DOT Scraps Bus Lanes in Kew Gardens Hills for Flushing-Jamaica SBS

This afternoon, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a bill that requires DOT to work with the MTA on a citywide Bus Rapid Transit plan to be updated every two years. The vote came a day after DOT told bus lane opponents in eastern Queens that it will water down a Select Bus Service proposal in their neighborhood.

I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman.

In many ways, the new bill codifies much of the city’s existing BRT planning process. It requires DOT to work with the MTA on a 10-year blueprint for the city’s BRT network updated every two years, taking into consideration the city’s land development patterns and including estimates of how much it will cost to build and operate the routes.

The bill, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, passed 49-1. The lone vote against it: I. Daneek Miller, who objects to plans to bring Select Bus Service to the Q44 between Flushing and Jamaica.

“He supports BRT,” said Miller spokesperson Ali Rasoulinejad. “It’s not so much with BRT as it is with the way this process is conducted… If this is the way this process is going to happen, where community voices are not going to be heard, we might not be ready for it.”

Rasoulinejad questioned whether the Q44, which serves more than 28,000 passengers daily, attracts enough people to merit investment. He also cited the potential reduction in on-street parking spaces and said Miller would like the MTA to focus on other projects, like replacing an over-capacity bus depot in his district. (Before joining the City Council, Miller served as president of Amalgamated Transportation Union Local 1056.)

Meanwhile, Miller’s neighboring council member, Rory Lancman, can claim victory in his fight against Flushing-Jamaica Select Bus Service. At a meeting of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association last night, DOT said it would not be adding bus lanes to Main Street in that neighborhood.

“We had a very productive community meeting last night,” said Lancman spokesperson Nadia Chait. “The council member found that in that situation the DOT and the MTA had really listened to the community.”

The city encountered vocal opposition to bus lanes from Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz. Actual bus riders, however, seem to be missing from the discussion: At a public meeting about Flushing-Jamaica SBS earlier this year heavily attended by civic association members, most people said they rarely ride the bus.

DOT said that dedicated bus lanes might still be considered on other parts of the Q44 route.

In January, nearly a dozen representatives of Eastern Queens signed on to a letter urging the city to add bus lanes on the Flushing-Jamaica corridor.

  • AnoNYC


  • BBnet3000

    What is the point of a special branding if the features come and go? We already have “limited” buses, and frankly fare payment should go to POP when the Metrocard replacement is introduced anyway.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Let’s see how consistent the DeBlasio Administration is. He proposed lots of up zonings for housing, and some people stood up and said “boo.” So that should be the end of it.

  • Andres Dee

    Just go nonstop through KGH.

  • The MetroCard replacement isn’t POP, it’s contactless payment. Chicago, which uses the same type of Cubic fare system, has already made the switch. There is no POP element involved.

    SBS is Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). It has fewer stops than Limited buses. The combination of fewer stops and POP via receipts from off-board payment make SBS service faster than Limited service.

  • BBnet3000

    My point is that when they move to contactless payment, they should implement Proof of Payment systemwide, just as San Francisco has.

    SBS is barely BRT as is, and definitely wouldn’t be considered BRT without an exclusive lane.

    How much less frequent are the stops than a limited bus? Because that’s all that this line would offer over a limited bus with POP, which, to reiterate my point from my original post, would bring up the question of why the SBS branding exists in the first place.

  • ahwr

    How much less frequent are the stops than a limited bus?

    On Woodhaven the proposal adds a stop at Piktin, and replaces the stop at Atlantic with two, one at 91st and a second at 101st.

  • sbauman

    “Rasoulinejad questioned whether the Q44, which serves more than 28,000 passengers daily, attracts enough people to merit investment.”

    The 28,000 figure is misleading because the Q44 serves a much larger area than the Flushing-Jamaica corridor. In round numbers, the route is 14 miles long, of which only 6 miles are the Flushing-Jamaica corridor. Until there is an accurate boardings/exits breakdown for this route, corridor ridership totals are sheer speculation.

  • sbauman

    Fewer stops and less boarding time may make the service faster for the MTA. It does not follow that the service will be faster for the rider.

    Each extra 264′ city block the rider has to walk to/from the fewer bus stops adds a minute to the entire trip from the rider’s perspective. That walking time eats up most, if not all, SBS’ advertised time saving.

  • Simon Phearson

    So, SBS is faster for some riders (those close to the stops) and time-neutral for others (those further away). Got it.

  • qrt145

    But exercise is good for you.

  • Bolwerk

    Reducing stops does speed things up. A lot. Each stop takes at least 30 seconds, probably closer to 45, and stop times can be extended greatly by any number of: alighting passengers, wheelchairs, or large boarding queues. Stops every quarter mile mean nobody directly along the route has to walk more than 1/8 of a mile (660′) to a bus stop. By your estimate, that’s about 2.5 minutes of walking time.

  • Bolwerk

    Here’s a clarification: SBS is a bus getting roughly the kind of treatment surface transit deserves. The buses that work how buses are not supposed to work are called local, express, and limited buses. The first are too slow, the second are too expensive/wasteful, and the third are better than the first but still subject to the whims of idiots in SUVs who think they own the street.

  • Tyson White

    “I’m not against …. It’s just the way it was done….”

    We’ve heard that song before too many times.

  • HamTech87

    Drivers win again!

  • sbauman

    I’ve been massaging the historical bus time data available on the MTA website. The average SBS dwell time is substantially greater than the local’s average dwell time along the same route. I know that’s counter-intuitive but that what the data is showing.

  • Bolwerk

    That’s probably a sign of success. It means people are using the stops, willing to walk longer distances to find them.

    A more interesting metric for comparison would be total dwell time along the route divided by boardings.

  • Ian Turner

    Hmm, that is not what MTA and DOT are saying, what do you think accounts for the discrepancy?

    Could it be as simple as that lines with more passengers are more likely to be converted to SBS and also more likely to have longer dwell times?

  • Andrew

    Not counterintuitive at all. The SBS stops are the busiest stops on the line. Many more people get on and off at SBS stops than at run-of-the-mill local stops.

  • sbauman

    Thanks for that link. The MTA’s bus ridership page does not break out totals between the SBS and local bus. The M15/M15+ report did, albeit for a different time periods. I’ll assume the proportions and numbers are the same.

    I calculated the average M15 dwell time per stop at: 1:07.29 +/-95.3 sec. I’ll round the July 2011 counts to thousands: 20.7 for the M15 and 34.6 for the M15+. The per rider metric for the M15 is 3.27 sec. I calculated the average stop dwell time for the M15+ at 2:53.5 +/-150.4 sec. The per rider metric comes out to 5.0 sec.

    N.B. this metric is not a strict per rider statistic because I did not pro-rate for differences in total ridership between 2011 and 2014. It is useful for deriving a comparative metric subject to the assumption of identical proportions in ridership.

    Again, counter-intuitive.

  • Queens Citizen

    Entirely missing from the article above, were some basic facts. Specifically, the section of Main Street that runs through Kew Gardens Hills ALREADY has traffic flow at 20MPH+ (according to the DOT’s own data). Why are bus lane fanatics so eager to ram a bus lane into this neighborhood? Do they want the busses to exceed Mayor DiBlasio’s Vision Zero 25MPH ?
    Frankly this case (KGH) exposes the fact that some bus-lane proponents ignore facts. Main Street from Union Turnpike to the L.I.E. already runs at 20MPH+ with no bus lane present. This fact is missing from the article above.
    The KGH residents have logic and facts on their side. The people who wanted a bus lane in KGH, ignored the facts about current KGH Main Street bus speeds.
    The congestion and speed problems, bus commuters between Jamaica and Flushing face, have nothing to do with the part of the ride that passes through KGH (which moves at or above the speed limit already! Every hour of every day!), notwithstanding the almost religiously fantical drive of some SBS proponents to ram bus lanes everywhere, no matter what the facts are.
    SBS may make sense on many parts of Main Street, but in KGH bus traffic ALREADY moves at or above the speed limit (except at lights and bus stops).

  • sbauman

    Actually, I believe a better metric would be dwell time divided by ridership/bus. The phenomenon I’m observing could be explained by the MTA running too few SBS buses for the demand. (I could have equally stated that the MTA ran too many local buses for the demand but I know the MTA never runs too many buses.) That may be a better metric for how many people are trying to get on/off at a given stop.

    According the MTA’s downloadable schedule data, there are 264 weekday M15’s and 340 weekday M15+’s.
    That comes to 78.3 riders/bus for the M15 and 101.6 riders/bus for the M15+.

    Dividing these number into the average dwell times, we get: 0.86 sec for the M15 and 1.70 for the M15+. The pre-payment bus is still taking much more dwell time per bus-passenger than a standard bus.

    I can speculate as to why the counter-intuitive results. This is my first cut at analyzing SBS vs. regular routes. The first possibility is that my calculations are wrong. I’m fairly confident this isn’t the case but I’ve fooled myself before. I will be double, triple and quadruple checking my methodology. A second possibility is the nature of the MTA’s data. A bus position is sent out every 30 seconds. It’s up to me to figure out whether that bus is standing at a stop taking on passengers. I’ve been told the MTA has more precise data recorded every second on the bus itself. This would make the dwell time calculations more precise and accurate. However, they would not explain the magnitude of the difference I’ve calculated.

    Other than that, there’s always the realization that the MTA has figured out how to make POP more time consuming than standard on board payment.

  • Joe R.

    I guess you don’t live in the area. The stretch you mention is often congested during peak hours. I’ve ridden my bike there quite often. During peak times I’m lucky to make the run from Union to the LIE in under 10 minutes and I’m almost always beating the cars. During off-peak times I can easily do the same thing in about 6 minutes, and the buses often beat me.

    An average is just that. Buses averaging 30 to 35 mph on that stretch during off-peak hours (I’m not kidding about that) offset the slow peak time service, bringing the overall average to 20 mph. The stretch you’re talking about is 1.9 miles in length. Speeding up average speeds from <10 mph during peak hours to 15 mph would save nearly 4 minutes. If we can speed them up to 20 mph then we save nearly 8 minutes. That's a serious amount of time.

  • Joe R.

    The extra walking isn’t a major issue. Some time ago, like around the turn of the 20th century, someone figured out spacing local subway stops 1/3 to 1/2 mile apart was optimal in terms of overall travel time. This may have resulted in some people needing to walk up to an extra 1/4 mile, or 5 minutes time at average walking speeds, but that time was offset by the time the train saved stopping less often. The calculus for buses is much the same except maybe you start with a somewhat lower average speed. If you do that, you’ll find the optimum spacing for bus stops in an urban setting most of the time is 3 or 4 per mile. Space them any closer, and the majority of the ridership has longer travel times. The fact is many (most?) bus routes in NYC have stops spaced ridiculously close together, including one block apart in extreme cases. There’s no benefit at all to saving somebody an extra 125 feet of walking.

  • sbauman

    Bus stops on Manhattan avenues used to be every other block. Back in the 1950’s they removed every other stop and made avenues one-way to speed up traffic. Buses and traffic did not speed up and patronage plummeted.

    Buses were used as a convenient and inexpensive substitute for walking more than 5 blocks. Increasing the distance between stops made the short bus hop inconvenient. The walking distance/time to and from stops which had been nominal was now significant.

    Manhattan bus ridership did not recover until the ride was made practically free thanks to the unlimited Metrocard.

  • Joe R.

    If you say so but honestly taking a bus for a short hop is something which never made any sense to me. If you do the math, it takes an average person 20 minutes to walk a mile. Now if they take a bus your wait on average is half the time spacing between buses. If we say the buses are spaced 10 minutes apart, you’ll wait on average 5 minutes. Buses in Manhattan never went fast either before or after the avenues were made one way. If there were really stops every other block, and we allow 30 seconds per stop, then you have 5 minutes stopped time, plus the running time, to go a mile. The average speed in motion probably isn’t higher than 10 mph, so you get 6 minutes running time, 5 minutes stopped time, and 5 minutes waiting time. Seriously, why bother? That saves a big 4 minutes over walking at the cost of a fare. I might understand the elderly or disabled using buses like you say, but I can’t wrap my head around large numbers of people who can walk doing that. You’re basically paying a fare to save a few minutes (maybe). Or if you look at the running times of some crosstown buses, the bus is often no faster than walking once it arrives, so you actually take longer getting where you’re going taking the bus than walking. Are there that many people who can’t figure this out? I’m frankly surprised the crosstown buses weren’t discontinued long ago for lack of enough passengers. I regularly walk 3 miles each way to downtown Flushing for the simple reason the bus at best saves my 10 minutes over walking, and often nothing. I’m 52 and far from a super athlete.

  • Bolwerk

    There are a lot of old and disabled people. There are also people who carry things and people who want to avoid rain or cold. There are people who don’t want to, say, cross 14th, then 23rd, and then 34th. People who may as well take the bus because at some point along the speed is better than average.

    I agree that poor average speeds probably retard their usage, but there are still reasons besides speed to want them.

  • Queens Citizen

    I have lived in Kew Gardens Hills since 1980, and have been traversing this stretch of Main Street these past 35 years, by bus, bicycle, foot, and car, and I stand by my point. While you are correct that the Main and Jewel intersection is a bottleneck at certain times of day, the fact is that this is because of left turns (which would gridlock a bus lane just the same if not worse, as cars get stuck blocking the whole intersection), the traffic light timing, and the narrowness of the streets given 2015 traffic volumes. But that is a Main and Jewel bottleneck problem (similar to the bottlnecks at Union Turnpike, and at the LIE). As you know, most of the rest of Main Street is at or above 20MPH every day. I see this stretch every morning from 8AM to 9AM and again at 4:30PM. The busses speed along just fine – except at the 3 intersections mentioned – and a bus lane won’t fix that.
    One thing that could help bus flow would be prohibiting school bus “stops” at city bus stops. Many a time I’ve seen school busses stopped unloading and loading in the bus stop bays at Jewel and Main, leading to a stopped city bus waiting a half block back. When the school busses could pull to the curb a street before or after Jewel, at communal driveways and many other spots on the Main Street in the immediate area where there is curbside pull-over space for a school bus stop.
    But the city busses do just fine in the existing lane structure for nearly all of Main Street in KGH, nearly all of the time.
    Maybe we should just force everyone to ride the bus and make private automobiles illegal? You are right about the problems the Q64 on Jewel has – but if you made a bus lane there (on Jewel), you may as well just confiscate all the cars of the taxpaying middle class citizens in this nice quiet two-fare zone neighborhood, and maybe knock down the one and two family homes and build a bunch of apartment buildings . . . with everyone forced onto mass transit, and forced to take jobs that are mass transit (and not automobile) commutes?
    Putting a bus lane on Jewel would make it impossible to park a car in KGH. But the Main Street bus lane made no sense (because of the current excellent bus speeds in KGH) even if one totally ignored the parking space issue.

  • Joe R.

    Why are you so worried about private auto parking space on Jewel Avenue? If you look at the developments along it starting at 164th, Electchester has off-street parking for residents, Pomonok is a housing project and therefore most residents can’t afford cars, the development after Kissena has some off-street garages, and after Main Street it’s a lot of private homes with driveways. There a relatively few parking spots on Jewel compared to the numbers who live along it, so they won’t be missed. It’s more important for people to get to the subway quickly and reliably than for a minority to store their private cars.

    And traffic light priority for buses would fix the bottlenecks you mention at Jewel Avenue, Union Turnpike, and the LIE. At the very least, even if we don’t make bus lanes, we should give buses priority at every traffic signal.

    I agree about not letting school buses stop at city bus stops. In fact, why are there so many school buses to start with? Most places have at least a grade school and middle school within walking distance. Children should go to their local school unless there’s a really good reason, like very special needs, that they can’t. That’s the way it worked in NYC for literally decades.


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