Q44 Select Bus Service: Bus Lanes for Flushing and Jamaica, Not in Between

Main Street in Flushing will receive offset bus lanes, as will downtown Jamaica, but the areas between will not. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]
Downtown Flushing and Jamaica will receive bus lanes, but the areas between will not. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]
DOT and the MTA have released the plan for Select Bus Service on the Q44 linking Jamaica, Flushing, and the Bronx, which serves 44,000 passengers daily. The areas that need bus lanes most — downtown Jamaica and Flushing — are in line to get them, but not the rest of the route.

Earlier this year, nearly a dozen Queens elected officials asked DOT for Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in this part of the borough. But two pols — Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz — opposed bus lanes in Briarwood and Kew Gardens Hills. In April, DOT indicated that Lancman and Simanowitz would get their wish.

The plan released yesterday by DOT calls for bus lanes [PDF] on Sutphin Boulevard, Archer Avenue, and Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, and on Main Street in Flushing between Northern Boulevard and the Horace Harding Expressway. The rest of the 14-mile route won’t have them. DOT says bus lane segments were chosen “based on bus speeds, vehicle speeds and other factors.”

Streets in red will receive bus lanes. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF]
Streets in red will receive bus lanes. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF]
In addition to bus lanes, the project will speed up Q44 service with off-board fare collection, bus bulbs, and signal priority to keep buses from getting stuck at red lights. Bus stops will be upgraded with shelters, seating, and real-time arrival information. Traffic signals in downtown Flushing will also get computer-assisted coordination aimed at keeping traffic flowing.

Most of the bus lanes will be “offset” from the curb, running between parked cars and the general traffic lane. Other stretches will run along the curb and only be in effect during rush hours — at other times, they will be parking lanes.

By putting bus lanes in the central parts of Jamaica and Flushing, DOT will help riders bypass what is probably to worst congestion along the route. However, because of limits imposed by Albany, the bus lanes will not be camera-enforced. Until the state legislature expands NYC’s bus cam allowance, riders will by relying on local precincts to ticket drivers breaking the law.

The project includes some pedestrian safety measures in addition to bus bulbs, including median refuges at seven intersections on Main Street between 41st and Reeves avenues. The Department of Design and Construction is already planning to widen the sidewalk on Main Street between 38th Avenue and 41st Avenue. Left turn restrictions will also be added at six intersections on Main Street, which is a Vision Zero priority corridor.

The Q44 extends north across the Whitestone Bridge and along the Cross Bronx Expressway to the Bronx Zoo. No bus lanes are planned for the route in the Bronx.

DOT unveiled the proposal at a meeting last night in Flushing. A second open house is scheduled tonight from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Jamaica. DOT says Select Bus Service on the Q44 will be implemented later this year.

6:50 p.m.: Post updated with additional information about pedestrian safety measures on Main Street.

  • BBnet3000

    Which sections are going to be rush hour only? Are those locations congested midday or in the evening as many busy business districts are?

    Are people only entitled to a decent ride on our public transit system if they’re on the way to a 9-5 job?

  • c2check

    We need dedicated bus lanes enforced 24/7. This city is seriously falling behind other world cities.

  • Joe R.

    As usual, NYC prioritizes private vehicle storage over more important things, like having proper curbside bus only lanes 24/7, preferably separated from regular traffic lanes with jersey barriers.

    I also suspect the bus only lanes alongside parking cars will end up as double-parking areas for delivery trucks, defeating their purpose. For that matter, vehicles parking and unparking will defeat the utility of these bus lanes. Leave it to NYC to half-ass things.

  • Brian Oconnell

    “running between parked cars and the general traffic lane. ”
    Which every New Yorker knows is the double-parking lane.

  • sbauman

    It’s interesting that Streetsblog featured articles detailing how state DOT’s are cooking the books to justify costly new highways. NYCDOT is up to the same tricks, when it comes to SBS.

    The Main St Flushing-Jamaica corridor is a case in point. Page 10 of DOT’s linked presentation states that 42,000 daily bus rider use this corridor. They did not say that 42,000 bus riders travel between Flushing and Jamaica on the Q44/Q20 buses. It’s between Flushing and Jamaica that DOT will be making its major road “improvements”.

    The MTA website shows the 2014 daily ridership for the Q44 at 28,000 and the Q20 at 13,000 which round up to 42,000. However, both the Q44 and Q20 routes extend far beyond the 5.9 miles between Flushing and Jamaica. The Q44 travels 13.9 miles and originates in the Bronx. The Q20 travels 8.3 miles and originates in College Point.

    Some of the 42,000 daily commuters start and end their journeys outside the Flushing-Jamaica corridor. How many? Neither DOT nor the MTA is telling. In the absence of any more definitive data, I’ll make an engineering approximation. Let’s prorate the ridership by the miles traveled. This approximation yields: 12,000 on the Q44 and 9,000 on the Q20 for a total of 21,000. This means that DOT has overstated the ridership by 100%. That’s an overstatement worthy of the Texas, Wisconsin, Ohio or even NYS DOT.

    I don’t know what the actual numbers are. Does DOT?

    If they do, why haven’t they released it in any of the many presentations on their website.

    If they don’t let’s go back to square 1, for selecting an SBS candidate. There’s an important reason for this. Passengers per route mile is a more important parameter for influencing running time than total passengers. All that’s needed for having high passenger counts is to have a long route. The Q44 qualifies at 13.9 miles.

  • They should just put a damn plow on the front of buses. Fix that double parking problem right up.

  • rao

    No, we’re just different from other world cities. They prioritize getting from point A to point B efficiently and reclaiming public space. We prioritize your ability to park your fat ass in an oversized SUV, crank up the AC and listen to tunes while you’re stuck in traffic. Amurrica!

  • McWhitter

    Is it customary to have BRT type buses running in the door zone of parked cars? Motorists better be really paying attention. Whoa.

  • Jonathan R

    I am a Q44 rider myself and I can assert that buses move through downtown Flushing very slowly.

    However, for the rest of the route, it’s a little different. According to MTA Bus Time, it took 30 minutes and 20 seconds for bus 5899 to travel northbound 4.2 miles between Sutphin/Hillside and Main St/39th Ave, leaving at 9 am this morning. That’s 8.4 mph over the distance, which seems pretty speedy, even without SBS-style improvements.

    My experience is with the Q44 north of downtown Flushing, and I don’t think the lack of bus lanes there is slowing the bus down appreciably.

  • rosie jones

    SBS is a waste of money on the Q44. With the buses strictly following De Blasio 25 mph speed limit, every single vehicle passes the Q44 now. The Q44 bus drivers also stop at green lights, and WAIT for it to turn red. Occasionally even Q20s pass the Q44 and beat it to flushing since the Q44 has so many stops it isn’t a limited bus. The Q44 stops on every other Q20 stop, people just walk to the nearest Q44 stop instead of using the closest Q20, so the Q44 is unfairly burdened, and a Q20 can beat is since nobody waits at a Q20 stop for the bus. The E/F and 7 train are faster than this “work slowdown” bus. SBS wont fix anything on the Q44 except generate ticket revenue for the city general fund.

  • Andrew

    What is the benefit of overnight bus lanes?

    If a single bus lane is separated from the general traffic lanes by a Jersey barrier, what happens when a Q44 catches up with a Q20 – or another Q44 that’s picking up a wheelchair or is otherwise delayed?

    (Pardon me for worrying about mere practicalities.)

  • Andrew

    Are you proposing that the Q44 shouldn’t get SBS treatments at all or that it simply should have somewhat lower priority in the process?

    By the way, the benefits of SBS – off-board fare collection and all-door boarding, in particular – will extend to all Q44 riders, regardless of where exactly they ride. Implying that SBS is of no value to anyone not riding between Flushing and Jamaica is a bit dishonest, don’t you think?

    And prorating by mileage is also dishonest, since I’m sure you realize that some parts of the line are busier than others. (How many people board the bus as it crosses the Whitestone Bridge?)

  • Joe R.

    The benefit of overnight bus lanes is less space for private car storage. I’ll be the first to admit bus lanes late nights probably don’t significantly speed up buses but they do make it harder to park a car, and hence tend to discourage car ownership. If we’re serious about Vision Zero, increasing MTA revenues, encouraging more use of mass transit in the outer boroughs then we need a carrot-stick approach. The carrot is obviously better bus service, perhaps eventual subway service. The stick is actively discouraging car ownership/use by decreasing the supply of parking, and also making more congested areas (downtown Flushing/Jamaica) off limits to cars entirely.

    As for how does one bus pass another if jersey barriers are in place, the answer is either at intersections, or perhaps you *don’t* have the jersey barriers in the vicinity of bus stops to address the situation you mentioned. With the barriers everywhere else, other motor vehicles trying to violate the bus lane will only have two points of entry—bus stops and intersections. It’s easy to set up fixed cameras at both locations to ticket violators. As I’m sure you’re aware, bus lanes are virtually useless if they end up clogged with cars, particularly double-parked cars. I’m afraid in NYC nothing short of a physical barrier will effectively keep the bus lanes clear. After all, we know how diligent the police are at enforcing traffic laws.

  • Bolwerk

    Probably pointless in Queens, but Manhattan might seriously have overnight traffic issues where it’s not even a bad idea to have some overnight dedicated transit lanes.

    Is there some harm in having them?

  • Joe R.

    The only harm here, depending upon your point of view, would be loss of parking spaces but I think many here on SB would see that as a positive, not a negative.

  • sbauman

    Here’s a link to the posters that were displayed at the meetings.

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/brt/downloads/pdf/2015-2015-05-brt-flushing-jamaica-open-house.pdf

    When there’s a proposal, I’ll first try to check out the assertions that are easy to verify. If I find there are problems with these assertions, an alarm goes off. That’s where I stand with SBS. The further I investigate, the more alarm bells go off.

    “By the way, the benefits of SBS – off-board fare collection and all-door boarding, in particular – will extend to all Q44 riders, regardless of where exactly they ride.”

    A while back I reported that I tried to determine how much off-board fare collection reduced dwell time. I used the bus time data that’s available from the MTA. I noted that SBS dwell time was greater than local bus dwell time for the same stops by a margin that was greater than the uncertainty of the method I used. The SBS dwell time was greater when I compensated for more passengers using the SBS bus and higher bus load within SBS buses. I reported the results as counter-intuitive and left it at that.

    I’ve since looked at youtube videos showing NYC buses in action. Some were shot from within an SBS bus, others at bus stops. Both confirm that SBS dwell times are greater than local buses. I have not pursued this in a rigorous manner.

    I did take measurements this last weekend, when there was no subway service at Main St. It gave me an opportunity to see how much time was saved by not having to dip a Metrocard. It took an average of 2.2 seconds per passenger without dipping a Metrocard on the shuttle bus replacement. It took an average of 3.5 seconds per passenger with dipping a Metrocard on the regular buses. So, if 50 passengers got on an SBS bus during one’s ride, the time savings would be only 65 seconds. That’s a lot less than the advertised time savings for SBS.

    If off-board fare collection is going to be a substantial time saving, it must be multiple door entry rather than not dipping a Metrocard. The boarding time for those same 50 passengers would be 175 seconds with single door boarding with dipping a Metrocard; 110 seconds with single door boarding without dipping; 55 seconds with double door boarding without dipping and 37 seconds with triple door boarding without dipping. The 65 second time savings increases to 138 seconds with three doors. Still, a big so what.

    There’s a problem with this multi-door entry analysis. It ignores people getting off the bus. Let’s assume it takes 5 seconds for a passenger to get off a bus and 12 people are boarding and 12 people are getting off a bus at a given stop. They cannot board and get off simultaneously. The exiting passengers will take 12*5=60 sec. The entering passengers will take 12*2.2=26.4sec. The dwell time is 86.4 sec divided by the number of doors. This comes to 43.2 seconds for a two door bus and 28.8 seconds for a 3 door bus.

    With on-board payment, exiting passengers use the rear door(s) and entering passenger use the front door simultaneously. The entering passengers would take 12*3.5=42 sec. The exiting passengers would take 60 seconds through a single rear door and 30 seconds through two rear doors. The dwell time would be 60 seconds for a two door bus and 42 seconds for a three door bus.

    The SBS time savings per boarding passenger is 1.4 seconds for two door buses and 1.1 seconds for a three door bus. There’s a further complication. The bus driver must now look at one or two remote outside doors to make sure passengers are not waiting to board. That takes longer than looking to his right at the front door.

    Off-board payment does not look as attractive, on closer inspection.

    SBS does offer a scheduled time savings over local buses. I’m trying to determine how much each feature contributes to the time savings. The downside is that each 0.05 mile walked to a stop reduces that time savings by one minute.

    I happen to live in the middle of 2 Q44 LTD stops that are 0.5 miles apart. Limited service is already costing me 5 minutes before I wait for a bus. My usual trip is 2.5 miles. The limited service does not nor will SBS make up for that 5 minute walk. The additional wait time for the Q20, over what the Q44 was before it became limited is another feature that has added to my travel time, when I elect to not to walk those 5 minutes.

    “And prorating by mileage is also dishonest, since I’m sure you realize that some parts of the line are busier than others.”

    I said I did not know the actual numbers. DOT knows the actual numbers and has not released them.

    Can you suggest another method for calculating the number of passengers between Flushing and Jamaica?

    At the Flushing meeting, an NYCT representative stated he thought that 33% of the Q44 ridership originated in the Bronx and 10% of that traveled south of Flushing. That reduces the 28,000 to 19,600. Still included are passengers who enter north of Flushing and get off at the Main Street subway. My estimate for this component was 12,000 by prorating trip mileage.

  • Bolwerk

    I just figure keeping access to bus lanes generally verboten seems like a good cue to send to personal vehicle drivers. Otherwise I’m not sure why it would matter overnight.

  • Bolwerk

    Long dwell times signify SBS is a success. It means the stops are attracting people. With SBS, the dwell that would otherwise occur over several stops, or would not occur at all because local buses are so slow, is merged into one stop. So dwell times per passenger are probably on average reduced, and even if they’re not the buses are spending less time accelerating and decelerating and more time moving.

    If SBS dwell times were shorter, it would suggest people are not using it.

  • sbauman

    “So dwell times per passenger are probably on average reduced,”

    No!

    The bus time data shows the average dwell time per passenger is higher for SBS than a local bus.

    It was this counter-intuitive finding that made me look deeper into the boarding/exit process. Off-board fare collection isn’t the slam dunk it would appear to be.

  • Bolwerk

    That’s not what I mean. I mean, if those SBS users all literally took to locals, dwell times would increase. This, of course, is theoretical. It would never happen because locals are less attractive.

    You are literally comparing routes that have the highest ridership with those that might almost never make a pickup much of the day. Some locals of course have low dwell times because people rarely use them.

    Again, high dwell times on SBS is a sign of success.

  • ahwr

    How did you figure out how many people were boarding SBS vs local buses at the same stops?

  • ahwr

    Have you tried emailing NYCDOT and the MTA to ask for ridership by stop? I don’t know if they have APCs or just time code fare payment with bus time etc…but they have internal estimates for ridership by stop. If you ask nicely, they might give it to you. If they don’t, it doesn’t mean something nefarious is going on. NYC and NYS agencies and departments aren’t big on transparency. It’s a cultural thing. Next election I hope you get some people pushing data transparency. Lancman is the council member for you right? He doesn’t like SBS either. If the bus stop ridership numbers might argue against SBS, contact his office and ask for them to reach out to the MTA or NYCDOT to get them for you.

    Union/73rd/Jewel/Melbourne is dense enough for that area. There are locals for anyone who doesn’t want to or can’t walk.

  • rao

    I suspect that the bus lanes won’t last long even at rush hour. That area is pretty suburban overall, and Main Street has Long Island-style congestion at all hours of the day. All that red will be a tempting vacuum that impatient drivers and double-parkers will fill.

  • Bolwerk

    Then, if the city has any sense, such would be a great source of ticket revenue for a few weeks until it stops happening. Too bad we don’t have a force of paid public servants deputized to deal with such a situation! :-O

    You really don’t need insanely high density to support decent surface transit. Places much less dense than Flushing, and probably more residential-only, easily support LRVs/trams in first world countries.

  • sbauman

    There are figures for the percentage of riders taking the SBS vs. the local bus. I took the dwell time estimates from the bus time data and pro-rated them by these percentages.

    I’m an engineer by training. I’ve had a lot of experience estimating parameters, when there no direct measurements were available.

    I know there might be errors because there’s no guarantee that overall ridership percentages might not hold at every stop. However, that’s the best that was available to me. Do you have solid data that contradicts my methodology?

  • ahwr

    I’m not sure what your methodology is. What figures do you mean? Along the whole route? If an SBS makes ten stops and the local has half the ridership and makes twenty stops how do you estimate the share of local ridership that comes from stops shared with SBS?

  • sbauman

    Lanceman is not my council member. I live close to downtown Flushing.

    I know the SBS projected time savings for the Woodhaven Blv corridor came from consultants. They evaluated the different options and presented estimated running times between Jamaica and Myrtle Aves. The problem with those estimates was that the current scheduled running times were less than what the improvements were supposed to provide. The estimated “no change” option overstated the current scheduled running time by 50%. I downloaded 50G of bus time data to verify that the current schedule was accurate.

    I pointed out this discrepancy to the NYCDOT “numbers” rep who told me that they were not evaluated in-house. There have been no projected absolute running time estimates in the presentation for the Flushing-Jamaica corridor.

  • sbauman

    As an example. Assume the ridership totals show that 75% take the SBS and 25% take the local. I’m assuming where both buses stop the ratios of boarding/exiting passengers have the same ratio. If the dwell times were 90 seconds for the SBS and 30 seconds for the local then I’m assuming the dwell times per passenger were the same. If the dwell times were 120 and 30 seconds, then I’m assuming that the SBS had a longer per passenger dwell time.

  • sbauman

    “Again, high dwell times on SBS is a sign of success.”

    What’s your objective criterion for judging that SBS is a failure?

  • ahwr

    That 75/25 split is for the whole route? Don’t locals stop at every SBS stop? Then the only way 25% of the ridership at the combined stops could be on the local is if zero people board at the local only stops, where 100% are boarding the local. You need some estimate for how many people use local only stops. Or did I misunderstand and you have boardings per stop from somewhere?

  • Bolwerk

    Failure to attract riders would be a good one. SBS has been bucking the trend in dropping bus usage though.

  • ahwr

    SBS has been bucking the trend in dropping bus usage though.

    Not consistently.

    M15 and M34 are down, even if it’s from an SBS boosted baseline.

  • Fredrick Wells

    I totally disagree! The Q44 is the only direct link to The Bronx from Jamaica, and will beat the (E) or (F) train with transfers to the (2), (4), (5), (6), (B) or (D) in Midtown or to the (7) in Jackson Heights.
    The problem only happens when you must take a bus to/from the Q44 in Queens and/or the Bronx, especially when you are in Eastern Queens and Southeastern Queens where you can’t just ride the Q76 via Francis Lewis Blvd as a “SHORT CUT”.
    What SELECT BUS SERVICE will do is cut the run time down from the 95 minutes maximum (80 minutes general) to 60 minutes (35 %) from end to end, and a SUPER SELECT BUS SERVICE will be needed if there are any plans on extending the Q44 to Fordham Plaza.
    Truthfully, the Q44 does not have enough buses along the route to cover the ridership needs. It once ran at 4 minutes during Rush Hours and 7.5 minutes throughout the day with standard sized buses. Now with artics, it runs at 4 minutes during Rush Hours and 8 to 10 minutes during the day.
    What is really needed are as follows:
    1. Extend the Q50 to Jamaica via Kissena Blvd/Parsons Blvd.
    2. A new Q45 (or Q61) Jamaica to Hunts Point route via Kissena Blvd/Parsons Blvd.

    These are to (1) relieve the pressure on the Q44, and (2) improve the access in The Bronx to Jamaica bound service as customers have up to a 30 minute commute from their areas to the Q44 if they are not near the Q50 in Co Op City.

  • rosie jones

    I tried the F 179 to Van Wyck, Q44 to flushing, Q50 to Coop city, Bx12 (SBS shuts down after rush hour what a rip off SBS is) to fordham, D train to Bedford Park and it took 2 hours and 45 minutes. I tried F from 179 to 63rd street, 6 train to GCT, Metro North To botanical gardens, 1 hour and 30 minutes. SBS is a complete waste of money. Dont fight “must connect in manhattan”, as stupid as it is, just go with it. DeBlasio 25 mph means SBS is useless, every car wizzez by the M60 along the GCP service road. SBS can’t raise the speed limit, or get rid of red light (never expanded beyond a couple “pilot” intersections). Or the M34’s “SBS” 20 TWENTY minutes between buses at 7 PM on a weekday. Kill SBS program with fire. The only people’s lives it improves is the folks who dig a hole and pour a hole for the offboard fare collection.

  • Jonathan R

    Suggest F to VW, Q44 to Bx Zoo, Bx9 to garden. Transfers are wasting your time.

  • K.k. Tang

    what abt q20, does it need tickets? what If I brought a ticket but q20 comes, can I take that bus instead of q44?

  • Anthony Hai

    By implementing bus lanes on Main ST from Northern Blvd to Horrace Harding in Flushing, only created more traffic and slowed people way down. I don’t have high expectations from any of the DOT policies.

  • Andrew

    Except, of course, for the people on the bus. If you want to take advantage of the bus lane, you’re welcome to join them on the bus.

  • Anthony Hai

    I didn’t realize the rush hour is an all-day ordeal. I take advantage of the bus lane all the time, by actually driving in it behind 5-0’s backs. You have fun on the bus!

  • Andrew

    Nice to see that you feel that you’re above the law and that you’re so superior to those bus riders. But has it occurred to you what Main Street traffic would look like if every Q44 and Q20 bus rider instead drove to their destinations?

  • Anthony Hai

    Had you seen what traffic was like before the bus lane was implemented? Don’t blame us who drive to work, blame the mainland Chinese who like to double-parked on Main Street all the time, until parking law is seriously enforced, I don’t see the real cause of slow downs is going away anytime soon. I didn’t think I was/am/will-be above the law, let’s just say I’m not a mindless citizen following dumb traffic laws blindly, meanwhile, the 5-0’s of Flushing really think they are above the law, you ever noticed that?

  • AMH

    How can a bus lane possibly “create” more traffic? Has it caused more people to drive SOVs? There is likely less traffic as more people opt for the faster bus.

  • fdtutf
  • Philip McManus

    Dear Friends,
    The Queens Public Transit Committee wants to organize commuters in Queens. Please contact us at http://www.qptc.org. We support more buses, trains, ferries and open roadways. We do not support exclusive and empty bus and bike lanes that create gridlock, accidents, poverty and pollution. Let’s organize and make Queens better.

  • gustaajedrez

    Yes you can.

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