well, it is hard to believe they will successfully plan and implement a far larger project—one of the most expensive and important that our part of Queens has ever seen.
If you've enjoyed SBS elsewhere in the City, that's great, but that doesn't mean SBS will succeed on the Boulevard. Many of the other roads where SBS has been implemented are very different from Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevard. The Boulevard is over 11 miles long. It cannot be likened to Second Avenue in Manhattan, as one DOT official recently tried to do.
Moreover, this SBS proposal is different from where SBS has been implemented elsewhere. For example, the M86, an 86th Street crosstown bus in Manhattan, is technically considered SBS, but it doesn't have its own bus lane. And SBS hasn't worked everywhere. Soon after it was created, the B44 SBS route in Brooklyn reportedly "snarled traffic on Nostrand Avenue, choking a key Brooklyn corridor and doubling travel times," even though the DOT study predicted no adverse traffic impact. Ridership actually dropped on the line after SBS implementation.
The City wants you to believe this plan is inevitable, but that's incorrect. Due to community protest, City agencies have already postponed implementing the plan, and have made significant changes to the proposal that they previously claimed were necessary. For example, they previously planned to eliminate left turns onto Jamaica Avenue, Myrtle Avenue, and Metropolitan Avenue. After the community spoke up, the City reinstated those left turns. This was a victory, and it proved that we can force the City to change this proposal. But it's still a bad plan and we have to keep up the fight.
Unfortunately, DOT and MTA have been intentionally vague about many important details, and there is no indication that all will be revealed well in advance of implementation. In other words, by the time "all the facts" of the SBS plan are out, it will be too late to stop it.
Fortunately, the agencies have been clear about the broad strokes of the plan: eliminating lanes of traffic, banning left turns, setting up bus stops on medians (where trees, like the one pictured to the right, have high mortality rates due to traffic speeding by), and removing bus stops. Common sense, previous experience with these agencies, and our own experiences with similar changes are reliable guides about how to respond. And they all indicate that we must oppose it.
Consider those who are in favor of SBS on the Boulevard. Supporters of this plan aren't waiting for every last detail to be hammered out before they come out in favor of it. And DOT has already told the community that it is pushing forward with this plan, even though it doesn't have all the facts. The City has already jumped to a conclusion. It would be a grave error to stand by quietly, awaiting facts that might never come, while the City plows ahead with ruining our Boulevard.
Moreover, there is reason to believe that DOT will not provide honest details. If it has already pre-judged its conclusion, why would it then provide the public with any evidence that would contradict its conclusion? And its track record is dubious. For example, DOT and MTA boasted that they had "visited over 350 businesses along the corridor in Jan/Feb 2015" as part of their community outreach. But they conveniently failed to mention that none of the businesses even a block from the Boulevard were visited. That means none of the dozens of small businesses on Jamaica Avenue, 101st Avenue, Liberty Avenue, and other major cross streets near the Boulevard were consulted.
This is an instance when one party—the agencies and their pro-SBS allies—are using their control of "facts" as a weapon to get their way. Beware when someone urges you to ignore your common sense and experience.
Actually, no. In fact, we have never been opposed to intelligent transit improvements. Over a year ago, one of our key members wrote a newspaper column that called SBS along the Boulevard "a good idea with the potential to dramatically improve the lives of many Queens residents—or significantly worsen them, depending on planning and execution." Unfortunately, the planning we've seen falls into the category of likely to significantly worsen our lives.
Many SBS supporters are anti-car. The philosophy underlying this plan is that SBS will get people out of their cars and onto buses. We believe that intelligent policy must acknowledge that automobiles are here to stay, and that improvements in bus service will not cause most drivers to abandon their autos. This is a matter of facing up to reality, not wishful thinking—a matter of what is the case, not what we want to be the case. Given that reality, the City must take drivers and their needs into account.
Unfortunately, the City has shown serious disregard for the Boulevard's drivers. We believe it is unfair to implement a plan that increases bus ridership primarily by making life unbearable for auto drivers. We take a different approach: we believe the City should seek solutions that are good for drivers and bus passengers alike. It's possible to achieve a win-win solution (e.g., with a plan like the Busway described above). When the City seeks to benefit one group at the expense of another, its plan should be carefully scrutinized, and if there is a win-win alternative, it should be studied exhaustively first.
We're the Boulevard Improvement Group (BIG), a coalition that grew out of the Woodhaven Residents' Block Association. We are pleased that BIG's mission in fighting this SBS plan is joined by the Woodhaven Business Improvement District, Greater Woodhaven Development Corporation, the Task Force for a Better Woodhaven, the Queens Public Transit Committee, Senator Joseph Addabbo, and Assemblyman Mike Miller, among others. If you represent an organization that would like to join BIG's fight, let us know in the comments when you sign the petition, or by e-mailing us (SaveOurStreetsNYC@gmail.com).
There are three options:
Signing the petition is the most important thing, so don't hesitate. Once that's done, there's a lot more you can do: