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Q53 Select Bus Service on Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards

The New York City Department of Transportation (NYC DOT) and Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) have proposed a Select Bus Route on Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards.

We are opposed to their current plans which would reduce Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevards to two traffic lanes in each direction.  We believe that the plans as curently constituted are a colossal waste of money (a quarter of a billion dollars!).  While there may be value in a Select Bus Route replacing the Q53, the current plans are mistaken.  We believe that the money would be better spent reactivating QueensRail™ (the Rockaway Beach Line) which runs parallel to the Q53 route (2-4 blocks east).

The proposed Select Bus Service (SBS) on Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards scheduled for completion in 2018 is not like any other that we have seen in these parts.  According to the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT), it is "bigger and bolder."  It is also much more expensive. While other SBS bus routes have cost between $10 and $20 million for installation, this proposed SBS route in Queens would cost a minimum of $231 million (over a quarter of a billion dollars) and could cost many millions more after all the necessary engineering studies are completed.

Why so expensive? We don't know. Neither the MTA nor DOT has explained why the original projected cost of $20 million suddenly rose by tenfold after community meetings and workshops were held when they switched from SBS to Bus Rapid Transit (BRT). The distinctions are numerous, but DOT has muddied the waters by using both terms interchangeably.

DOT currently is short the funding necessary for project completion. The intention as stated before a city council hearing last fall is to spend as much federal funds as could be obtained, perhaps beginning the project as BRT and completing it as SBS. That is where the Second Avenue Subway comes in. Both are in competition for the same federal funds under the “New Starts” Program.

Most likely this SBS route would mean the nearby, parallel, inactive QueensRail™ (Rockaway Beach Line) would never be reactivated as the same powerful groups who seek to turn it into parkland support SBS on Woodhaven. What's more, this obvious alternative was not included in the study of the SBS line, which was a forgone conclusion before the first community meeting was held where it was merely presented as "one alternative."

Not only is the initial cost prohibitive, but each SBS route, of which there are now seven, costs between $2 and $4 million a year more to operate than existing local and limited services.

This is mainly due to the enforcement required to ensure fares are being paid and for maintenance of new, off-board equipment, these routes require. Yet, ridership on these routes mostly continues to decline as does bus ridership on the rest of the bus system with the exception of the Bronx. Paid ridership on the B44 SBS in Brooklyn, declined by 8 percent during the past year, possibly due to increased fare evasion.

However, rather than first recognizing and attempting to first solve the existing problems with SBS, the city is moving full steam ahead to create 13 new SBS routes before the end of Mayor de Blasio's first term.

The basic premise is "trust us", because neither traffic nor transit modeling data which supposedly justify the need for these routes have been released while safety problems in the Woodhaven corridor have been greatly exaggerated.  It may also be worth pointing out that the city is concerned about slower traffic speeds in Manhattan where lanes have been taken away for bicycles and buses.  The city attributes the slower times to Uber cars, but many people believe that the removal of traffic lanes is the most likely cause.

SBS buses operate no more reliably than existing routes and still often bunch two or three buses at a time. All SBS bus routes with the exception of one have had an initial first year assessment. That is because ridership initially increased on those routes, sometimes by as much as ten percent. The MTA is using that statistic to justify new routes and is ignoring the more recent SBS bus ridership decline. Ignoring it so much that they still have not and may never release a first year assessment for the B44 SBS due to the fear of jeopardizing future SBS routes. After all, how would they explain an eight percent reduction in bus ridership, which is twice the borough average decline when SBS supposed to be the city's panacea for improving mass transit?

We urge you to take a look at the pages describing the proposal (as submitted to the federal DOT), our list of questions, and some of the news items, and our proposed alternative, QueensRail™.  Almost universally, be believe that affected civic associations and Community Boards are opposed to DOT’s plans.