Queens Board Votes Down Bus Lane for Parking

Ridgewood NIMBYs snub the transit-riding many in order to protect the car-owning few.

A car-loving Queens community board voted against a DOT proposal for a dedicated bus lane that would help 30,000 daily riders.
A car-loving Queens community board voted against a DOT proposal for a dedicated bus lane that would help 30,000 daily riders.

A Queens community board voted on Wednesday night against a proposed dedicated bus lane that would have helped 30,000 riders in order to save a few parking spaces.

Community Board 5 rejected the Department of Transportation’s plan for a part-time, south-bound lane along Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood — overruling the board’s own Transportation Committee, which approved the lane from Bleeker Street to Putnam Avenue on June 18. 

The DOT says the lane would help traffic flow along the route by consolidating several bus stops and retiming traffic signals. It also includes amenities for businesses, such as several loading zones. But it would also require the city to repurpose some curb space in the public right of way — which many drivers believe exists for the storage of their private property — for buses. To make up for that the city proposed adding two-hour metered parking on several side streets, including Grove and Palmetto.

For the board’s car-loving majority, the loss of parking and the new metered areas were the sticking points. Opponents also argued that a bus lane would hurt businesses whose patrons use cars or would force traffic to relocate. They had political cover: Council Member Robert Holden, who represents the area, wrote to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on June 9, demanding that she table the bus-lane plan for what he called “less drastic traffic-calming measures.”

“I’m on Myrtle Avenue, and this will force more cars onto the side streets,” said board member Fred Haller, who said the loss of residential parking on Fresh Pond Road, along with the addition of metered parking on the side streets, would cost car owners the ability to find parking spots.

Transportation Committee Chairman John Maier, who voted for the plan, tried to counter these notions — to no avail.  

“Businesses have already closed because people can’t get down there,” Maier said.

Maier pointed to statistics that the Q58, which serves 30,000 commuters daily on that route, was among the slowest lines in Queens. “These buses need to serve people, and they can best do that by having access to dedicated lanes to get down to the Fresh Pond Depot and then head back toward Flushing,” he said.

Bus lanes are a proven way of promoting social equity and helping the environment, but car supporters on many community boards have opposed them. According to the Comptroller’s Office, lower-income and immigrant communities rely on bus service more than others. Bus commuters, on average, make $11,500 less annually than the average subway rider’s $40,000 annual income, according to the comptroller.

The board, which voted down DOT’s plan by a count of 28 to 6, approved — by the same margin — a motion calling on DOT to study alternatives. Of course, DOT can still make the changes regardless of the board’s recommendation, which is only advisory. But DOT tries to work with community boards as closely as possible.

Riders Alliance, a bus advocacy group, slammed the community board for its rejection.

“Fresh Pond Road needs a bus lane so 30,000 daily riders can get to their jobs, schools and local stores,” said Danny Pearlstein, the group’s policy & communications director. “Q58 service today is miserably slow and unreliable. At three miles an hour, many people can walk faster. Elected officials and the DOT must stand up for Fresh Pond Road riders and get cars out of the way to relieve bottlenecks.

“When cars and parking take priority, New Yorkers with disabilities or who travel with packages, groceries, or young children are left out, denied full inclusion in our communities,” Pearlstein added. “It’s past time that the millions in our city who rely on buses to commute to work, to shop and visit doctors get what we deserve on crowded streets.”

DOT said via a spokesman that it was disappointed by the CB5 vote on what it called a “critical fix to transit and congestion issues.”

“The fact remains that cars, buses and first responders currently crawl southbound during late afternoon and early evening rush hour between Bleecker Street and 67th Avenue,” the spokesman said. “Buses currently move at 3 miles per hour — that’s slower than the average person walks. DOT’s design for this critical corridor will make traveling faster for all users, while creating a net gain of metered parking and additional loading zones to support the vitality of local businesses. It’s a win for businesses and especially a win for the 30,000 daily bus riders using this route and countless motorists heading to this commercial corridor and local neighborhoods.”

The next CB 5 general meeting will be held on Sept. 18. CB 5 encompasses Ridgewood, Glendale, Middle Village, Maspeth, Fresh Pond, and Liberty Park.

— With Eve Kessler

  • It is fundamentally wrong that a City official, a representative of the duly elected government, is reduced to pleading with a bunch of half-wits and lunatics. To give community boards the power to overrule the elected government is absolutely ridiculous.

    We elect a government in order to give it the power to do things. Anyone who wishes to take part in this process is free to run for public office.

  • Joe R.

    I find this beyond disturbing. Again, it’s mostly about parking spots.

    Businesses have already closed because people can’t get down there.

    This is what happens in any economy. Some businesses fail, while new ones open in their place. A lot of the business closures in recent years have nothing to do with people not being able to drive to them. We’re seeing a demographic change where people order more and more online. That’s putting traditional brick-and-mortar stores out of business and will continue to do so. Customer preferences also change. When they do, businesses that can’t adapt lose.

  • Larry Littlefield

    People can’t get down there because the street is one lane in each direction and lots of people double park.

    Stores are closing because rents are too high. And some landlords can’t cut rents (until the go under and are replaced) because they paid too much for the buildings.

    Show me a space that won’t fill at $10 psf.

  • Emmily_Litella

    One thing preventing the car potatoes from using the bus to get a few items at the local stores is that the transit fares are not flexible. Who the hell is going to shell out $5.25 for a round trip of couple of miles when they can just hop in the car they have already paid hundreds per month to own and operate? The two hour transfer should instead be a two hour pass. MTA try it for a year. If the revenue loss is too much, then end it.

  • Andrew

    S58?!

  • Daphna

    Is the city going to abide by the advisory-only opinion of the political appointees on this “community” board? Or will the city install this bus lane anyway? Those 30,000 daily riders deserve this dedicated lane much more than a few car owners who do no want to pay for off-street parking deserve to use the street for their free/underpriced car storage. Those 28 people on the CB against the public interest need to be NOT re-appointed when their terms end. Such selfish decision-marking. They should be ashamed but they probably feel self-righteous and proud. Ugh.

    Thank you to the Transportation Committee of Queen Community Board 5 and to Riders Alliance for championing this dedicated bus lane.

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  • AMH

    People can’t get down there because a few people with cars are blocking thousands of people in buses. It’s mind-boggling that people can’t seem to grasp this difference in scale. Or they’re just being disingenuous.

  • PDiddy

    Stop listening to people who do not even commute within the city. Of course they will say the project is a bad idea, they are losing a free parking spot.

  • iSkyscraper

    Why does DOT listen to unqualified community boards? They informed them, fine, now move on with the job.

  • iSkyscraper

    Andy Byford should know about this as Toronto just recently converted over to it. I would expect to see it happen under OMNY.

  • Mark Moss

    If DOT hadn’t already made a number of changes against recommendations of the CB, many of which have caused more traffic congestion, safety issues, and headaches for local residents, maybe their recommendations would hold more appeal. But, they consistently ignore the suggestions of the community residents, and have made the neighborhood more dangerous as a result. The issue on FPR isn’t a few parking spaces – it’s not a net gain of spaces, it’s a net gain of metered spaces (with the loss of free spaces for residents). And, it will slam the local businesses. Finally, the 30,000 number is not the number of riders on the small stretch of the Q58 bus route that would benefit from the bus lane. It’s the ridership on the entire line. The route is 8.25 miles long, and the bus lane would be for 8 blocks. There are plenty of less disruptive measures that would add the 25% time benefit without taking parking away from the local businesses.

  • Rubye

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