Select Bus Service is live on Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard in Queens. As of Sunday, the SBS package — off-board fare collection, camera-enforced bus lanes, and other transit-priority treatments — is speeding trips for tens of thousands of people who ride the Q52 and Q53 each day.
These routes link Queens residents to jobs, schools, and other transit lines between the Rockaways and Woodside. The improvements that debuted Sunday include off-board fare collection along the whole route and bus lanes between Queens Boulevard and Metropolitan Avenue, as well as another section between Union Turnpike and the Belt Parkway.
By adding and expanding medians and simplifying vehicle turning movements, the project is also expected to improve pedestrian safety on one of the most dangerous streets in Queens.
At a time when New Yorkers are abandoning slow, unreliable bus service in large numbers, the Woodhaven SBS project shows how to overhaul routes so they work better for riders. Other SBS routes have bucked the trend of declining ridership, and advocates are calling for the same measures to be broadly expanded across the city.
Between Park Lane South and Rockaway Boulevard, the bus lanes run in the central roadway next to concrete medians, which have been widened to make room for SBS waiting areas. Buses run faster in the central roadway than the service roads, since there’s less interference with curbside traffic.
Miguel Telleria rides the Q52/53 daily. Waiting for a bus at Jamaica Avenue yesterday, he said he’s looking forward to the same improvements that have sped service on other SBS routes. “It’s cool,” he said. “I used it before in the city, so [I know] it’s faster.”
The Jamaica stop is in the heart of the Woodhaven neighborhood, where homeowners and politicians stubbornly opposed the transit priority measures in this project. They argued, among other things, that the bus lanes would slow down people driving personal autos.
To garner support from Council Member Eric Ulrich, DOT scaled back left turn bans planned for Jamaica Avenue and seven other intersections, which would have reduced the amount of time bus riders spend waiting at red lights and improved safety for pedestrians.
“[They] gotta realize they’re not the only ones who’ve got to get somewhere,” Telleria said of bus lane opponents.
Another rider, Diana Horn, agreed. “We’re riding buses, so they’ve got to accommodate us,” she said. Horn, who commutes to Jamaica Avenue every day from Far Rockaway, said initial confusion about off-board fare machines had been the only shortcoming so far.
The fare machines are far from perfect, but they’re the only option for all-door boarding with existing MetroCard technology. Transit advocates have called on the MTA to promptly implement tap-and-go farecard technology that can enable all-door boarding on every bus route in the city when the MetroCard is replaced.
Future phases of the Woodhaven SBS project will add more center roadway bus lanes as part of a full reconstruction of the street. That capital project, however, will be built by the notoriously slow Department of Design and Construction, with completion expected at an unspecified date sometime in the next decade.