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Bus Rapid Transit

Flushing Busway Opponents Lawyer Up to Delay Project 

12:01 AM EDT on October 1, 2020

Council Member Peter Koo during the DOT press conference in July. Photo provided by a source

A quartet of local pols and community groups has lawyered up to demand that the city put the kibosh on the in-the-works downtown Flushing busway, which is already more than three months behind schedule.

Just days before the Department of Transportation is slated to lay down the red paint to turn congested Main Street into a car-free busway in early October, Flushing Council Member Peter Koo, State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Community Board 7, and the Queens Chamber of Commerce, hired big-time law firm Meyer Suozzi to send a letter demanding a delay of at least 30 days — despite the fact that the busway has already been delayed by months because of community pushback that included Koo shamefully misappropriating the Black Lives Matter movement.

The Sept. 25 missive claims that restricting private vehicular traffic on just a .3-mile stretch between Northern Boulevard and Sanford Avenue will have a severe “negative impact” on the community by hurting local businesses.

“Due to the substantial impact this will surely have on Flushing businesses, we ... request that the city and the MTA postpone the start of the Busway until a time when the concerns of affected businesses and residents can be fully heard,” says letter, signed by one of the firm’s big names, former Appellate Division Justice Randall Eng.

The naysayers ask that DOT not move forward with the busway until convening a meeting with all stakeholders, including business owners, medical and dental practices, restaurants, and hotels along the strip, citing a survey, which found that out of 225 businesses, only two support the project.

Streetsblog had reached out to all 25 members of the Main Street busway’s Community Advisory Board — which is comprised of local stakeholders, electeds, business improvement districts, and other local business and organizations — and found that only a four members are opposed: Koo, the Flushing BID, Gu Xiang Printing, and the New World Mall.

At the time, Stavisky neither fully opposed nor supported the busway, telling Streetsblog in late August that Queens “need(s) a borough-wide bus redesign plan” but that DOT should listen to locals’ concerns.

But a Main Street busway, which would help more than 150,000 riders daily, would actually only help local businesses, according to data from DOT. According to a 2015 study of shoppers on Main Street, only 17 percent of people arrived by cars, while 27 percent arrived by bus. And even fewer people, just 4 percent, actually parked on the usually congested corridor in front of a storefront.

How people get to Main Street in Flushing to shop. Source: NYCDOT
How people get to Main Street in Flushing to shop. Source: NYCDOT
How people get to Main Street in Flushing to shop. Source: NYCDOT

DOT was originally supposed to install the busway this summer, but postponed it after Koo’s "Business Lives Matter!" chant, which Commissioner Polly Trottenberg called “offensive.”

Koo again aired his grievances about the busway on Tuesday during a DOT hearing on the city’s open restaurants program, calling it a “terrible idea” because restricting private vehicle traffic on Main Street will cause chaos on local streets, especially if restaurants take up street space for outdoor dining.

“It will force all other cars to side streets, and if you have permanent outdoor dining, it creates a lot of problems — big traffic congestion in all peripheral areas,” Koo said during the virtual hearing.

Trottenberg said she had received the attorney’s letter requesting a 30-day delay and will sit down with him and stakeholders.

“We received letters from you and your attorneys, and I think you know my office has reached back out and will be sitting down to talk with all of you, hopefully this week,” she said.

But Koo is raising a false issue — side street traffic was feared before the city installed the 14th Street busway in Manhattan, but it never happened. Now the 14th Street busway is seen as a success.

Other anti-transit NIMBY groups have previously attempted to stop street redesign projects by suing the city — only to lose in disgrace.

Last spring, a group of businesses owners in Morris Park, goaded by Council Member Mark Gjonaj, brought the city to court over a basic “road diet” plan for dangerous Morris Park Avenue. They lost on the simple grounds that the city has the right to repaint roadway configurations.

A few months later, the 14th Street Coalition — comprised of wealthy property owners in Chelsea, the West Village and the Flatiron District — tapped notorious anti-street safety attorney Arthur Schwartz to sue the city over the 14th Street busway. That suit also went down.

A spokesman for DOT reiterated the need for improved bus speeds along the Flushing corridor, and said it plans to sit down with the attorney and busway opponents soon to discuss next steps. DOT said it still plans to install the busway in October:

"Many of these passengers live, work, and shop in Downtown Flushing. Slow, unpredictable bus speeds cause problems throughout Queens and beyond. Improved bus service and reliability will provide additional support to the many essential workers during all hours of the day, as well as improve the overall transportation network in downtown Flushing," the spokesman said.

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