June 13, 2019 By Laura Hanrahan
Residents of Community Board 5 expressed concerns with the Department of Transportation’s plan to create a curbside bus lane along Fresh Pond Road.
DOT representatives presented plans to Community Board 5 last night that would see a designated bus lane go along the corridor from Metropolitan to Putnam Avenue. The DOT says the lane would lead to increased bus speeds and help the flow of traffic along the stretch.
According to the DOT representatives, southbound traffic along Fresh Pond Road is continually backed up in the afternoons and evenings, particularly from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. 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.
The proposed plan, first announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio in April as part of the Better Buses Action Plan, would see a southbound curbside bus lane implemented along the corridor that would be exclusive for buses from 2 p.m. to 8 p.m. Monday through Friday. Vehicles making right hand turns would also be able to use the lane.
Bus stops along the Q58 route, which are currently spaced out roughly two blocks apart, would be consolidated so that they are spaced out every three blocks, reducing the number of times a bus will have to stop along the corridor.
Kyle Gebhart, DOT Project Manager of Transit Development, told the board that the agency is hopeful that these changes will improve bus speeds and traffic conditions, having seen 22 to 31 percent increases in bus speeds in similar areas where curbside bus lanes have been implemented.
During the presentation, the DOT representatives acknowledged that traffic lights along Fresh Pond Road have not been synced to aid the flow of southbound traffic. Several board members, as well as members of the public, demanded that before implementing a bus lane, DOT first update the light syncing to test whether that alone will sufficiently improve traffic conditions.
Others took issue with the notable loss of parking—70 spots overall—stating that it was going to kill businesses along the street.
“The whole idea should be scrapped, it’s absolutely horrendous,” said Giuseppe Palmeri, owner of Gemelli Jewelers, located on Fresh Pond Road. ”Where are the businesses of Fresh Pond Road going to go when there’s no customers to come to their stores? When nobody can get there?”
The representatives explained that by consolidating bus stops, they would be able to free up some space for parking. DOT will also look into converting no standing zones along Grove Street into loading zones. Additionally, the agency has identified space for 61 new metered parking spaces on side streets just off Fresh Pond Road. These spaces would have two-hour limits 9 a.m. to 7 p.m. Monday through Saturday, and would follow alternate street parking all other times.
“Something that we’ve heard is that parking and preserving parking is at a premium here and that’s something we want to be sensitive to,” Jason Banrey, DOT Deputy Borough Commissioner, told the board.
Several board members spoke to issues stemming from the Fresh Pond Bus Depot, located just south of Madison Street, including bus drivers parking their personal cars on the road, taking up parking spaces, as well as an excessive amount of dead end buses from other areas of Queens being diverted to the depot, slowing down traffic on Fresh Pond Road.
Banrey and Gebhart, who have been conducting presentations on the proposed bus lane to various community organizations since May, said they are open to any and all suggestions and will continue to work on and improve their plans.
The DOT representatives will make another presentation to the Community Board 5 transportation committee next week incorporating the ideas shared at last night’s meeting.