EYES ON THE STREET: Hochul’s Plan for LaGuardia-Bound Buses Will Need Lots of Help
Gov. Hochul’s proposed bus improvements for Queens’s landmark LaGuardia Airport have the chance to be a major boon for riders, but state and city transit planners will have to ensure the shuttles don’t get stuck behind something else for which the borough is famous: car traffic.
The Port Authority’s alternatives to the AirTrain that Hochul officially scrapped on Monday come in the form of an improved Q70 LaGuardia Link bus from Jackson Heights and Woodside, and a completely new shuttle from the terminus of the N/W trains in Astoria. Both buses will have to make their way through some busy local streets with plenty of double parking, which would slow down trips for millions of riders a year.
The Authority’s expert panel that reviewed the now-derailed monorail recommended instead tweaks to the Q70 and new bus lanes from the Ditmars Boulevard subway station in Astoria to the airport at a combined $500-million price tag. Here’s our on-the-street review:
The “dedicated” lanes would go on 31st Street and 19th Avenue (although potentially limited just to peak times) to get quickly between the station and the airport.
There are no bus lines going that way currently, but the roadways are promising.
In Astoria, 31st Street is wide and largely quiet along the proposed bus’s route, but beneath the elevated tracks it is littered with double parking and some combat parking of drivers with placards and agency vests in their dashboards.
Buses will have to contend with trucks, delivery vans, and cabs double parked there, and the space next to the track pillars is too narrow at points to accommodate a full lane.
The two blocks of 31st north of Ditmars Boulevard are mostly residential and quieter. There is angle parking the east side of the first block, which switches over to the opposite side north of 21st Avenue.
The plan calls for running the bus lanes on 31st, continuing north into a Con Edison Yard before heading east on 19th Avenue and coming back out onto public streets.
To make it work, officials would likely have to scrap dozens of parking spaces along 31st — and that’s where the battle line will likely be drawn.
“That’s gonna be a problem, people are gonna complain about it,” said Angie Gonzalez, another resident of 40 years. “The parking here is scarce.”
Drivers come to the neighborhood to leave their cars and get on the subway, Gonzalez said.
A manager of the discount store, ABC Deals, on 31st also worried that many of his customers rely on parking.
“For me, parking is a priority,” said Ibrahim, who only gave his first name.
A well-made bus service could compete with taxis, which get to the airport from the Astoria stop in about 15 minutes — but that’s on top of the 25 minutes it takes for a local N train to get to Astoria from 34th Street-Herald Square.
Over in Jackson Heights, the Q70 bus already does pretty well, traveling at an average 12.81 miles per hour between LaGuardia and the subway complex at Roosevelt Avenue and Broadway — faster than the citywide average of 8.72 mph, thanks to most of its route being on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Grand Central Parkway.
The Port Authority panel proposed a mile of bus lane on the northbound BQE along with transit signal priority for the Q70.
The sky blue, free-of-charge buses go non-stop to the airport after making a loop around the subway and LIRR stops. The shuttles travel for about three blocks on Broadway before heading onto the highway.
On a trip around midday on Tuesday, a Q70 packed with travelers and their suitcases got to the terminals in a smooth 10 minutes, with the only congestion building up at the arrivals pick-up area.
There was a little bit of traffic on the way back, and some double parked cars, but the ride was still quick.
Air travelers and workers who routinely use the line praised the Q70, with the main room for improvement being more service.
“I love it, I’ve never been late,” said Paulino Yulisantana, who uses the Q70 daily to get to work at the airport.
“I got here real fast,” added Aldrin Downer about his recent arrival journey to Queens, as he boarded the bus back to the airport.
Flight attendant Prae Santawaree, who rides the Q70 about every other day, said that congestion wasn’t bad enough to slow it down, even during rush hours. But she said there should be more frequent trips on nights and weekends, something the Port Authority panel also put forward as a possibility “as needed, in response to increased demand.”
A spokesman for the Port Authority said the agency will start planning and designing for the bus improvements after its board approves the recommendation in the next two to three months.
“All of the issues regarding improved bus service to LaGuardia will be addressed as soon as possible in the planning process now that we have clear recommendations from the panel of experts,” said Thomas Topousis. “We’ll start planning and designing the bus improvements in consultation with the community, the MTA, and our other partners in government.”
The community, in this congested part of Queens, includes car drivers.