BY JON CRONIN
The MTA and city Department of Transportation met the Queens Borough Board on Monday night to discuss improvements in the city bus system and the tweaking of existing lanes.
Although the board listened intently to MTA and DOT presentations, board and City Council members present were eager to question the agencies about the bus lanes on Woodhaven Boulevard.
Many of the complaints regarding the addition of bus lanes on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards through Select Bus Service were that the lanes replaced numerous parking spaces that were used by local businesses. Jessica Kuo, the DOT manager of the Woodhaven Boulevard project, said that the agency returned as many parking spaces as it could.
Betty Braton, chairwoman of Community Board 10, said that local businesses are losing large amounts of their patronage due to the bus lanes and that something had to be done.
Nicole Garcia, the Queens commissioner of the DOT, said that state Sen. Joe Addabbo (D-Howard Beach) also expressed concern and reached out to her office, which is working with the senator on the issue. Garcia also noted that Deputy Borough Commissioner Jason Banrey is working with businesses on Cross Bay Boulevard on the issue.
Kuo noted that since the implementation of the bus lanes on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards is not yet two months old, the DOT does not have enough data to analyze yet. However, the agency is “closely monitoring” the situation.
She added that upgrades along the boulevard in 2018 will largely be pedestrian and traffic improvements. There will be an extended left turn on Myrtle Avenue and five new entries onto the service road.
Councilman Bob Holden (D-Glendale) asked that the corridor’s traffic lights be better synchronized.
“You go three blocks and then you stop. You go two blocks and then you stop,” he said. “It seems that the deck is stacked against motorists.”
Kuo said that this should not be happening, as signal optimization was part of the implementation. Garcia pointed out that Union Turnpike’s signal pattern was recently redone and that “the order could be out of whack.”
“We may be saving lives on Woodhaven and Queens Boulevard, but we may be risking them on residential streets. Your job will be impossible unless we increase mass transit,” Holden told the DOT and MTA.
Braton noted that although she doesn’t have data, “anecdotally, residents are complaining of much longer commutes.”
She joked that she is “hit on the head” with complaints about the bus lanes everywhere she goes. Braton said that on her way from Ozone Park to Kew Gardens, she did not pass any buses in the bus lane on Woodhaven Boulevard and that often she sees them outside the lane. She noted that she wants bus drivers to be held accountable, especially since drivers are given tickets for being in bus lanes.
Raj Rampershad, chairman of Community Board 9, said that too many bus stops in his district are yet to be shoveled after last week’s snowstorm. Garcia asked that he report the sites to the DOT.
The angriest community board chairman at the meeting was Joe Hennessey, of Community Board 6, who takes the Q23 from Forest Hills to Trader Joe’s on Metropolitan Boulevard. The Q23 route was changed due to the southbound left-turn restriction from Woodhaven Boulevard to Union Turnpike. Hennessey said that he now has to walk too far when going to Trader Joe’s. He noted that when a bus driver restarts his route at the Stop & Shop on Union Turnpike, he often attempts to get a second fare from Hennessey.
“There are too many senior citizens in this community,” yelled Hennessey, noting that the elderly should not be forced to walk long distances in the winter weather.