Sept. 25, 2019 By Allie Griffin
A lawsuit filed last week by an ad hoc coalition to stop the use of a newly-installed bus lane along Fresh Pond Road was thrown out by a judge Monday in Queens Supreme Court.
Judge Joseph Esposito dismissed the case brought by the Fresh Pond Coalition — a group of 30 business owners and the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association — that argued the bus lane was putting a damper on commerce.
The group filed a case through an Article 78 proceeding, which is used to overturn state or local policy via the courts.
On Monday, Judge Esposito dismissed the coalition’s argument and ruled that the bus lane is to remain in operation.
Despite the judge’s dismissal, the plaintiffs and critics of the bus lane remain undeterred and said they would continue to fight it until the DOT listens to their concerns.
Geoffrey Elkind, president of the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association, said that the court ruling would not stop them in their pursuit to fight the bus lane. He said members of the coalition are currently discussing whether to file a notice of appeal, which they have 30 days to do.
The bus lane raised concerns from business owners, community members and elected officials when it was first announced in April as part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Better Buses Action Plan.
They argued that the removal of parking spaces would hurt businesses whose customers wouldn’t be able to park–and said that congestion reduction measures, like synching traffic lights, should have been adopted before moving to a more radical approach such as the bus lane.
Despite the pushback, the DOT went ahead with the plan and installed a designated bus lane southbound along Fresh Pond Road from Bleecker Street to Putnam Avenue which is open to buses and right turning vehicles only, Monday through Friday from 3 p.m. to 7 p.m.
The lane is meant to speed up buses on Fresh Pond Road later in the day when the Q58 bus ridership is highest. According to the DOT, buses on that stretch average a speed of 3 miles per hour — about the same pace as walking — during peak hours.
Mayor de Blasio set a commitment to improve bus speeds across the city by 25 percent by 2020. A 25 percent improvement on Fresh Pond Road means buses would average a speed of 3.75 miles per hour.
“We expect better than three quarters of a mile an hour for bus riders,” Elkind said.
The DOT applauded the court’s decision and said that since its installation in August, the bus lane has already reduced travel time for bus riders. The agency didn’t respond to a request for the data on how much travel time has improved.
“Since we installed this new lane on August 27th, initial MTA data indicates that one of the slowest streets for buses in Queens has seen a dramatic improvement in travel times, which benefits 30,000 New Yorkers who rely on the Q58 as well as the QM24, QM 25 and QM34 Express bus routes,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said.
However, Elkind called the 30,000 number a “gross misrepresentation.” That number is the Q58’s total ridership, he said citing DOT data, while the amount of people onboard the Q58 along the Fresh Pond corridor is about 1,450 at 4 p.m., its peak time.
Even so, if there must be a bus lane, Elkind wants to see one that works alongside congestion reducing measures. He questioned why the DOT wasn’t trying to improve travel times by more than just .75 miles per hour faster.
“If you design a bus lane that doesn’t address the smelly elephant problem which is congestion or design a bus lane that’s more likely to fail rather than succeed, have you done right by bus riders, people who must take the bus who don’t have a choice?” he added. “Our considered opinion is no.”
Elkind said the Fresh Pond Coalition will continue to pressure the DOT to work on the congestion problems. He hopes to get New York City Transit President Andy Byford involved, as the DOT has been largely dismissive of the coalition’s congestion mitigation suggestions, he said.
“When you have a DOT that thinks it knows better than everyone else — they’re dismissive of local community input and observations — then that’s a prescription for policy failure,” Elkind said.
Trottenberg, however, insists the agency has and will continue to work with the community.
“DOT will continue to work with the MTA, local merchants, elected officials and bus riders along Fresh Pond Road to monitor and evaluate the new service and make adjustments as needed,” she said.