Another ‘Busway’ Success: Fresh Pond Road Commuters are Getting Better Service

Coming to Washington Heights this spring! File photo: Dave Colon
Coming to Washington Heights this spring! File photo: Dave Colon

The other “busway” is a success, too.

New MTA data shows that bus speeds along Fresh Pond Road in Queens — where the city removed some metered parking to create a dedicated bus route during the evening rush hour — have improved by 125 percent, from the snail-esque 2.6 m.p.h. to 6 m.p.h., between Metropolitan and Myrtle avenues.

And corresponding data from the traffic firm INRIX shows that car speeds along the non-bus lane on the same stretch of Fresh Pond Road — which was installed in October after the city won a lawsuit filed by some area business owners — have also improved, demolishing another criticism that some area residents had hurled at the proposal earlier this year.

“The exciting results on Fresh Pond Road illustrate just what the mayor’s ‘Better Buses’ plan is starting to achieve,” said DOT Assistant Commissioner Janet Jenkins. “This unqualified success for bus riders should be gratifying to so many DOT divisions who worked so hard here: planners who saw a street that was ‘stuck,’ lawyers who fought the good and winning fight in Queens Supreme Court, and finally the work crews who got the street paint down and the new signage up.”

Source: INRIX
Source: INRIX

Granted, the improvements are small; based on the data, thousands of bus riders are now saving about three minutes to make the trip on Fresh Pond Road between Metropolitan and Myrtle avenues, a distance of about 9/10 of a mile. And drivers are getting through the route about 30 seconds faster.

But the fact that bus speeds and car speeds are up at all mirrors similar success along the 14th Street busway, which was also litigated by a group of “not-in-my-backyard” opponents that argued that removing cars from the crosstown street would create gridlock along residential side streets and not really improve bus service that much anyway.

Both arguments turned out to be false, as 14th Street data show. The new Fresh Pond Road data will almost certainly renew calls for additional bus-only lanes across the city, something the de Blasio administration says it favors. Indeed, Riders Alliance was quick to hail the findings when told them by Streetsblog.

“Mayor de Blasio should take the lessons of 14th Street and Fresh Pond Road citywide: Bus lanes work,” said Danny Pearlstein, the group’s spokesman. “Putting bus riders first makes the city work. The NIMBYs have no idea what they’re talking about.

“With congestion pricing coming, bus priority on city streets can make commuting across all five boroughs dramatically more efficient in an instant. All it takes is paint, cameras, and a little political will,” Pearlstein concluded.

Meanwhile, the lawyer for the Ridgewood business owners who fought the Fresh Pond Road improvements pooh-poohed the city’s findings.

“They doubled [speed] for a seven-block stretch? During a four-hour period?” mocked lawyer Arthur Schwartz, who had also fought the 14th Street busway. “The business owners and the elected officials said there was a better way.”

Schwartz was apparently referring to the area’s community board and Council Member Bob Holden calling for a “less-drastic” plan earlier this year. Holden wanted the city to focus more attention on the existence of a bus depot in the area that draws buses to Fresh Pond Road, adding to congestion — though he also opposed the removal of parking spaces as an existential threat to businesses.