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Take That, Haters: Woodhaven Blvd. Bus Lanes Have Sped Up Service With Minimal Impact on Drivers

Clear bus lanes work. Photo: DOT

Bus trips are faster and ridership is up along the one-year-old Select Bus Service line on Woodhaven Boulevard, defying project opponents who spent years arguing that dedicated bus lanes would create traffic armageddon.

Instead, the $200-million bus service upgrade on the Q52/53 is doing exactly what the Department of Transportation said it would: improve bus service and save lives, according to a just-released report detailing the city's success speeding up transit and slowing down traffic on Woodhaven Boulevard [PDF].

"The sky is not going to fall," said City Council Member Donovan Richards, who represents Far Rockaway and St. Albans. "The buses are moving faster. That makes a difference in people’s lives."

The 30,000 or so bus riders who take the Q52/53 and other routes along corridor are moving 10 percent faster. Ridership is up between five and eight percent. And average car travel times — which opponents claimed for years would be severely hindered by the project's bus lanes — are more or less flat, up an average of just 30 seconds where bus lanes were installed, according to the DOT.

Between 2009 and 2013, 17 pedestrians were killed on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards. And between 2012 and 2016, traffic crashes killed or severely injured 129 people. But since the SBS route went into effect, crashes with injuries are down six percent.

Dedicated lanes and other improvements have made Woodhaven Boulevard bus trips faster. Image: DOT
Dedicated lanes and other improvements have made Woodhaven Boulevard bus trips faster. Image: DOT
Dedicated lanes and other improvements have made Woodhaven Boulevard bus trips faster. Image: DOT

The Q52/53-SBS takes riders from a northern terminus in Woodside down Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards all the way to Far Rockaway. DOT's most impactful and controversial changes were between Queens Boulevard and 156th Avenue, where the agency implemented bus lanes and left-turn restrictions.

Between Park Lane South and Rockaway Boulevard, the city was even more ambitious, putting the bus lanes in the central roadway next to concrete medians, which it widened to create robust SBS stations.

To improve conditions for pedestrians, DOT did more than just ban certain left turns, which are statistically more dangerous than any other driving maneuver. The project was peppered with widened medians, pedestrian islands, expanded sidewalks, and new crosswalks.

DOT wasn’t able to put in those improvements without a fight — one carried out through nearly 40 meetings with community groups, elected officials, and others.

Map: NYC DOT
Map: NYC DOT
Map: NYC DOT

In the three years leading to last November's SBS launch, opponents such as State Senator Joe Addabbo, Jr. and Assembly Member Mike Miller tried their hardest to stop it from happening at all. With apparently little regard for their transit-dependent constituents, Addabbo and Miller argued that the bus lanes and turn restrictions would slow traffic.

Even Council Member Eric Ulrich, one of the project's initial proponents, insisted that DOT nix some of its left-turn restrictions in order to retain his support. One of those left turns, at Jamaica Avenue continues to be deadly, with two pedestrian fatalities so far this year. (Ulrich didn't call us back.)

DOT, for its part, says it's working on ways to further improve pedestrian safety at Jamaica and Woodhaven. But Addabbo and Miller have continued their war on transit riders and pedestrians.

In September, after the most recent fatality at Jamaica Avenue, Miller claimed, without evidence, that the Select Bus Service project had "some bearing" to the continued carnage at that corner.

Addabbo has taken a different line — albeit on familiar to Queens transit and biking advocates. He claims, also with little evidence, that the bus lanes have hurt small businesses along the corridor.

Neither Addabbo nor Miller returned calls from Streetsblog on Tuesday.

One can only assume they didn't want to face the truth: Woodhaven SBS works. Richards's Far Rockaway constituents have told him the new service has cut their commutes by as much as 15 minutes.

"If we put ourselves in people’s shoes — that parent who’s trying to get home to their kids, who’s working a low-wage job, who’s struggling to make rent — that 15 minutes can make a huge difference," he said. "Part of leadership is not looking to win popularity contests. If you’re looking to win popularity contests, you’ll never make strides like Select Bus Service."

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