July 11, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan
Community Board 5 rejected a plan to construct a curbside bus lane on Fresh Pond Road yesterday amid fears of reduced parking and negative effects on local businesses, and recommended alternative traffic-aiding measures instead.
The Department of Transportation’s proposed bus lane, which would stretch along the southbound side of the street between Metropolitan and Putnam Avenues, was first announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio in April as part of the Better Buses Action Plan.
The lane was intended to help alleviate the frequently backed-up traffic conditions on Fresh Pond Road, particularly in the afternoons and evenings when bus ridership on the Q58 is highest. Bus speeds during that peak time drop to an average speed of 3 miles per hour–about the same pace as walking.
Residents and business owners quickly raised concerns about the DOT’s plan to go ahead with the bus lane, which would strip the street of 70 parking spots overall, rather than first implement the alternative measures such as recalibrating the traffic lights to aid the flow of southbound traffic—something the DOT has not yet done.
During last night’s Community Board meeting, members initially voted on a motion to give advisory approval on the DOT’s most recent plan, which includes the bus lane as well as the additional measures. During a question period, board members rehashed concerns over the negative ripple effects the loss of parking would have.
The motion failed 6 to 28.
A new motion was later brought forward recommending that the DOT only implement the alternative traffic-aiding measures on Fresh Pond Road, including: limiting commercial delivery times and locations along the corridor; optimizing traffic signals to aid the flow of traffic; consolidating bus stops from every two blocks to every three or four; and redirecting dead end buses that travel from far away routes to a more appropriate depot, rather than having them come to the Fresh Pond Road bus depot.
The motion dictates that these measures would need to be in place for at least six months to allow the department ample time to observe their effects before considering whether a bus lane would still be necessary. The motion passed 29 to 5.
The DOT expressed disappointment at the outcome of the board meeting, but did not state whether the bus lane would continue to go ahead as planned despite the board’s disapproval, or if they would instead accept the board’s recommendations.
“We are disappointed by CB5’s full board vote on DOT’s critical fix to transit and congestion issues along nine blocks on Fresh Pond Road that came despite their Transportation Committee’s previous vote in support of the project in June,” said a DOT spokesperson.
“The fact remains that cars, buses and first responders currently crawl southbound during late afternoon and early evening rush hour between Bleecker Street and 67th Ave,” the spokesperson continued. “DOT’s design for this critical corridor will make traveling faster for all users, while creating a net gain of metered parking and additional loading zones to support the vitality of local businesses. It’s a win for businesses and especially a win for the 30,000 daily bus riders using this route and countless motorists heading to this commercial corridor and local neighborhoods.”
The debate over the bus lane drew the attention of several local elected officials. Assembly Member Catherine Nolan sent a letter to DOT last month echoing the concerns of her constituents.
Council Member Robert Holden, who has previously spoken out about the proposed lane on social media, penned a letter to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg on Tuesday requesting that alternative measures be put in place for a year before assessing whether a bus lane is necessary.
“After meeting with the DOT Queens Borough staff on multiple occasions and hearing from the small business owners and residents of Fresh Pond Road, I believe this bus lane proposal has been rushed into existence rather than first implementing less drastic traffic-calming measures,” Holden wrote.