Just before the turn of the new year, the MTA unveiled its official Queens Bus Redesign Plan first draft to the public. The agency emphasized a “blank-slate” approach to the project that will continuously take customer feedback into account to inform the redraw.
In a 434-page document, the MTA outlines its goals to improve service reliability, connectivity and accessibility for Queens riders. Plans are also intended to shorten commute times and increase bus speeds, which have slowed to an average 8.7 miles per hour, by balancing the space between stops.
Nearly 52 percet of the 2.3 million residents in Queens rely on public transit daily, according to the MTA. Out of those, 11 percent are dependent on buses alone for their travels.
According an agency analysis of its redesign plan, the proposed bus network would reach 3,407,614 more residents, increasing their access to 3,051,858 more jobs.
This first iteration of the new bus map is comprised of 77 local lines. The MTA emphasized proposed routes that connect Queens to other boroughs - two with the Bronx, two with Manhattan and 12 linking to Brooklyn.
Many of the network’s original lines have been broken up, with their access being covered by one or more of the redesign plan’s proposed routes. It appears that in its redraw, the MTA aimed for heavy consolidation and diluted redundancy of routes.
Riders in Maspeth, Middle Village and Jackson Heights are vocally unhappy with the route changes in their areas. Customers in Jackson Heights in particular oppose the changes to the map that would reduce the number of lines running to and from the 74th St-Broadway/Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Ave transit hub.
“People who can't climb stairs depend on the buses,” one user posted on Twitter. “There are no elevators at any but 74th Street train station in this area. And those buses really fill up, meaning they are obviously needed. What about when there's no 7 trains running?”
But the MTA asserts in its draft plan that fewer lines will not mean less service for commuters. The agency predicts that consolidation of service into one route will allow for a greater frequency of buses, raising the average movement along respective corridors to 15 buses per hour from 10.
More than 1,500 people have signed an online petition demanding the MTA reconsider revisions that would eliminate eastbound service from 74th Street along the Q32, Q33 and Q49 lines.
“Eliminating 74th Street from the bus taking over the Q33 Route is going to be sending a lot of people into the already overcrowded 7 train at 82nd Street who need the trains at 74th Street,” another rider tweeted.
When redrawing lines in Northwest and Central Queens, the MTA seems to have focused on connecting neighborhoods, as well as high demand areas.
In Northeast and Southeast Queens, the agency has clearly prioritized links to transit hubs from subway deserts, in addition to moving commuters rapidly across the borough.
The proposed map sees some of the most notable expansion of coverable miles for the neighborhoods of Laurelton and Hollis, where riders will now have access to parts of Brooklyn, Lower Manhattan and Northwest Queens within an hour by bus.
"Southeast Queens has been a transportation desert for years,” said Councilman I. Daneek Miller, who strongly voiced his concerns at a Queens Borough Board preview meeting in December. Any plan to remedy this decades-long injustice must ensure that residents' voices are heard during the public review process.
"Right now, our top priority is ensuring that true stakeholders and experts have a seat at the table and can narrate and reflect the values of our community,” Miller continued. “Ultimately, we are hopeful that the final plan will be representative of what we've been advocating for these past 20 years: better intra-borough connections, more effective and efficient service, and increased access to our most underserved neighborhoods."
The agency’s full draft plan, featuring individual profiles for proposed routes and other details, is available at new.mta.info/queensbusredesign. The MTA continues to emphasize its desire for collaboration with the community while finalizing the Queens Bus Redesign.
On the website, commuters will also have access to a comparison chart correlating existing routes to new lines proposed by the draft, as well an online survey called MetroQuest, where they can leave their comments regarding the plan.
A web-based app called Remix can be used to display an interactive network map that allows riders to explore and provide specific feedback on routes and stops.
In spring 2020, the MTA is projected to release a final proposal, followed by an additional effort to gather community input, as well as a public hearing. Changes to the Queens bus network will be implemented upon approval from the MTA Board.
This month, a series of outreach sessions will be held at major transit hubs. They will be on Jan. 6 at Jamaica Center from 4 to 7 p.m.; Jan. 7 at Flushing-Main St from 4 to 7 p.m.; Jan. 8 at 74 St-Broadway/Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Av from 4 to 7 p.m.; Jan. 9 at 30 Av from 6 to 9 a.m.; Jan. 11 at Queens Center Mall (Woodhaven Blvd on the M/R or near the buses) from 11 a.m. to 1 p.m.; Jan 13 at Sutphin Blvd-Archer Av from 4 to 7 p.m.; Jan. 14 at Rockaway Blvd from 6 to 9 a.m.; Jan. 15 at Court Sq-23 St from 6 to 9 a.m.; Jan. 16 at Beach 44 St from 4 to 7 p.m.; Jan. 21 at Greater Ridgewood Youth Council from 6 to 8 p.m.
An updated schedule of additional public workshops will be posted on the Queens Bus Network Redesign site.