Council Member Donovan Richards stood on the steps of City Hall this morning, asking DOT to move ahead with full-fledged Bus Rapid Transit on Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard. Six other Queens council members have joined Richards on a letter to DOT and the MTA asking for center-running bus lanes, station-like bus shelters, and pedestrian safety improvements.
In addition to Richards, council members Eric Ulrich, Elizabeth Crowley, Karen Koslowitz, Julissa Ferreras, Daniel Dromm, and Jimmy Van Bramer — whose districts all include the potential BRT route — want DOT and the MTA to “consider implementing full-featured Bus Rapid Transit” on Woodhaven [PDF]. There is now a united front of support for BRT from city elected officials in advance of the anticipated rollout of a bus improvement plan from DOT and MTA this fall.
The agencies have been hosting workshops in the area and have already outlined a first phase that includes minor bus upgrades. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg has said the budget for future phases of the project will be significant, and Richards hopes the city uses those funds to create a robust BRT line. “We look forward to a full-fledged BRT service in Queens,” he said. “We’re closer than many of us anticipated to pulling this off now.”
That’s due in no small part to the work of the Riders Alliance, which has spent months organizing bus riders. Stephanie Veras, a Woodhaven resident who volunteers with Riders Alliance, relies on buses to get to Queens Center Mall and to access the subway. Too often the bus is slow and unreliable, she said. Veras presented 5,000 petition signatures she and other volunteers had gathered in favor of center-running BRT. “It’s about time that Queens get better buses,” she said. “Queens bus riders deserve better.”
Richards said he endured long bus rides on Woodhaven when commuting to Vaughn College of Aeronautics in Elmhurst as a student. Better buses can create better economic opportunities, Richards said, especially for residents in his transit-starved district. “We stand with those families who have had a hard time just connecting to the other side of Queens,” he said. “This is an economic justice issue. This is an environmental justice issue.”
Richards was in Paris two weeks ago to attend a conference sponsored by the U.S. Embassy. While there, he got around by bus and was impressed with the city’s Mobilien bus system, which blankets the city with physically-separated bus lanes. He wants to see that type of innovation in New York. “There is no reason we should be behind the ball,” he said. “There are other countries who are doing this.”
“It was much easier to cross the street there,” Richards said of boulevards in Paris with separated bus lanes. “It was very progressive what they were doing there.” He compared it to Woodhaven, which ranks as one of the city’s most dangerous streets for pedestrians. “You’re taking your life into your own hands when you cross… It’s dangerous.”
Some community board members along Woodhaven Boulevard are worried that new bus lanes would mean losing parking or car lanes. I asked Richards if he had a response to their concerns. “We are all trying to move people away from driving in New York City,” he said. “We want those people who have complaints to get on the bus. We want them to get on the bus. It’s the only way we can really address climate change, with a holistic approach.”
“Part of the reason many people drive in these communities is just poor transportation. I think this is a huge step in the right direction, and I think people will leave their cars at home more often,” Richards said. He noted that many of his constituents can’t afford private cars, and already rely on bus service.
Richards called for an extension of the Q52, which runs the entire length of Woodhaven and Cross Bay before ending at Beach 67th Street. The Rockaway Youth Task Force has asking the MTA to extend the route farther east to give better access to thousands of low-income residents in Edgemere and Far Rockaway. “Being young growing up in Rockaway, you don’t necessarily have access to a car,” Rockaway Youth Task Force President Milan Taylor told Streetsblog yesterday. “We definitely see faster buses as a more realistic win than improving trains within our community.”
Efforts to restore rail service on the Rockaway Beach Branch Line between Liberty Avenue and Rego Park have gained steam recently as a counter-proposal to the QueensWay, which would build a linear park along the rail corridor. Richards didn’t take a position one way or another on the QueensWay vs. rail debate. In contrast to Assembly Member Phil Goldfeder, who remains “unconvinced” of BRT and favors rail reactivation, Richards is more enthusiastic about improving bus service. “The more transportation alternatives, the better,” he said. “We have an opportunity to do something amazing with full-fledged BRT service right here.”
The BRT for NYC coalition, which includes major business, labor, and transit groups, is continuing its work to build support for bus rapid transit. Next up for them: Securing backing from more elected officials and adding more groups to the coalition’s membership. The complete phase two proposal from DOT and the MTA for Woodhaven is expected this fall.
This post has been updated to more accurately reflect the views of Assembly Member Phil Goldfeder.