BY MATT SHORTALL
Local residents and members of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association met in Queens this past Saturday to protest plans for the expansion of Selective Bus Service (SBS) routes. The Department of Transportation is planning an overhaul of Woodhaven Boulevard that would remove two lanes of traffic and multiple bus stops.
The DOT and MTA have been pushing for Select Bus Service, sometimes referred to as Bus Rapid Transit (BRT), for the last several years. 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 Woodhaven Boulevard would remove two lanes of traffic—one in each direction—from use by any vehicles except MTA buses. All other vehicle traffic on the boulevard would have to utilize fewer lanes.
In addition, the 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. Moreover, at several busy intersections, bus riders would have to wait on medians in the boulevard instead of on sidewalks.
Cameras and enforcement officers would enforce the new bus lane rules, and violators would receive tickets.
More than 50 people turned out on a hot and humid late-summer day to have their voices heard. They carried signs that read “Save Our Lanes,” and “No SBS!” In between speakers the protesters chanted, “Trash this plan.”
Sherman Kane, a member of Community Board 9, has lived on Woodhaven Boulevard for the last 20 years. “It will negatively affect all of Woodhaven, but especially Woodhaven Boulevard,” said Kane. “It’s going to take away two lanes of traffic. We don’t need that. Whether on the service road or the main road, it’s going to increase traffic everywhere.
Marian Molina is another member of Queens Community Board 9 who lives right on Woodhaven Boulevard. “No one here is against public transportation,” she explained. “We’re against taking lanes from the drivers in order to give them to the buses. If you look around right now, it’s Saturday afternoon and we have so much traffic.”
The Queens Public Transit Committee, an advocate group for improved public transportation in the borough, has criticized the DOT’s SBS proposal as sacrificing one mode of transportation in favor of another. “The intersection at Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards is one of the most congested thoroughfares in the entire city,” said Scala. “It doesn’t take a genius to know that if you take a glass full of water and start adding more water, it’s going to overflow. South Queens is in danger of cardiac arrest because its main artery is congested.”
The DOT says it’s listening to residents’ concerns and is open to making revisions on the SBS plan if it feels such changes are warranted. “Woodhaven Boulevard is an incredibly important street, but one that is not serving all the residents of Queens as best as it could,” said a spokesperson for the DOT.
In addition to carrying a high volume of traffic, the corridor carries over 30,000 bus passengers daily. Moreover, it has Vision Zero priority status, Mayor Bill De Blasio’s initiative to completely eliminate traffic fatalities by the year 2020, in an area that has one of the highest fatality rates of any street in all of New York City.
“We have made multiple changes to the original plan after listening to the community and working with stakeholders to address their concerns,” said the DOT spokesperson. “This extensive community outreach process has yielded alterations asked for by residents such as not banning left turns on Jamaica Avenue in either direction, while still offering safety enhancements along the corridor that will benefit thousands of pedestrians, drivers and bus riders who travel, shop and work on the corridor every day.”
The DOT says it will closely monitor the impacts of these changes, as it does for all projects.