Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard. One of the largest streets in Queens, one of the busiest thoroughfares in Queens, and part of the only north-south link to run nearly the length of Queens, all the way to the Rockaways. Tree-lined, fast, scenic, busy, all of these things describe Woodhaven/Cross Bay. This corridor has 3-5 lanes in each direction, starting from Queens Boulevard, another huge thoroughfare, passing through Elmhurst, Rego Park, Furmanville, Forest Hills, Richmond Hill, Howard Beach, and Broad Channel, all the way down to the Rockaways.
Recently, the MTA and the DOT started the first of a series of workshops, community meetings, and open houses to discuss ways to make Woodhaven Blvd safer for pedestrians, drivers, and bus riders. Of course, it was designed as a workshop to lure people into talking about street and safety improvements to the corridor, but with an overtone that they really want to convert the Q52 and Q53 to Select Bus Service…and also make street improvements. The workshop was conveniently held at Junior High School 210 near Woodhaven at 101st Avenue, right off the corridor, though the room where it was held could not accommodate the extra crowds in actual attendance.
The MTA and DOT want to make SBS appear to be the best possible solution to the transit (and pedestrian safety) problems on that corridor which have been tackled for many years. They do this by showing examples of Bus Rapid Transit that has not only improved travel times but also has lured car owners to use buses, sped up bus boarding and travel times, allowed buses to use dedicated bus lanes to fly by traffic, and have spawned urban public works projects along their corridors to improve public safety and access. They always seem to reference systems such as Mexico City’s Metrobus, which have been modeled off the world-famous Bogota Transmilenio BRT system, which is the gold standard of Bus Rapid Transit.
Bogota got their inspiration from Curitiba’s RIT bus rapid transit system to create a system of dedicated bus lanes to bypass Bogota’s worst congestion. The thing about Bogota’s BRT is that not only are the arterial roadways wide enough for such application of BRT with dedicated local and express BRT lanes, but much of the system replaced jitney buses along the same corridors, meaning most of the passengers that are overcrowding the Transmilenio are those who used to ride the thousands of jitneys that plowed said streets. Even with added service and larger buses, the system is beyond capacity, but only because the system’s ridership was formerly private jitney ridership. Nevertheless, Bogota’s BRT is built to be cheaper than rail systems but at a much lower cost, as opposed to BRT here, which is a limited-stop service with extra bells and whistles. Let us not deny that Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards are wide enough to accommodate a Bogota-style BRT, but let’s also remember that this is a very busy road corridor as well, primarily with traffic to and from the Rockaways who need to access Manhattan via Queens Blvd or the Long Island Expressway.
The MTA is looking to operate both the Q52 and Q53 as SBS (as I had recommended) along their current routes, and the DOT is looking at initially installing targeted bus lanes and with more red bus lanes in other spots (hopefully in the manner that I have prescribed). The first bus lanes (pre-SBS) would be between Eliot Avenue and Metropolitan Avenue and between 101 Avenue and just south of Liberty Avenue. With these improvements also comes bike lanes the entire length of the corridor, bus bulbs to extend the stop out further into the street to meet the bus lane, street re-stripings to keep the amount of traffic lanes available to cars consistent up and down the corridor, and pedestrian neckdowns to reduce the crossing distance at major and some minor intersections. Those details will be worked out sooner or later.
There were a few words mentioned about why the DOT isn’t considering transit improvements revolving around the Rockaway Line, which is no more than a quarter mile east of the corridor. Shouting comments about why the City is ignoring this line as a means to improve the transit experience, a few grassroots advocacy groups tried to get answers as to why the DOT is so focused on Woodhaven Boulevard for pedestrian and transit improvements and not on the Rockaway Line. Well, the DOT doesn’t seem to be too interested in doing anything for the Rockaway Line and nothing for Woodhaven/Cross Bay, and the MTA will say that there is no money for any rail expansion, even with current construction on the Second Avenue Subway and the Javits Extension of the #7 train. If the Rockaway Line were to be reactivated, these groups recommended the line go up as far north as the LIRR tracks near Woodhaven/Metropolitan with connections to SBS or Limited-stop bus service to major Central and Eastern Queens destinations. The Rockaway Park shuttle could be part of this new line and would connect with buses on Myrtle, Atlantic, Jamaica, and Metropolitan Avenues for service to Jamaica as well as Limited or SBS service to Downtown Flushing, CitiField, Queensborough Community College, CUNY Law School, St. Johns University, and other locations.
The main thing is this: this corridor, in a part of Queens most likely considered a “transit desert,” needs some improvements to transit and to the roadway configuration, something that the City has been working on for decades and still cannot get a handle of. Especially at a time when the Queens population is ever increasing in most areas of the borough, there needs to be investments made that over time will ease the pain of travel and livability. The Rockaway Line should be used, whether for subway expansion or bus rapid transit, and Woodhaven should also have bus rapid transit provisions for faster bus service as well as pedestrian safety improvements (since transit riders are also pedestrians). Short-term improvements could include targeted bus lanes, middle-term improvements could include SBS roadway reconfiguration, and long-term improvements could have subway service built over the Rockaway Line alongside SBS for improved transit service (even for the Q11 and Q21 with the help of bus lanes and other road treatments) in underserved areas. The SBS would eventually complement subway service as a means of alternate transportation, especially after the wake of Superstorm Sandy in 2012.
Let’s see what comes of this study and workshop process.