The busway, which runs the length of the Fulton Street Mall, a commercial corridor and shopping destination, serves approximately 40,000 weekday riders, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT). The district is packed with national retailers, small businesses and public plazas, where pedestrians walk, bike, shop and connect to public transportation.
Last Wednesday, transit and business advocates toured the Fulton Street busway on a “fact-finding mission” to learn about how it has helped the business corridor. They are hoping that the visit will enhance their argument for the city to follow through on a planned busway in Flushing.
“We’re here today to see if the Fulton Mall busway is something that would work for us,” said John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce. “Our small businesses need foot traffic. We need buses to work for our businesses.”
In June, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced nine projects totaling 20 miles to speed up bus service throughout the city, including busways on Main Street in Flushing and Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn, adjacent to the Fulton Street busway.
August 31 marked the opening of the Jay Street busway between Fulton and Tillary streets. Between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. from Monday through Friday, only buses and trucks will be allowed on the thoroughfare, which serves 35,000 daily bus riders.
The city is seeking to replicate the success of the 14th Street Busway in Manhattan, which saw bus speeds improve by as much as 24 percent. Ridership went up by 30 percent after a pilot program was initiated last October.
“The Jay Street busway will make a big difference in the lives of tens of thousands of Brooklyn riders who have long suffered some of the slowest service in the U.S.,” said Jolyse Race, senior organizer for Riders Alliance, in a statement. “This new busway through the nation’s third largest business district is a historic win for transit equity as well as access to struggling retail businesses.”
While the Jay Street busway is underway, the DOT has postponed the Main Street busway, a 0.5-mile stretch between Northern Boulevard and Sanford Avenue, which serves 155,000 weekday riders.
Last month, a city-organized event to promote the project was overrun by local business owners and elected officials who oppose the busway, arguing that prohibiting cars on Main Street would hurt businesses.
Choe, however, made the case last Wednesday that Flushing has too much traffic congestion. He said a busway would make public transit more efficient for essential workers and bring more foot traffic to local shops.
“Our community is in desperate shape,” he said. “They need to take action right now to help save our businesses.”
Taehoon Kim, owner of Regen Acupuncture and the president of the chamber, noted that over 200 people, including local residents and businesses, have signed a petition in support of the Main Street busway.
“Our economy is devastated,” he said. “I came here to see how the busway can help revive our economy in Flushing.”
Alfred Rankin, president of the Lewis Latimer Fund and chairman of the Lewis Latimer House Museum in Flushing, said his institution depends on foot traffic and needs better bus service for visitors.
“We need a good bus route to bring people to where we are,” he said. “When they’re here, they want to know where the restaurants are in Flushing so they can enjoy a meal.”
Advocates like Race say the mayor is stalling on the project “due to loud opposition” who claim that busways are bad for businesses, but the Riders Alliance senior organizer says that’s not true. According to Race, 61 percent of people traveling to Main Street by public transit or by foot “spend their hard-earned money” on the busy corridor.
“We also know that safer and faster bus service will help invigorate public transit along the corridor,” she said, “and bring customers back to the area.
“The mayor needs to buckle down and keep his promise to Flushing bus riders who have been stuck in traffic way too long,” Race added.
Jaqi Cohen, campaign director of NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, said when people come to the Fulton Street Mall, they are riding bikes, taking transit, shopping and going to work. She said it’s an example of how “alive New York is.”
“These are the kinds of street improvements we need to see more of in our city if we’re going to fully recover,” she said.
After the tour, which was led by representatives from Brooklyn Community Board 2 and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership, Choe said the Fulton Street Mall had “a lot more buzz” than he typically sees on Main Street.
“I’m surprised that so many people are out and about, shopping here and eating,” he said. “I would love to have this type of crowd on Main Street.”
Rankin also agreed that Flushing would benefit from the type of busway that has served Fulton Street for decades.
“This is a great idea,” he said.
A DOT spokesperson said the agency is taking some time to strengthen community outreach for the Main Street busway.
DOT recently made a presentation to the project’s Community Advisory Board, and are planning two upcoming public information sessions.
The first session, in English and Chinese, will be on September 10. The second, in English, Korean and Spanish, will be on September 14.