Queens Pol (And Would-Be Borough President) Demands a Busway in Jamaica

Council Member Donovan Richards, center, address reporters at a bus redesign rally in Jamaica. Photo: Dave Colon
Council Member Donovan Richards, center, address reporters at a bus redesign rally in Jamaica. Photo: Dave Colon

Want better buses? Fire a car-banning arrow directly at Archer Avenue, says one City Council Member and candidate for Queens Borough President.

“This place right here is perhaps a place where cars shouldn’t be coming down,” Council Member Donovan Richards said about Archer Avenue in Jamaica at a rally for better buses on Thursday. “We could look at a very similar plan as to what they did on 14th Street, to eliminate cars coming down here.”

Richards, whose district comprises far southeastern Queens, is also running for Borough President in the special election to replace Melinda Katz. He said an Archer Avenue busway is a key campaign promise.

“Absolutely,” Richards said. “This street calls for it.”

Thirteen bus routes currently run on Archer Avenue, which serves the Jamaica transit hub, with its crucial E/J/Z stops, LIRR station and AirTrain service to JFK. Under the proposed Queens Bus Network redesign, Archer Avenue and the Jamaica Center Terminal would still be an important hub of activity, and serve as a terminus for eight lines.

Bus lanes are almost always filled with other vehicles. Photo: Google
Bus lanes are almost always filled with other vehicles. Photo: Google

The city Department of Transportation has already strived to improve bus service in the area with dedicated bus lanes, but they are often filled with dollar vans. As the politicians rallied for better buses on Thursday, Streetsblog observed bus drivers forced to contend with car drivers and other traffic just to pull out of their bus stops, slowing down service for thousands of riders.

Advocates praised the latest idea for an addition to the Busway family, and reminded the mayor that embracing ideas like this could help him fulfill a promise he made to city bus riders at the beginning of 2019. The mayor did say he would reveal one or more car-free busways in 2020, but has said nothing yet.

“It’s very intriguing and could definitely help the mayor reach his goal of speeding buses up 25 percent by year’s end,” said Danny Pearlstein, a spokesperson for the Riders Alliance.

The new Archer Avenue Busway proposal is one among many that have been pitched for Queens. Activists have pushed to add a bus-only stretch on Northern Boulevard to speed up the Q66 and to make the street safer, and to put a Busway on Main Street in Flushing. Additionally, the Brooklyn Bus Network Redesign existing conditions report included an idea to revive an old proposal for a Ridgewood busway underneath the elevated M train tracks in the neighborhood.

Richards’s busway proposal came at a rally held by advocates with the Bus Turnaround Coalition, as they shared the results of a bus rider canvass the group had done to get public feedback on the proposed Queens bus network redesign.

The coalition has been generally supportive of the MTA’s redesign effort but said it is built on the unreasonable premise that the new network not cost any more than it currently does. As such, advocates again called on Gov. Cuomo to increase funding for Queens buses, because, indeed, transit improvements need not be revenue-neutral.

Advocates also called on the MTA to cut riders’ trip times by 15 percent, and increase bus frequency for lines that serve more than 10,000 riders per day.

“There are 700,000 riders every day on Queens buses and what this is doing is taking from one community and giving to another,” said Stephanie Burgos-Veras, a campaign manager at Riders Alliance, referring to the cost-neutral design of the plan. “And that means after the redesign we’ll still have the same problems. We’ll still have buses that don’t come often enough and still have buses that are not going to communities that need them the most.”

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