Connecting Transportation and Politics in Southern Queens

southern_queens_bus.jpgNYLCV is sending out 12,000 mailers for the February 24 City Council special election in southern Queens.

On the scale of absurd political theater, fare hike hearings in New York City rank very close to the top. Elected officials heap scorn on the MTA, diverting attention from their own responsibility for underfunding transit, while beleaguered
straphangers beg board members for a reprieve that depends on those same electeds. It’s a cycle of frustration, blame, and unaccountability.

How to change the equation? An intriguing attempt is currently unfolding in southern Queens, where, in less than a month, voters will choose a replacement for Joseph Addabbo, who left the City Council following his election to the State Senate in November.

The New York League of Conservation Voters and the Campaign for New York’s Future have launched a voter education campaign devoted to transportation issues in the 32nd council district, a car-dependent area that includes Ozone Park, Broad Channel, and part of the Rockaways. "So many folks head to the polls and they think about how their candidates stand on education, or what their stance is on guns and crime," says Dan Hendrick of the NYLCV. "The objective of this campaign is to make sure that transportation and mass transit are voting issues as well."

The campaign is not endorsing a specific candidate, but drawing attention to the need for better transit service and to the area’s crippling traffic. Broad Channel and Rockaway residents have been in the news lately for griping about tolls on the Cross Bay Bridge. NYLCV intends to broaden the discussion. "One of their big needs is more express bus service," said Hendrick, who envisions the campaign as a continuation of last year’s public debate about congestion pricing. "Because the area is so car-dependent, [rush hour] congestion is a real problem in that district."

A local partner, the South Ozone Park Civic Association West, is helping to organize a candidates’ forum next Wednesday, where voters can get their would-be council members to go on the record with a transit platform. Six candidates are in the running [PDF] (including, still, Michael Ricatto).

"We really want to heighten the sense of accountability of our elected officials," said Hendrick. "Whoever gets elected, they’ll go into office knowing, ‘Transit is a big priority in my district.’"

Voters in the 32nd council district go the polls on February 24. When regular City Council elections roll around later this year, Hendrick said, NYLCV plans to build on this model and ramp up transportation campaigns in more districts. "Definitely the idea here is to replicate this on a much larger scale in the fall."

  • I grew up in this motor mecca of queens and know overwhelming people drive there, because that’s all the area has ever known. When the buses were operated by the Green Bus Lines it was a complete joke, only consistent at being awful. It got slightly better after MTA absorbed the bus line, but still is a weak alternative. Resident of southern queens have hour plus commutes to the city, so taking an unreliable express bus won’t cut it. Bus Rapid Transit lines would be ideal from the Rockaways up Cross Bay Blvd to Woodhaven Blvd, connecting riders to a wider range of subway lines. Those extra minutes BRT’s shave off a commute are the diffence between someone opting to be a straphanger on a bus, or driver stuck in traffic behind the bus.

  • @Paco

    Growing up in the equally motor-mecca East Bronx, I’d love to see BRT. But I’d love to see them go directly into Manhattan. I know that when a BRT route is copying a subway the subway is always faster, but I think that’s trumped by the option to have a one seat ride. This is why the express busses in these neighborhoods are a good idea.

    I’m surprised I’ve never heard it mentioned before, but why don’t we just change all MTA express busses to BRT? Combine an express bus map with a subway map in your head… That’s a ridiculous amount of coverage!

  • What are BRT buses, just the regular city buses? And when you say change the express buses to them, do you mean adding stops or just changing routes?

  • BRT buses are just regular reticulated city buses. Express buses now are currently different, with seating comparable to a commuter train like the LIRR or Metro North. This leads to express buses being thought of as the “premium” option to the bus/subway combination in the outer boroughs: quicker and comfier.

    The BRT lines that the MTA has planned already are awesome (I’m a regular rider of the Bx 12), but my one peeve about them is that they’re redone improvements to existing bus lines. Existing bus lines are meant to be supplements to subways and other rapid transit. There are a few bus lines that are major connections in their own right (the M60 bus, crosstown buses linking the Upper West Side to the Upper East Side), but most are simply the secondary “local” network that are meant to feed into the “express” subway lines.

    I just don’t think that the strength of BRT is the fact that someone can take it to a subway to get to the city. I think the strength of the BRT would be that someone can take it directly to the city. It’s a direct alternative to a subway, rather than a supplement or a “premium” alternative.

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