An official first draft of the proposed network was released at the start of the month, triggering the second phase of what the agency describes as an “unprecedented” scope of public outreach and customer feedback collection.
The process includes a series of neighborhood-based workshops where MTA staff will present the plan and answer questions, as well as facilitate tabletop exercises with the bus map, allowing riders to give comments that will inform the next iteration of the redesign.
During an info session for reporters last Friday, transit officials leading the Queens Bus Redesign announced two additional meetings in Northeast Queens: one in Bayside on February 20 and another in Bellerose on February 27.
Director of Government-Community Relations Lucille Songhai explained the MTA is looking to schedule more presentations in Glen Oaks, Rosedale, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens and Oakland Gardens.
She says the agency is also working with community boards, civic associations, elected officials and other stakeholders such as colleges, employers and senior centers.
Transit officials continue to stress that the Queens Bus Redesign utilizes a “blank slate” approach, which reimagines the network from scratch in order to better represent the needs of modern riders.
Central to the plan is an effort to increase connectivity and reliability of service, primarily through straightening routes and eliminating redundancy of lines. The ultimate result is a simplified grid map, rather than the tangled web that exists today.
“Most routes will be unfamiliar and require a fresh look, and because of that it’s going to result in folks believing that we’ve eliminated service,” said MTA Bus chief officer of Operations Mark Holmes. “That is absolutely not the case. We are presenting a brand new, fresh network, that requires somewhat of a learning curve.”
Over the last several weeks, the Queens bus draft plan sparked alarm and dogged criticism from residents all over the borough.
A notable point of concern from customers involves express bus service, the majority of which is reduced to weekday peak times under the new proposal.
“We are very cognizant of the fact that Queens, just like the rest of New York City, is a 24/7 borough,” said Holmes, “and the fact that we are going to need sufficient overnight and 24-hour coverage through our network.
“This is all a part of outreach,” he explained, “and the intel we’re learning from our customers is going to govern how the network will look overnight.”
Riders in Jackson Heights are particularly frenzied over changes that reduce the number of lines running to and from the 74 Street-Broadway/Jackson Heights-Roosevelt Avenue transit hub.
“What we’ve heard from them is about the accessibility of that station, and we hear that loud and clear,” said Craig Cipriano, acting president of MTA Bus Company and acting vice president of NYC Transit Bus. “We’re going to go back and incorporate that into our next proposal.”
Cipriano says the agency is also taking into account the fact that students using the bus to get to school may potentially have a two-seat ride instead of a one-seat ride as a result of the redesign.
Another component of the redesign is increasing bus speeds.
In addition to balancing the distance between bus stops, the Department of Transportation identified nearly 50 corridors in Queens for potential bus priority improvements, such as added bus lanes, queue jumps and transit signal prioritization, which holds a green light longer or stalls a red phase to encourage bus flow.
On top of that, the agency received $85 million in the next capital plan to go towards camera enforcement for the city’s 130 miles of bus lanes.
In the future, the MTA may incorporate three-door boarding and off-board fare collection to increase speeds and encourage more New Yorkers to ride the bus.
“We know we have to peacefully coexist with other transportation modes, whether that be pedestrians, cyclists or cars,” Cipriano said. “But we need our due.”
The proposed final draft for the Queens Bus Redesign is set to be released in summer 2020. After that, the MTA will go through another round of public outreach to identify further necessary adjustments.
At this time, there is no designated timeframe for when the new bus network will be finalized.
“We will not set an implementation date until we are comfortable that this becomes our plan,” asserted Cipriano.