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DOT: Full Woodhaven Boulevard Upgrades Coming Sometime Next Decade

3:00 PM EST on December 16, 2015

DOT's proposal for the 2017 launch of the new Woodhaven Boulevard SBS will feature far fewer miles of main road bus lanes than originally expected. Image: DOT
Woodhaven Boulevard SBS will launch in 2017, but several miles of center road bus lanes have been pushed to the indefinite future. Image: DOT

DOT and the MTA will roll out enhanced bus service on Woodhaven Boulevard in 2017, but several miles of the promised bus lanes won't come until the 2020s, agency representatives said yesterday.

While DOT says the Woodhaven overhaul will be built, the city is providing no certainty as to when the Department of Design and Construction will complete the street reconstruction required to deliver the whole project. The vagueness surrounding the construction timetable casts doubt on the future of the full four miles of center road bus lanes DOT had committed to.

Yesterday, at a presentation to the project's Community Advisory Committee [PDF], the agency said enhanced bus service would begin running on Woodhaven in 2017, including 1.3 miles of dedicated bus lanes next to medians that separate the center roadway from service lanes. Those bus lanes are superior to ones that run next to the curb or the parking lane (which will also be added in 2017), because they're less susceptible to getting blocked by illegally parked drivers. Earlier this year, DOT said that design would apply to four miles of Woodhaven Boulevard.

Yesterday the agency had no timetable for implementing the rest of the center road bus lanes, which will accompany the reconstruction of the street by DDC. However, Riders Alliance organizers who attended yesterday's meeting were told to expect the full project to be completed sometime in the 2020s.

Detailed design and engineering will continue next year, with Select Bus Service beginning in 2017. In addition to main road bus lanes and median stops between Park Lane South and Rockaway Boulevard, the 2017 phase will add curbside bus lanes to several other sections of the corridor, as well as off-board fare payment and signal priority for buses.

The BRT for NYC Coalition says the 2017 project will be an important step in convincing Queens residents of the merits of bus rapid transit. "We look forward to the 1.3 miles of BRT and the meaningful results in safety and commute times it’ll offer for Queens,” said Masha Burina of the Riders Alliance. “We’d like to see a timelier implementation of [main road bus lanes] throughout the corridor and anticipate a productive relationship with the DOT/MTA to ensure all of Woodhaven Boulevard receives high-quality BRT as soon as possible."

DOT said the Woodhaven timetable is consistent with how other SBS projects have been implemented:

The short term approach builds on the success of other DOT and MTA SBS projects, such as the M15 on First and Second Avenues in Manhattan, and the Bx41 on Webster Ave in the Bronx, and also the DOT Great Streets projects on Fourth Avenue in Manhattan and on Queens Boulevard. These projects include a short-term operational project followed by long-term capital project in order to deliver transit, safety, and pedestrian improvements quickly. Community involvement is a central part of the planning for all Select Bus Service routes and DOT and the MTA will continue to meet with the community in 2016 throughout the planning process as we design this critical safety and transit-oriented project. Both agencies will evaluate and monitor the short-term operational project to inform final design of longer-term capital improvements and will work with NYC DDC to deliver the capital improvements as quickly as possible.

Other SBS projects have been implemented in phases, but the timetable for future work has not been so vague and uncertain. Bus bulbs for M15 SBS, for instance, were supposed to come a year after service began. The city ended up taking another year to build them.

DOT has said four miles of center road bus lanes will be built on Woodhaven Boulevard, but it's not clear when most of that will be completed. Image: NYC DOT

It's not clear why the timetable for the Woodhaven project is getting dragged out into the next decade. Every City Council member along the corridor has signed on in support of robust bus improvements, though opposition from some Woodhaven residents to the project has recently become more pronounced.

It's also worth noting that DDC has a dismal track record when it comes to building major street redesigns in a timely way. Just look at the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, where years have passed since public planning wrapped up for several segments, and there's still no visible sign of progress.

The longer the Woodhaven project drags on, the less certain its prospects become. There could very well be different council members -- and a different mayor -- by the time construction rolls around, unless the city speeds up its schedule.

Correction: This post originally stated that DOT's first plan for Woodhaven Boulevard SBS called for six miles of median bus lanes. In fact it called for four miles of median bus lanes and two miles of curbside or offset bus lanes.

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