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Flushing Business Group Wants City to Delay Installation of Main Street Busway

(DOT)

Sept. 29, 2020 By Michael Dorgan

A Flushing business organization has called on the MTA and DOT to postpone the installation of a new busway along Main Street.

The Flushing Chinese Business Association (FCBA) wants the agencies to delay the new busway – set to be installed on Oct. 1– which would run 0.6 miles along Main Street from Northern Boulevard to Sanford Avenue.

They want its installation to be postponed at least a month in order for the group to have formal meetings with stakeholders–including retail business owners, restaurants, medical and dental practices and hotels operators. They seek to inform business owners about the plan and solicit feedback.

The FCBA, in a letter sent through an attorney on Sept. 25, wrote to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and the MTA appealing for the delay so its members could evaluate the “substantial impact” the new busway might have on local businesses. The busway is expected to go into operation on Oct. 1.

The group, which has nearly 1,500 members from the Flushing community, said the plan should be delayed until the concerns of all businesses and residents can be properly heard. Many fear that if people can’t park their cars along Main Street, they will shop elsewhere.

They want the project, according to the letter, to be postponed because they argue that the MTA’s outreach meetings were inadequate. They say the meetings did not cater to non-English speakers and were held late in the process.

“We urge a delay in starting this program for no less than 30 days,” the letter reads.

The city plans to ban cars on Main Street from Northern Boulevard to Sanford Avenue and along a portion of Kissena Boulevard so the MTA can provide faster bus service as part of the city’s “Better Buses Action Plan,” which was announced last year.

Only buses, trucks, and emergency vehicles would be permitted to use the Main Street busway, according to the plans. Passenger vehicles would only be permitted to use the busway for garage access and for pick-up or drop-off within one block.

The plans call for the new busway to begin at Sanford Ave. on both Main St and Kissena Blvd. and extend to
Northern Blvd. (Better Buses Action Plan)

However, the FCBA fears the busway will deter customers from visiting the area. They argue that it could hurt businesses at a time when many are struggling due to the COVID-19 economic crisis.

The FCBA letter has the support of several local leaders including New York City Council Member Peter Koo, State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky, Community Board 7 Chairman Eugene Kelty and Queens Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Tom Grech.

All four attached their own letters to the FCBA correspondence letter outlining their support for the postponement.

The officials expressed the same concerns as the FCBA. They too said that the MTA’s outreach meetings were inadequate due to language barriers and too close to the installation date to solicit proper feedback from stakeholders.

The MTA said the plan will improve bus speeds and the agency has already held several public meetings on the busway including Community Advisory Board meetings on June 26 and Sept. 1, a Public Information Session in Chinese on Sept. 10 and a Public Information Session in Spanish and Korean on Sept. 14.

“The Main Street busway would improve the trips of approximately 155,000 bus customers each weekday on the Q19, Q50, Q66, Q20A/B, Q25, Q34, Q44 SBS, Q65, Q17, and Q27,” an MTA spokesperson said. “Many of these customers support the stores in downtown Flushing as well as transfer to the subway and other buses.”

Public transit advocates back the busway proposal arguing that a greater proportion of shoppers arrive in the area by bus as opposed to car. They maintain that better bus service will increase the number of potential customers traveling to the area and that would therefore bolster local businesses.

They point to a 2015 DOT study to argue their case which surveyed shoppers on Main Street, from Franklin Avenue to Northern Boulevard.

The study revealed that 27 percent of shoppers arrived in the area by bus while 17 percent arrived by car. Furthermore, only 4 percent of shoppers parked along the corridor.

However, Grech wrote that the DOT has failed to present enough evidence that the proposal would speed up bus travel along the route.

Additionally, he said the plan could lead to greater traffic congestion elsewhere in the area.

“The rerouting of the private cars off Main Street to College Point and Union Street will displace the congestion from Main Street to these other streets,” he wrote.

“It will now cause congestion on the side streets which are narrow.”

The DOT told the Queens Post that it is reviewing the FCBA letter.

Main Street and 39th Avenue (MTA and DOT)

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Larry Penner

The exclusive bus only lane for Main Street in downtown Flushing missed something even more important.. Everyone has forgotten about the need for a new downtown Flushing Queens Intermodal Bus Terminal. There was seed money in the previous New York Metropolitan Transportation Authority $32 billion 2015 – 2019 Capital Plan to look into the possibility of the long forgotten Flushing Bus Terminal, which closed in 1954. It was originally located adjacent to the corner of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue near the old Woolworth Department store. To date, there is no indication that these dollars have been spent. This need has been previously documented in planning studies going back to the 1960’s. Construction of a Flushing intermodal bus terminal could facilitate a smoother transfer between bus and subway. In the early 1960’s Flushing Municipal Parking Lot 1 was thought of for construction of an intermodal bus terminal. This facility would take hundreds of buses off the surrounding streets, where they discharge and pick up riders. For 56 years, generations of public officials, on a bipartisan basis, have failed to secure any funding necessary to support environmental review, design, engineering and construction of this badly needed transportation improvement.

From the 1960s to today, there has been an explosion in the number of commuters riding buses to Flushing and transferring to the subway. This has been complimented by a huge growth of commercial businesses accompanied by the demolition of homes to support construction of apartment houses and multi family homes in the surrounding neighborhood. Just walk in any direction from the corner of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue in downtown Flushing and see for yourself. Buses traveling to, from and thru downtown Flushing move at slow speeds due to excess traffic not only during rush hour but also off peak. This results in a longer commute for riders and periodic bunching of buses on many routes.

Construction of a climate controlled intermodal bus terminal could assist in improving traffic and pedestrian circulation in and around the intersection of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue along with the rest of downtown Flushing. Over 60,000 rush hour New York City Transit #7 subway riders and thousands more off peak would be protected from heat, cold, rain, snow and winds. There could be a smoother transfer between the bus and subway. Opportunities would still be available for air rights above the bus terminal for parking, joint development of retail, office and/or residential units, including affordable housing.

How disappointing that no elected official has ever stepped forward to honor this commitment from decades ago. Diogenes is still looking for any NY MTA board member or public official to add this project to the MTA’s current $51 billion 2020 – 2024 Capital Plan.

In the interim, a short term improvement could be construction of bus holding lights at bus stops. This would assist riders transferring from subway to bus when a train arrives several minutes after scheduled bus departures. Missing a bus by a minute or two during off peak hours (when buses operate with longer intervals) is frustrating to riders. Why not also invest in installation of bus holding lights at other major bus to subway transfer connections as well?

(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked 31 years for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, NYC Department of Transportation along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ)

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