DOT Begins Pre-SBS Construction On Woodhaven Boulevard Despite Community Resistance
Jamaica Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard in Queens is a busy intersection with vehicles zipping through eleven traffic lanes that are separated by three pedestrian medians. On Oct. 13, bright orange safety barrels and yellow caution tape cordoned off one lane near the intersection, slowing down traffic. A construction vehicle was excavating the lane beside one of the pedestrian medians to prepare for the construction of a more sophisticated median. This sophisticated median would include a bus stop and other bus amenities as part of the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Select Bus Service (SBS) proposal on Woodhaven Boulevard.
Normally, SBS includes features like off-board fare collection, transit signal priority and fewer stops to improve speed. However, the DOT’s proposal for SBS on Woodhaven Boulevard includes additional street redesign changes like banning strategic left turns, and constructing bus stops on medians in the middle of the road. The majority of the residents in districts along the boulevard oppose these additional changes, saying they are unnecessary and dangerous. In August, close to 200 residents rallied against the proposal.
“We aren’t against SBS in general,” said Edward Wendell, a lifelong Woodhaven resident. “We’re against this particular SBS plan.”
The Woodhaven-Cross Bay Boulevard corridor is an important 14-mile stretch that connects North and South Queens. At a meeting on Oct. 11, Community Board 9, which includes four major districts along the corridor, rejected the DOT’s SBS proposal with 32 of the 35 members present voting against it.
Residents are especially opposed to DOT’s proposal of making straphangers wait on medians in the middle of the boulevard. “How fast is your reflex when a car jumps on the sidewalk?” William Ruiz from Ozone Park asked everyone gathered at the meeting. “I am not going to put my life, my children, our seniors on that median.”
The Woodhaven-Cross Bay Boulevard is a ‘Priority Corridor’ under Vision Zero, the City’s plan to achieve zero traffic fatalities by 2024. According to Vision Zero data, between 2009 and 2016, there were 541 injuries and 35 fatalities related to traffic on this corridor. According to the DOT, the additional street redesign changes were included in the SBS plan to “make streets safer and work better for all users”.
“We have the longest commutes in the city,” said Philip McManus, a resident of Far Rockaway. “But this plan is going to do nothing for us.”
Stephanie Veras, Community Organizer at Riders Alliance, a public transit advocacy group, supports the SBS proposal. According to Veras, the DOT held many open houses for the community and revised their plan many times.
“It was more of a sales pitch than an open house,” said Alex Blenkinsopp, Director of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association and a Community Board 9 member.
The Community Board’s vote is always non-binding. At the meeting, the board also submitted a letter to the DOT requesting it to not go ahead with the proposal. Less than two days later, the DOT began the construction.
The SBS is scheduled to launch next fall.