WAIT FOR IT: City To Move Buses To Dedicated Lane on Queens Boulevard — Eventually
Another big change is coming to Queens Boulevard — but like other long-awaited redesigns of monstrous roads, residents will have to wait years for it.
In a major shift, the city will move buses from the service road to the faster-moving mainline along a stretch of the wide corridor between Roosevelt Avenue in Sunnyside and Union Turnpike in Kew Gardens, and transform the currently barren median into a linear park to create a safe and easy way of traversing neighborhoods, officials said — further fortifying the success of the Queens Boulevard redesign, which had already repurposed space from vehicles.
“Our Vision Zero improvements on Queens Boulevard have been transformative — both greatly improving pedestrian safety while also drawing a huge number of new cyclists,” said Department of Transportation spokesman Vin Barone. “This capital project builds on that work with upgraded bike lanes and bus stops; a new linear park; and enhancements to speed up bus service for riders.”
The city will relocate all of the existing curbside Q60 bus stops to the main roadway along the five-mile stretch, as well as improve 43 bus shelters and benches along the route. A similar design has already been implemented on Woodhaven Boulevard, according to DOT.
The move is expected to help speed up the Q60, which travels between Midtown Manhattan and Jamaica, and which 13,630 daily riders relied on pre-pandemic. Last month, its speed was about 7.5 miles per hour, down from a peak of 9.1 mph during the height of the pandemic when fewer cars were on the road, according to MTA data. And to help speed up buses even more, the DOT will install bus-only lanes and bus-queue jumps at specific pinch points, including 65th Place, and in the eastbound direction at 69th to 73rd streets. The upgrades will work in tandem with the new Queens Bus Network Redesign 2.0, which the MTA unveiled last month.
“If you travel down the service lanes on Queens Boulevard, you encounter what we all encounter — truck delivery, buses, it really creates an unsafe scenario, especially for pedestrians and cyclists,” said Queens Borough President Donovan Richards, who has pledged $1 million so far to the first phase of the scheme. DOT said $400 million is already allocated to fund the first three phases of the project.
The shift is only the latest twist in the long saga of the city’s redesign of the six-plus-lane road formerly known as the “Boulevard of Death.” Queens Boulevard ranks as one of the city’s most important arteries, and its perilous conditions drew the attention of the de Blasio administration early in that mayor’s first term.
The latest redesign, which the city launched under its “Great Streets” rubric, is taking place in four phases: Phase I is between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street, Phase II is between 73rd Street and Eliot Avenue, Phase III is Eliot Avenue to Yellowstone Boulevard, and the last phase is between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike. DOT says it has not yet completed the design for third and fourth phases of the project, but expects construction to start in 2024 — five years after its original projected start date.
It should not have taken this long, said one activist.
“Buses are crawling. Traffic deaths are skyrocketing. Our climate is burning. We can combat all of these crises by putting street space to better use, like this project on Queens Boulevard aims to do,” said Laura Shepard, a Queens Organizer for Transportation Alternatives. “These long delays to bring permanent, concrete upgrades to this critical transit corridor have unnecessarily snarled bus riders while also stymying additional safety benefits for all road users. This is unacceptable.”
Last year, the administration finally finished installing the long-awaited last phase of the Queens Boulevard protected bike lane, between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike — work that began in 2015 — after years of injuries, fatalities, advocacy, and delays. The new work builds on that and will further boost bus service and pedestrian and cyclist safety, according to the agency spokesperson.
The borough president hailed the move. “As we talk about increasing the speed of buses, there’s no better scenario. I do want to see the entire length of Queens Boulevard completed,” said Richards.
And in the place of the old bus stops that are getting relocated to the main lane, DOT will add new curbside parking spaces, though the exact number is not yet clear. More parking generally means more congestion, which is antithetical to helping businesses, but Richards said local shopkeepers continue to complain that there is not enough parking.
“This treatment restores some parking, but most importantly it’s making the streets safer,” said Richards.