Eric Ulrich Flip-Flops on Woodhaven Boulevard Redesign

After coming out strong for Select Bus Service on Woodhaven Boulevard, City Council Member Eric Ulrich has done a 180.

Eric Ulrich
Eric Ulrich

“The plan that they proposed, it stinks,” Ulrich told the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, according to the Queens Chronicle. “I don’t think it’s good. I think we have to go back to the drawing board.”

The Woodhaven redesign, which calls for dedicated bus lanes and pedestrian safety infrastructure, enjoys widespread support from elected officials — a roster that once included Eric Ulrich. In April 2014 Ulrich and Joan Byron co-authored an op-ed for the Daily News that called for “world-class” bus rapid transit on Woodhaven, with dedicated lanes and signal priority:

Taking this opportunity to incorporate even more advanced Bus Rapid Transit features will benefit not only those who ride the Q52/Q53, but everyone who drives, walks or rides on this congested and dangerous artery.

Later that year Ulrich told Streetsblog that something has to be done on Woodhaven to prevent traffic deaths and injuries, because “whatever we’re doing now obviously isn’t working.”

So what happened?

Well, the Woodhaven Residents Block Association, which Ulrich was addressing, has been raising a stink about the project for all the usual reasons — that it will slow down traffic and divert motorists to side streets.

According to the Queens Chronicle, Ulrich said he became disillusioned with the plan in part because it would eliminate left turns at Woodhaven Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue. But the left-turn ban helps achieve two goals Ulrich said he supported: faster buses and fewer injuries. It lets buses proceed without waiting for left-turning drivers, and it prevents conflicts between turning drivers and people crossing the street.

At the intersection with Jamaica, 38 traffic crashes resulted in 52 injuries and two fatalities from July 2012 to December 2014, according to Transportation Alternatives.

TA found that more people lost their lives on Woodhaven from 2011 to 2013 than on any other Queens street. A major benefit of the Woodhaven SBS will be physical improvements, like pedestrian islands, to prevent injuries and save lives.

Instead of helping his constituents understand how the redesign will improve transit and pedestrian safety, Ulrich is folding under the pressure and pointing fingers at DOT. Per the Chronicle:

“Now they’re under attack in all the newspapers and they’re coming to me and I said, ‘Why are you calling me? I told you about these things a year ago and you didn’t listen to me,’” he said. “It doesn’t happen from the top down, it has to happen from the bottom up. I think they’re starting to realize that now, which is why they delayed the implementation of the SBS.”

Back to that op-ed, which lauded DOT and plugged an upcoming workshop:

DOT’s planners have learned to listen to local concerns, problem-solve alongside stakeholders, and come up with customized solutions that respect each neighborhood’s unique challenges and character.

Years’ of engagement with residents, community boards and elected officials in the Congested Corridors Study has laid the foundation for the bold approach that the agencies now need to bring to bus planning. The April 23 workshop is an opportunity for everyone who cares about safety, mobility, and our community’s quality of life to demand the world-class Bus Rapid Transit system we need.

Back then, Ulrich said it was “imperative” to “improve [bus] speed, safety and the riding experience.” But now it seems what he’s really interested in is preserving the status quo.

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