2015-12-02 / Features

QPTC Urges Queensrail, Not Woodhaven Select Bus Svc.

The Queens Public Transit Committee has urged the US Department of Transportation to postpone the approval of funds for the NYCDOT’s (New York City Department of Transportation) plan to build the $231 million Woodhaven Select Bus Service (SBS) in Queens. Instead, they urge, the US DOT should conduct a full scale alternatives analysis, including examining rebuilding the currently inactive ex- Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Branch Line (RBL), with community input, before green-lighting the project.

Allan Rosen, former MTA New York City Transit Director of Bus Planning, recently made this request in a letter and detailed submission (with the assistance of Brendan Read) to USDOT secretary Anthony Foxx, citing issues with the NYCDOT program. These include:

• Lack of detailed impacts to car, commercial and vehicle owners. The north/south Woodhaven/Cross Bay Boulevard is one of most heavily used roads in Queens, with about 100,000 daily users. It is also a critical secondary access road to JFK International Airport, Rosen pointed out. The New York City Economic Development Commission data shows that over 60 percent of Queens residents, including those living adjacent to Woodhaven Boulevard, own cars and use them (www.nycedc.com/blog-entry/newyorkers-and-cars). Many New Yorkers also rely on private car services (taxis and Uber), that are also users of Woodhaven Boulevard. Area businesses are reliant on commercial vehicles for deliveries which would be severely inconvenienced with the SBS plan. The SBS plan would permanently remove two lanes from general traffic use (24/7), dedicated right turn lanes at several intersections, ban left turn lanes and movements at over 20, and perhaps 30 locations, and install new traffic islands, making it more difficult for vehicles to shift lanes and possibly imperil pedestrians while trying to use SBS. As a result of SBS, drivers will be delayed; causing more pollution from being stuck in traffic and prompting many of them to take dangerous shortcuts through local residential neighborhoods, warns Rosen. NYCDOT will also reroute traffic to the narrow residential Trotting Course Lane to replace a banned left turn, posing a hardship to those residents by placing trucks and tractor trailers on their street at all hours of the day and night. While it is desirable for more people to use public transit for many trips outside of Manhattan, shopping and doctors’ appointments, etc., buses will remain much less convenient than using private transportation for many. SBS does not address the problem of multiple bus transfers and fares required to complete many local trips.

Longer trips for many MTA bus customers. The Woodhaven SBS promises to cut bus travel times on Woodhaven Boulevard, by reducing stops for many and requiring pre-payment before boarding. As a result, many customers will have to walk farther to reach or transfer between buses, resulting in no net savings or in some cases longer journey times. Others will miss their bus as they are paying their fares and will have to wait longer due to missed connections. Passengers on existing SBS routes have been seen handing their SBS tickets to boarding passengers as they leave the bus. Could this be the reason why paid ridership is now declining on most SBS routes? Because of these shortcomings, few people will be enticed out of their cars, or car services such as taxis and Uber. This will diminish the benefits of SBS, and instead will increase its negative impacts. Only those making very long trips will benefit by SBS, but will not save nearly as much time as they would if the RBL were reactivated.

Inadequate outreach. The NYCDOT did not reveal the entire comprehensive plan at the six public meetings it held. Instead, the presentation only showed the portion of the plan that the NYCDOT believed would impact those immediate neighborhoods while only emphasizing the positives and omitting the negatives.

As a result, residents and business owners were not shown the full extent of the plan at any given time. The NYCDOT also did not reach out to motorists, commercial vehicle operators and business owners who rely on them, and to emergency services operators. The NYCDOT has refused to have a dialogue regarding this project by its failure to present any hard data for the communities to react to and by failing to respond to written questions posed to them on several occasions.

Failure to examine alternatives. The NYCDOT did not conduct a rigorous open and fair study of the Woodhaven corridor that would have looked at all options, including rail on the disused RBL (former Long Island Rail Road Rockaway Branch line), which parallels Woodhaven, and rail route options, such as the Montauk Branch through Glendale. Nor has such a study, known as AA/DEIS like the one conducted for the Second Avenue Subway ever been conducted, added letter co-author, former Richmond Hill resident, industry journalist, and longtime transit advocate Brendan Read. The Second Avenue Subway study looked at BRT (Bus Rapid Transit – very different from Select Bus Service) and LRT (Light Rail Transit) before recommending the subway, Read said. The RBL, either to Rego Park, or in combination with options like Montauk Branch, merits examination as it offers faster transit trip times than SBS, thereby attracting more people out of their cars, while generating green transportation options and job-creating transitoriented development. As the RBL sits on its own and gradeseparated right of way, it will not negatively impact personal, commercial and emergency vehicles, their owners and their customers, and the neighborhoods surrounding the RBL.

Congressmembers Gregory Meeks and Hakim Jeffries and other local officials, notably Assemblyman Philip Goldfeder want the RBL alternative examined, noted Rosen. Moreover, the MTA sees the value in reopening the RBL according to a July 2014 report by New York State Comptroller Thomas DiNapoli www.osc.state.ny.us/osdc/rpt6-2015.pdf

The QPTC recommends their plan called “Queensrail” for the former 3.5-mile LIRR (Long Island Rail Road) Rockaway Beach Branch Line (RBL) that is currently an inactive rail line that parallels Woodhaven Blvd and is within 1-7 blocks away from that roadway (see map in a separate document). It stretches from Rego Park (LIRR Main Line) south to Ozone Park (A train). Returning this right of way to rail use would not only get cars and commuters off the road, but will cut down on air pollution and congestion.

Brendan Read added that SBS bus customers who are going into Manhattan will face severe overcrowding on the LIRR and the subway until the LIRR opens its new East Side Access (ESA) line into Grand Central Terminal (completion not expected until 2023). The ESA construction time lag provides enough time to rebuild and reopen the RBL so that trains can operate directly from the Rockaways and South Queens into midtown Manhattan’s New York Penn Station and Grand Central Terminal destinations. “I have devoted my entire career in planning and implementing transit improvements aimed at attracting more people to buses and trains,” said Rosen. “But the Woodhaven SBS (which is in fact BRT for its unprecedented scale, cost, and impact of any of NYCDOT’s current SBS projects), raises sufficiently serious concerns where, in my professional opinion, it requires an in-depth examination and a comprehensive analysis against alternatives like the RBL before it can proceed.” “The Queens Public Transit Committee applauds the fine letter written by Allan Rosen with the assistance of Brendan Read, and we urge Secretary Foxx to pay heed to their well-researched points and to tell the NYCDOT to bring SBS/BRT back to the drawing board,” said Philip McManus, Chairman, Queens Public Transit Committee. “This project is a major investment of the public’s money that will impact transit customers like myself and not only my neighbors, but also our communities, businesses, roadway users, those going to/working at, and providing passenger/freight transportation for JFK Airport. All transportation projects must be done right and for the benefit of everyone. If the people of Manhattan can have all transit options examined in a proper study, then so should the people of Queens. What’s fair to them is fair to us.”

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