For decades, the bus map of Queens has seen few changes, but with a decline in revenue resulting from the pandemic, the MTA released a set of proposed routes designed to increase ridership and speed up commuting. In central Queens, which has the largest Jewish population in the borough, the changes will connect the communities and offer new options for transfers to the subway. Last Thursday, the agency held a virtual session where residents of Community Board 8 offered feedback on the proposed routes.
“One of the biggest complaints we get from customers is that there are stops every block or two blocks,” said Lucille Songhai, assistant director of government and community relations for the MTA. “We’ve had a number of complaints about increasing student commutes, and we’re going to evaluate those for sure. If you say bus stops are important to the community, that really helps us. This is not a done deal.”
Among the routes proposed for change are the Q23, which currently runs between East Elmhurst and the southern edge of Forest Hills. In the redesign, the Corona section of the route would be straightened along 108th Street, with fewer stops to allow for faster traveling. At Queens Boulevard, the line would turn east to Union Turnpike and then run on this road to Fresh Meadows. The Q23 segment south of Queens Boulevard would be assigned to another bus route.
The Q88 presently runs along the Long Island Expressway between Queens Center Mall and 188th Street, where it turns south on its run to Queens Village. In the redesign, this line would follow the highway beyond 188th Street, terminating near the city line in Little Neck. The route’s section on 188th Street, 73rd Avenue, and Springfield Boulevard would be reassigned to another line.
Among local concerns, the breakout star is a new line, Q73, proposed to run on 73rd Avenue from Oakland Gardens to Main Street, where it would turn to the north, and then continue west on Jewel Avenue to connect with the subway at Queens Boulevard. South of Queens Boulevard, it would run on a former Q23 segment to the southern end of Forest Hills.
In Kew Gardens Hills, the Main Street and Jewel Avenue sections of the route have been criticized for taking tight turns onto streets that are unusually congested during the rush hour.
“It is a good opportunity to engage about traffic improvement,” said Jeff Kohn. “I don’t like the idea about making a left on Jewel Avenue; people would be more interested with it going on Vleigh Place on the old Q74 route.” Prior to 2001, this neighborhood had the Q74 route that ran on Vleigh Place and Main Street between Queens College and the subway station in Kew Gardens. It was eliminated as a budget-cutting measure.
Kohn noted that in the mornings, when the subway-bound bus reaches his stop, it is often too full to accept him on board. “There is a lot of foot traffic to the Q64 in Kew Gardens Hills.”
Kohn said that having a new bus route in Kew Gardens Hills would reduce crowding on the Q64. He also expressed support for greater spacing between bus stops as a way of reducing traffic and speeding up the commute. “I think there are too many bus stops on Jewel Avenue, and it adds to the traffic. I live in Hyde Park Gardens – that’s three bus stops for one co-op. There should be one stop for my home.”
Concerning the route number, Q64 is proposed for retirement, with its route being absorbed into a longer Q10. That line would be extended north of its terminal in Kew Gardens to run on Queens Boulevard, and then Jewel Avenue to terminate at Electchester. It would enable Kew Gardens Hills residents to have a one-seat ride to Richmond Hill, South Ozone Park, and JFK Airport.
To the east of Kew Gardens Hills, the reaction to the proposed Q73 was less welcoming. “We have a bus line three blocks away on Union Turnpike and do not need a bus line on 73rd Avenue,” Laurence Linde commented at the virtual forum. His sentiment was shared by other residents of Fresh Meadows and Hillcrest who live along and near the proposed route.
“People here want a suburban look. It would be worse with buses and there would be less parking on the streets,” said Robert Aronov, the president of the Fresh Meadows Bukharian Synagogue. “It would impact the value of the homes. People can walk to Union Turnpike or Utopia Parkway to get a bus, or they can order an Uber ride. I don’t think that new route is worth it.”
Michael Poulad’s home is two doors away from 73rd Avenue and agreed with Aronov that the Q73 would change the character of their neighborhood. “It’s terrible news. I’m completely against it. This is why we’re not living near Union Turnpike,” he said. “It will not get much support in this neighborhood.”
Rabbi Asher Schechter of Congregation Ohr Moshe on 73rd Avenue was not aware of the proposed route until after last week’s forum. Before expressing an opinion, he spoke to his congregants. “They are very concerned that the new proposed bus line will detract from the quality of the neighborhood. We have bus lines on Horace Harding, 164th Street, and Utopia Parkway. Everyone in the middle has access to a bus line within a few minutes’ walk. The strong position of our community is to oppose it as wrong and unnecessary.”
The bus route redesign was previously attempted in early 2020, but the process was halted by the pandemic. Some of the routes, such as the Q65, date back more than a century, when trolley tracks ran on the median of 164th Street through farmland and forests.
“Queens may be the most important of the five borough bus redesigns, because Queens has historically had less subway service relative to its size and population than the other boroughs,” Metropolitan Transportation Authority CEO Janno Lieber said during a press conference in March that announced the route redesigns.
The series of virtual workshops continues through June 2, with one focusing on northeast Queens taking place on the evening of Tuesday, May 24. Along with these events, the MTA is also taking into consideration the views of elected officials, advocacy groups, and civic organizations.
For more information on the Queens Bus Network Redesign, visit www.new.mta.info/project/queens-bus-network-redesign.
By Sergey Kadinsky