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BREAKING: Judge Halts Flushing Busway as Opponents Sue the City

12:54 PM EST on November 13, 2020

The city must stop building a Flushing version of this busway, a judge ruled. File photo: Dave Colon

The just-begun work on the long-delayed Flushing busway is halting again after a Queens judge this morning put a temporary restraining order on the project, thanks to a lawsuit by a coalition of busway critics.

Former Appellate Division Justice Randall Eng, who represents the Main Street busway's opponents, told Streetsblog that Queens Supreme Court Judge Kevin Kerrigan had ordered the city’s Department of Transportation to stop installing signage or laying down any red paint until a judge decides whether the project can move forward at all.

“The city ... cannot go ahead with its plan to implement the busway on Nov. 16,” Eng said after a brief hearing on Friday.

Other DOT projects have faced similar setbacks — only to proceed when judges have ruled the suits to be meritless.

The DOT had started work on the busway in just the last two weeks, after more than four months of delays. The project seeks to make .3 miles of congested Main Street car-free from Northern Boulevard to Sanford Avenue. The busway would serve more than 150,000 commuters daily.

As such, City Hall issued the following statement after the ruling:

Mass transit is the future of this city. It’s the key to fighting climate change and it’ll be the engine of our long-term economic recovery. This busway will serve 150,000 New Yorkers every day — from college students, to restaurant and retail workers, to local families who deserve a faster way to get home. That’s who we’re fighting for — and that’s why we remain confident that progressive transportation policy is coming to Flushing.

Mayor de Blasio announced plans for the Main Street busway in June, promising that it would be established urgently in order to help move essential workers amid the pandemic. But the DOT hit a roadblock because of community pushback, led by Flushing Council Member Peter Koo. Koo misappropriated the slogan of the Black Lives Matter movement in order to champion the cause of supposedly endangered business owners over the interests of transit users.

And every day that the busway is delayed is another day that frustrated straphangers must sit in traffic on packed buses, advocates say.

"The bottom line is that the commissioner is well within her discretion with the Flushing busway. It will save up to 150,000 New Yorkers several precious minutes each day. The longer it takes, the more time is wasted for the essential workers, seniors, students, parents and others stuck on the bus," said Danny Pearlstein of Riders Alliance.

Eng says Koo is supportive, but is not among the petitioners on the so-called Article 78 against the city, which include a restaurant, a medical practice, a travel agency, and the Flushing Chinese Business Association.

The TRO comes about a month after the petitioners first lawyered up. They demanded that the city hit pause on the busway — arguing that the transit lane would have a severe “negative impact” on the community by hurting local businesses. The DOT said at the time that it would move forward with the busway regardless, and announced late last month that work would begin in early November.

A Main Street busway actually would help local businesses, according to data from the 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. Even fewer people, just 4 percent, parked on the usually congested corridor in front of a storefront.

All parties are due back in court on Dec. 21 for Judge Kerrigan to hear the arguments and issue a final decision on whether the project can proceed.

Other anti-transit NIMBY groups have 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, led 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 — sued the city over the 14th Street busway. That suit also went down.

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