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Spot Check: The Q44 Bus Offers Signs of Hope for Bus Service

6:00 AM EDT on August 10, 2018

The Q44 SBS in Queens is the unicorn bus: It actually works. Photos: Gersh Kuntzman

Bus service in New York City is not all bad news: The Q44 Select Bus Service between Flushing and Jamaica works — and works well.

Launched in 2015, the entire Bronx Zoo-Jamaica LIRR route handles more than 27,000 trips per day, making it the 11th busiest bus in the city. It wouldn't be nearly as efficient without dedicated bus lanes in Flushing and Jamaica, and along parts of the route between the two major downtowns. Those dedicated lanes were bitterly opposed by local pols City Council Member Rory Lancman and late Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz, who claimed that dedicated bus lanes along Main Street would inconvenience some drivers.

Maybe it has — but tens of thousands of passengers are benefitting. (The two pols could claim a measure of victory when the MTA and DOT backed off on full SBS treatment for the route, putting the bus into normal traffic through the residential areas of Kew Gardens Hills, Parkway Village and others.)

This is most of what a driver on the Q44 sees, at least during our spot check: Plenty of room ahead.
This is most of what a driver on the Q44 sees, at least during our spot check: Plenty of room ahead.

Full disclosure: I picked the Q44 for a spot check after a Streetsblog commenter posted a complaint about the line: "The entire curbside bus lane, although pigmented red making it very visible and obvious, is blocked with parked cars, especially during rush hour when it is most needed," Daphna posted on my colleague Ben Fried's story about a failed bus lane in Brooklyn. "It is not just an illegally parked car per block rendering it unusable, but the entire length of it is used as a parking lane with no attempt to recognize or respect it as a dedicated bus lane."

That may be true at some times of the day, but I didn't experience such problems. My surprisingly pleasant morning on the Q44 began with a Jamaica-bound run on bus 6000, which picked me up at Main Street and 39th Avenue at 8:25 a.m. and deposited me at Archer Avenue near 168th Street just 45 minutes later. That's an average speed of 7.6 miles per hour — not fast compared to full SBS lines, but also quite brisk for the portion of a line linking two busy downtowns.

Thanks to the dedicated bus lines that so angered Lancman and Simanowitz, the only real congestion came from other buses; cars rarely ventured into the red-painted lanes, clearly conditioned by a few years of "photo enforced" ticketing.

There was also very little traffic in the areas without the dedicated bus lane.

A DOT spokesperson said converting the Q44 into an SBS line improved travel times by 5-14 percent, which really adds up across the entire line.

Much of the traffic in Flushing is from other buses.
Much of the traffic in Flushing is from other buses.

"Before SBS implementation, Q44 riders could spend more than an hour and a half getting between Jamaica and the Bronx," the spokesman said. "We’ve seen the greatest improvement in travel times in the section where we implemented bus lanes (60th Avenue to Kissena Boulevard), and are planning additional improvements to further improve bus travel times along the route."

The bus lanes are clearly needed in Jamaica, where there is substantial congestion and pedestrian traffic, but bus 6000 had no problems getting through the area, save for a small tie-up in the construction zone along Archer Avenue.

I caught bus 5999 for the run back to Flushing, which was a few minutes slower, with an average speed of 7.125 miles per hour, because of considerable traffic in Jamaica, where the dedicated bus lane becomes a regular lane of parking at 9 a.m. The bus also slowed down when it started getting crowded around the campus housing John Bowne High School, Queens College and Townsend Harris High School — packing the bus even though schools are out of session.

Traffic in Jamaica is bad, but not such a problem for the Q44, thanks to dedicated bus lanes.
Traffic in Jamaica is bad, but not such a problem for the Q44, thanks to dedicated bus lanes.

But besides that, there were no bumps in the road until we returned to Downtown Flushing, where there was considerable traffic near the Queens Public Library branch.

But still, 48 minutes from Jamaica to Flushing is a success in any bus rider's book.

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