The Q44, the primary link between Queens and The Bronx.
The New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) is at it again, with their expansion of their successful Select Bus Service and related street improvements meant to make it easier to ride and safer to cross. The original idea was to explore the Flushing-Jamaica corridor to find ways to make it faster and easier to commute from Flushing or Jamaica to the numerous communities in between. Most riders going to Flushing or Jamaica use one of several corridors: Main Street (Q20A/Q20B local and Q44 Limited), Kissena Boulevard/Parsons Boulevard (Q25 local and Limited and the Q34 local), and 164th Street (Q65 local and limited). These bus routes serve the communities of College Point, Kew Gardens, Kew Gardens Hills, Pomonok, Electchester, and Briarwood.
Main Street is a busy bus corridor, with service to New York Hospital Queens, Queens College, Bowne High School, the Flushing branch of the Queens Public Library System, and Flushing High School. Though vehicle traffic isn’t as great as other corridors, it nevertheless is a busy thoroughfare between central Flushing and central Jamaica. The Q44 makes limited stops down the full length of Main Street from Northern Blvd to Queens Blvd, while the Q20A and Q20B run local.
Kissena Blvd is a narrow but busy street, served mainly by the Q25 and Q34, but a section of this roadway is served by several other bus routes including another popular Flushing-to-Jamaica route, the Q17, and a popular “crosstown” route, the Q27, which serves Queens Village and Queensborough Community College. Past the Long Island Expressway, the Q25 and Q34 continue until Kissena meets Parsons Blvd and they take the Q25 and Q34 down to Jamaica. MTA Bus, which operates these lines, implemented Limited-stop service on the Q25 to make the trip faster with less stops along the way. This DOT study looked at ways to make this trip even faster and more beneficial for all riders in this corridor. As of right now, there is just talks with the community on pedestrian safety improvements.
The Q65, one of the faster bus routes between Flushing and Jamaica but one that doesn’t have nearly as much ridership as the Q25, runs primarily along 164th Street before it joins the Q25 and Q34 at Hillside Avenue for the trip to the Jamaica Long Island Railroad station. As far as SBS goes, the Q65 is not a real candidate, leaving the Q65 Limited as the best choice for that corridor.
The main reason for the Q44 being chosen for SBS conversion, if you ask me, is due to riders from nearly every portion of the line, not just the Main Street portion, complaining about bus stop safety, slow trips up and down the line, and constant overcrowding during peak times. It doesn’t help that not only was the Q44 historically the Main Street bus for decades, but it is also a vital link between Central Bronx and Central Queens with many hot spots in between. The Bronx-Whitestone Bridge is a very important bridge in that it carries Q44 riders from places like the Bronx Zoo, Parkchester, Soundview, and Throgs Neck, to places like Queens College, Downtown Flushing, and Downtown Jamaica. There are numerous ridership generators on this corridor, and Limited-Stop service was the first step in making the Q44 more tolerable. Articulated buses were introduced three years ago to this line, long overdue since NYC Transit was supposed to implement articulated conversion back in 2000. Never mind the union-management politics that prevented the Q44 conversion 15 years ago, artics are long overdue and have, in my honest opinion, made a difference,which will be more realized once this line is converted to SBS.
Select Bus Service, though not perfect, is a logical next step for the Q44, especially since the line is using NovaBUS LFS Artic buses based out of Casey Stengel Depot, which practically every SBS line (except the S79) is using. Main Street just got repaved about a year or two prior to this BRT study, so repainting and restriping the roadway should pose no severe issues. The Q20A and Q20B local services should be retained, although the only difference between the A and B is at the College Point end of the line where the A runs on 20th Ave and the B runs on 14th Ave. Other than that, it’s essentially the same line. The Q20A and Q20B were created to allow the Q44 to be Limited all day, basically extending the old Q20, which was basically NYC Transit’s version of a College Point shuttle, serving areas that the Q25, 34, and 65 didn’t serve. The Q44 prior to 2000 was the Main Street local bus from Jamaica to the Bronx.
Now, I mentioned how I would run the Q44 if it were to be converted to SBS in a past post, but I am going to re-assess the line with a fresh set of eyes.
Being that the Q44 is a vital link between Queens and The Bronx, I felt it would be better if there was talk at some point about a line extension to Fordham Plaza, to provide a connection to the Bx12 and Bx41 SBS lines. It doesn’t have to be done now, and I do understand that the line is lengthy already, but there is great potential to make the Q44 that much more of an important visible link between Fordham’s business district, the busiest and most popular in the Bronx, and Jamaica’s business district, the busiest and most popular in Queens, with Flushing serving as an anchor between the two. What better than to provide Bus Rapid Transit amenities for such an important line? The Q44 also serves the business district of Parkchester, the new Throggs Neck Shopping Center with a brand new Target, at least three Queens Public Library branches, Queens County courthouses, and the LIRR Station at Jamaica with Airtrain to JFK International Airport. The Q44 serves as an alternative route to Queens for people who don’t want to take the #2, #5, or #6 trains to Manhattan a transfer to the #7 train from Manahttan. This is part of the reason for the Q44’s heavy ridership that very few speak of. The focus appears to be on the general corridor from Flushing to Jamaica, which one would think would be either the Q44 or the Q25. (The Q25 would be a great candidate, if only not for the narrow Kissena Boulevard.) Nevertheless, the Q44 has the longer buses with three doors which is part of the success of SBS.
My concern with the Q44 is the Bronx section of the line, mainly how many bus stops will be retained and which will be consolidated. Most of the stops I am referring to are on the Cross-Bronx Expressway service road in lower-income neighborhoods. The obvious bus stops are located at West Farms Square and the Hugh L. Grant Circle where they are now; some of the lightly used stops seem to be eliminated as opposed to consolidated. It is still early in the SBS planning process to figure out how many of the lightly used stops will get eliminated, such as the Q44 stop at Bronx River Avenue or one of the stops between Westchester Avenue and Brush Avenue. I am worried that the Bronx Q44 section might get the second-hand treatment much like the Queens M60 section. I am guessing that since the Bx36 runs along a short section of the Q44’s route, the Bx36 will handle most of the Q44’s local stops, and then the rest of the stops will be Q44 SBS stops with one Metrocard machine and one coin machine. So it would make the Q44 that much quicker in the Bronx section, much like the M60 in the Queens section. We’ll see how that works out.
As far as the bus stops in Queens, I always felt that the Q44 made too many stops and that the amount of stops should be reduced. Any stops missed on the Q44 SBS could be made up with a Q20A Limited, leaving the Q20B local to cover all of the gaps, thereby providing three tiers of service along Main Street, all for the same $2.75 it costs now. The Q44 should retain its stops at the major institutions such as Queens College and Flushing High School but maybe take away some of the lesser used Limited stops such as 26th Avenue or 73rd Avenue. Then again, if the riders say the stops are needed, then so be it. Let’s hope that the riders help the DOT choose the right stops to make the Q44 faster and better than it currently is without adding stops like they did on the B44 SBS, making the line slower than it needs to be. Let’s avoid the “Me-too” syndrome that most New Yorkers have when it comes to Limited bus stops. SBS is supposed to speed up the ride, not serve every corner of the city…that’s what local buses are for.
The bus lanes on Main Street should be offset bus lanes like most of the SBS lines in operation. Parking is a major concern in this part of Queens, most isolated from most subway lines and suburban in nature. The DOT should try to preserve as much parking as possible, with offset bus lanes up and down the corridor where feasible. What I would like to see is some bus lanes on Queens Blvd and Hillside Avenue as well. I am concerned that the bus lane camera law seems to only apply to the original SBS lines such as the Bx12, M15, M34/34A, B44, and S79 lines, but not any future or newer lines like the M60, Bx41, and the much-anticipated (not necessarily by me, though) M86 SBS. At least, until the current law is amended. The law allows for bus lane cameras mounted in the front windshields of SBS buses (and some other buses) to record bus lane violators and send tickets to the addresses registered with the license plates.
As far as fare payment goes, this is a corridor where fare payment demonstration will be quite the challenge, but not impossible if the DOT and the MTA heavily recruit volunteers from the different ethnic groups that call the Main Street corridor home. Off-board fare collection and proof-of-payment concepts are quite foreign in this part of the city, since Queens has no real SBS line. The M60 has nearly half of its bus route in Queens, but being that it is mainly an airport line, I don’t feel it counts. The Q5 Merrick Blvd SBS was the chosen corridor back in 2006 for the Bus Rapid Transit pilot but was shelved due to concerns of the loss of parking. Now, with 4 Manhattan SBS routes running or in planning stages, 2 Bronx SBS routes, and one each in Staten Island and Brooklyn (though I don’t really count the S79 SBS, it’s more of a glorified Limited-Stop bus line), it is time for Queens to reap the benefits of SBS, even though it’s not true BRT. Woodhaven Blvd’s SBS concept, just approved by the DOT, will take two more years to implement, but the Q44 should be a quicker, easier sell. Woodhaven/Cross Bay’s SBS, conversion of the Q52 and Q53 to SBS, was spearheaded by one City Councilman Eric Ulrich, but backlash from several groups, mainly in the Rockaways, has added friction to the project, causing it to only now be accepted by the DOT for implementation by 2018. So, for now, the Q44 will probably the first true Queens SBS line.
The Q44 SBS is a Queens SBS, but it will be the fourth of the City’s inter-borough SBS lines (though I really don’t count the Bx12 and S79 since they only see a slither of Manhattan and Brooklyn, respectively). The M60 SBS, though really an airport SBS, runs half in Manhattan and half in Queens. The Q44, if you ask me, will be the City’s second true inter-borough SBS, running roughly two-thirds in Queens and one-third in The Bronx. We need more SBS lines like this, conversions of vital, heavy lines that connect the boroughs and allow New Yorkers to rely less on Manhattan-bound subways for travel within the outer boroughs. (Triboro RX would help, too.)