By Len Maniace
For too long Queens has been the city’s stepchild when it comes to rapid transit; The borough is New York’s second most populous, but ranks fourth in how well it’s served. Improvements seem likely, however, and soon.
A new bus rapid transit line, basically trolleys on rubber wheels, is moving forward in the form of a line from Woodside and Jackson Heights in the north to the Rockaways in the south.
As described in the Daily News, the buses would have their own dedicated lanes to reduce traffic delays; be equipped with devices to change traffic signals and speed travel; and be setup for curbside fare payment that allows for much faster bus boarding. The idea is to mimic the features of subways that make them faster than standard buses.
A speedier, greener travel option
While the line will provide express service to the Rockaways – a summer-time treat – even more important is the promise of greatly improved service for a transit-starved corridor of central and south Queens. Many would be able to get to work and other other destinations without relying on snail-like buses or cars. That would be a big win for the environment and the city: fewer cars, cleaner air, less greenhouse gases, less congestion and big safety improvements on some dangerous roads.
The project moved a big step closer to reality earlier this week when the city’s Department of Transportation picked one of several versions that had been under consideration.
Queens is the last of the boroughs to get its own BRT line; probably the best known are those that run down Second Avenue and across 34th Street in Manhattan.
Though this type of service is known around the world generically as bus rapid transit, the New York City brand is called Select Bus Service.
This line would be the city’s most ambitious BRT project. Unlike construction of subways, which can take a decade or more to complete, Select Bus Service can be built fast – and cheap. City Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said construction is expected to start in 2017 and be completed in about a year. It should cost $200 million.
A model for other transit-starved areas
The DOT’s pick, Concept 2, includes additional big changes along Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards, “separate lanes for local and through traffic, turning restrictions and wide, landscaped pedestrian islands for riders getting on and off buses,” according to the Daily News.
About the only thing missing from the plan are bike lanes, a point that some advocates have noticed. The addition of bike lanes would put the plan in a category that city transportation officials refer to as a complete street, roads that include transit, bikes, and and pedestrian amenities, such as those landscaped pedestrian islands – in addition to cars and trucks.
So maybe it’s now time time to consider BRT for two other major Queens destinations: Queens College and St. John’s University, institutions that generate huge numbers of auto trips which are served now only by pokey buses.