BY TRONE DOWD
While Southeast Queens has long awaited solutions for its transit issues, one elected official sees potential in bringing additional options to existing bus lines and adjusting roadways to accommodate commuters.
In an interview with the Queens Tribune, Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) said improved transportation could come in the form of community approved changes along Merrick Boulevard.
“I think this is going to have to be a more structured and difficult conversation to have with residents, but Southeast Queens has to do something differently when it comes to transportation,” Richards said. “I know that there was hesitation when it comes to Select Bus Service on Merrick Boulevard, for instance, but I think that it’s something that we should look at. If we have to redesign Merrick Boulevard to make it wider or whatever it takes to speed up bus service for residents, I think that it’s a proposal worth exploring.”
The impetus for Richards statements is the increased costs of commuter fares. This week, the MTA increase the fare of unlimited passes for both weekly and monthly MetroCards.
“Taxpayers are paying more and seeing less service,” Richards said. “There’s no shortage of complaints when it comes to bus service, whether it’s the Q5, the Q85, the Q114, the Q113. The E train has become unreliable. Southeast Queens is receiving third world service.”
The councilman said that early discussions with the community about such a plan worried them initially. He acknowledged that as it stands now, Merrick Boulevard, which only has two lanes going each direction, is not prepared to take on such a plan. He proposed that getting rid of road medians in some locations, however, can help make the use of available space more efficient.
“If there are ways to speed up service and look at things innovatively and not so much in a bottle, we can create alternatives that will benefit people,” Richards said. “Imagine we got rid of some of these medians that the city doesn’t even maintain in the first place. We can come up with a comprehensive plan to widen the road in certain places to move the buses faster. I think that is something worth looking at and exploring.”
Road median neglect has been a community issue that the councilman has wanted addressed for sometime. Just last week, Richards introduced legislation to ensure the upkeep of unkempt road medians are maintained by the City’s Department of Transportation.
SBS has not been popular with residents elsewhere in the borough. Last year, there were vocal opponents in south Queens against the proposal of SBS along Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards via the Q52 and Q53 bus lines. In Southeast Queens, SBS wouldn’t be something new. In 2015, the Q44 brought the service to Jamaica, allowing residents quicker access to Northern Queens and the Bronx.
During the interview, Richards also reiterated his support of the proposed “freedom tickets,” Councilman I. Daneek Miller’s (D-St. Albans) resolution to make Long Island Rail Road the same price as a Metrocard. He said that instituting such a service would improve the value proposition of a Metrocard for Southeast Queens residents.
“If the MTA is going to do a hike, they should be looking at freedom ticket,” he said. “That’s a way to make sure residents are getting into Manhattan. We’re not seeing any benefits. There has to be a trade off. If i’m going to pay more, I need to see more. If there’s a dollar bag of chips, and I choose to buy the $2 bag, I want more chips in the bag. I’m not going to buy a $2 bag that’s the same size as the dollar bag.”