On Monday, Queens Supreme Court Justice Joseph Esposito sided with the Department of Transportation (DOT) to allow the half-mile curbside bus lane to continue operating from 3 to 7 p.m. between Bleecker Street and Putnam Avenue.
The legal action was brought on by the newly formed Fresh Pond Road Coalition, made up of the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association and nearly 30 local businesses. They were represented by attorney Arthur Schwartz, who has also represented other neighborhoods opposed to bike and bus lanes.
Last Friday, after rejecting an injunction on the lane, Esposito toured Fresh Pond Road with attorneys from both sides.
In a statement, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the agency is thankful to Esposito for the decision. Since the new lane was installed on August 27, initial MTA data indicates that buses on Fresh Pond Road have seen “a dramatic improvement in travel times,” she said.
“But we know that our work is not done,” Trottenberg said. “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.”
The transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, which supports the bus lane, also cheered the ruling.
“Today’s Queens Supreme Court decision is a big win for Queens bus riders and the whole city,” Riders Alliance policy and communications director Danny Pearlstein said in a statement. “It leaves Mayor de Blasio free to do his utmost to speed up slow buses, putting efficient transit before polluting cars.”
Earlier in the day, the Riders Alliance, along with The Straphangers Campaign and TransitCenter, submitted an amicus brief to the court in support of the bus lane.
In the brief, the advocates urged the judge to consider the harm that riders suffer when denied better transit.
“Riders too face irreparable harm from slow and unreliable transit service and consequent lost family time, anxiety and frustration,” the brief reads.
Transit advocates calculated that Q58 bus riders collectively save more than 62 hours every day thanks to the bus lane.
The Q58 bus has the seventh-highest bus ridership in the city, with an average of 28,810 daily riders last year. However, ridership fell by three percent in 2018 “against a backdrop of miserably slow and unreliable transit service,” according to the brief.
The bus lane will increase bus speeds by 30 percent on Fresh Pond Road, which Pearlstein said was “a big deal.”
Last week, Geoffrey Elkind, president of the Ridgewood Property Owners and Civic Association, explained the rationale behind the Article 78 proceeding against DOT.
He said he’s not opposed to bus lanes “in appropriate settings” that achieve meaningful transit speed improvements. However, he charged that this particular bus lane is “unsuitable and incomplete as a design.”
“It will fail by not delivering on its promised benefits to bus riders,” Elkind said. “It will fail by creating potential economic damage to businesses that operate on Fresh Pond Road.”
He also slammed the DOT’s plan for not addressing the Fresh Pond Road bus depot, which he pointed to as a “major cause” of congestion on the thoroughfare.
At a rally announcing the lawsuit last week, Councilman Robert Holden also blasted DOT for not working with property owners and businesses.
“DOT would rather dictate to the community,” he said. “They think they know better than the people who live here and work here.”
Holden also said DOT has not taken any of the coalition’s recommendations to speed up traffic, including synchronizing the traffic lights.
He also said the MTA should house Brooklyn buses in Brooklyn, rather than at the Ridgewood bus depot.
“If we don’t win, we’ll appeal, hopefully,” Holden said about the case last week.
According to reports, the coalition is considering an appeal.