On January 4, Queens Supreme Court Justice Kevin Kerrigan denied the motion filed by local businesses to halt the implementation of the 0.3-mile busway from Northern Boulevard to Sanford Avenue.
The busway’s opponents, which included the Flushing Chinese Business Association, New World Mall and several other businesses, claimed that the plan was “arbitrary, capricious, irrational and unreasonable.”
They argued that the plan would discourage shoppers, especially those who are afraid of taking mass transit due to the pandemic, from patrionizing local businesses. As a result, the businesses argued, local establishments already suffering due to COVID restrictions would be “devastated.”
They also said in the lawsuit that the busway plan is ill-conceived, and was rushed to approval without meaningful feedback from the community.
Kerrigan, however, said in his decision that the plan is meant to eliminate through traffic on Main Street, not local traffic.
“As the occupants of such vehicles are not stopping to shop at or patronize any businesses on Main Street in the subject area but merely passing through, deterring them away from Main Street will have no effect upon local business,” he wrote.
The judge cited statistics from the Department of Transportation (DOT) that in October 2020, bus ridership in the area dropped to an average of roughy 68,000 people. There were also far fewer cars along Main Street, and as a result, car travel speeds increased by 129 percent.
Despite the drop in bus ridership, 1.9 million passengers still took the buses servicing Main Street that month. Although bus speeds increased during the pandemic, they were on average still less than four miles per hour on weekdays and Saturdays, and less than five miles per hour on Sundays.
According to DOT surveys, only 18 percent of the public who patronized Main Street businesses arrived by car, while the remaining shoppers took the bus, subway or walked.
Ultimately, Kerrigan wrote that the businesses who sued to stop the plan did not make their claims “based on any objective data,” and that they were “entirely speculative.”
“Petitioners failed to show any evidence that being required to drive around the block to get to the garage entrance instead of being allowed to drive straight on Main Street to the garage entrance will discourage people from shopping at that location,” Kerrigan wrote, “or adversely affect merchants on Main Street.”
In a statement, Riders Alliance senior organizer Jolyse Race said that the decision is a “huge victory” for the 150,000 bus riders in the area.
“Citywide, judges have now ruled decisively that when riders win well-deserved priority on busy streets,” she said, “opponents can’t sue and get their way.
“Just as Trump and his supporters can’t overturn the vote,” Race added, “neither can courts ‘invade the province’ of transportation policymakers on behalf of a few rich NIMBYs.”
Councilman Peter Koo said in a statement that a pandemic is “not the time to experiment with transportation policy” that he claimed would further harm local businesses by discouraging car travel and clogging side streets.
“Flushing is not Manhattan,” Koo said, “and while I am disappointed in the court’s decision, I am more disappointed at the mayor’s insistence to push this through against our community’s wishes.”