Why Queens’ Woodhaven Boulevard is a Prime Opportunity to Implement Full Bus Rapid Transit

Woodhaven Boulevard cross-section with proposed offset bus lanes. | Image: NYCDOT/MTA

Residents, advocates and bus riders gathered last week to kick off the community engagement process for Queens’ first Select Bus Service (SBS) route. The meeting was held to solicit participants’ transportation concerns along the Woodhaven Boulevard corridor and to describe the benefits of SBS.

Although the plans for enhanced bus service are not set in stone, the MTA and New York City Department of Transportation showed examples of offset and curbside bus lanes along Woodhaven Boulevard along with other SBS treatments that have been implemented on six SBS routes throughout the city: painted bus lanes, off-board fare payment, traffic signal priority and pedestrian safety infrastructure. Existing SBS routes have demonstrated that these modest changes do in fact yield benefits such as increased bus travel speeds between 5-20 percent, decreased traffic congestion, higher economic activity and improved pedestrian safety — but it’s time to raise the bar.

Woodhaven’s infamously wide corridor presents an opportunity to move SBS beyond the status quo toward full-fledged bus rapid transit (BRT). One key BRT feature not yet utilized on the existing SBS routes is center median or physically separated bus lanes.

Transportation issues along Woodhaven Boulevard have been studied by NYC DOT since 2008, and the results have shown that not only is it one of the borough’s most congested corridors, but also the most dangerous corridor for pedestrians in Queens. Its massive width — up to 10 lanes wide in some places — are a serious detriment to pedestrian safety.

To help visualize what Woodhaven Boulevard could look like with center median bus lanes, MTR came up with these potential configurations using Streetmix:

woodhaven-blvd-center-bus-lanes--separated-bike (2)

Woodhaven Boulevard with center bus lanes and parking-protected cycle tracks.

woodhaven-blvd-center-bus-lanes--bike-lanes (2)

Woodhaven Boulevard with center bus lanes and buffered bike lanes.

While it is true that SBS is “not full-fledged BRT,” the service has significantly enhanced bus service along six corridors in four boroughs. But, the characteristics of Woodhaven Boulevard, and the pedestrian safety issues plaguing the community, make the boulevard one of the most prime candidates for full-fledged BRT in the city. Using this opportunity to employ full bus rapid transit could finally put New York City on the map of world-class BRT systems, alongside Bogota’s TransMilenioGuangzhou, China’s BRT system, Eugene Oregon’s EmX, and Cleveland’s Healthline.

For Mayor de Blasio to achieve his goal of a “World Class Bus Rapid Transit Network” of more than 20 routes, what better way to start a new generation of bus service in NYC than with full BRT on Woodhaven Boulevard?

3 Comments on "Why Queens’ Woodhaven Boulevard is a Prime Opportunity to Implement Full Bus Rapid Transit"

  1. Rail-plus-trail for the Rockaway Beach line

    Restoring the disused LIRR Rockaway Beach Line, which is about half-mile east of Woodhaven Blvd., would be a far more appealing transit improvement in this corridor. This line valuable city-owned asset is ready for restoration, with new rails and ties etc. that could be brought to life in one construction season if Governor Cuomo asked MTA and the PANYNJ to make this happen. A new fleet of rail cars that can operate on the LIRR tracks and the AirTrain tracks, and a short connection just north of Howard Beach station would also be needed, producing a truly world-class express rail service between Manhattan and JFK Airport. With careful attention to design details, this right of way can accommodate a bike-pedestrian trail as well. A cross-platform transfer station at Aqueduct would permit residents of the storm ravaged Rockaway Peninsula to use this speedy link to Central Queens and Manhattan. In consultation with the community, several intermediate stations that once existed on this line could be re-opened.

    While better bus service on Woodhaven Blvd. would be a helpful, it would not come close to matching the appeal of a high quality rail line.

    George Haikalis
    Institute for Rational Urban Mobility, Inc.

  2. Allan Rosen | May 1, 2014 at 7:53 pm |

    Your article is nothing but a big joke since it is full of contradictions. You state that Woodhaven Blvd has a massive width. You also state that it is the most congested corridor. Yet it is only congested during peak hours. At all other times it moves just fine. You can get from the Belt Parkway by car all the way to Queens Blvd in only about 15 minutes and you can even do that at the beginning and the end of the rush hour. Bus travel times are also fairly quick most of the time. That is because left turns are banned at most intersections and you have four lanes of traffic for cars, trucks, and buses. They are banned because in spite of its “massive width” it is not wide enough to accomodate left turns on a good portion of the street. Where there are service roads on the southern portion, trucks cannot use the main road, so three lanes are reserved for auto through traffic.

    In your first diagram, you don’t show any trucks. Woodhaven is the only truck route in the area. With trucks on the main roadway and a bus lane, you are reducing auto capacity a third.

    In your second diagram, you propose to reduce congestion by reducing the number of auto lanes by 50% to two lanes, assuming you maintain a parking lane. If not you will be eliminating probably over a thousand parking spaces. But what do you care? Traffic congestion will not decrease, but will increase to all hours of the day. It’s like you are telling a starving kid that less food will cure his hunger. Your allegation that this plan will reduce congestion is utterly ridiculous.

    Buses stand to gain no more than 10 or 15 minutes, while cars and trucks will add 20 or 30 minutes to their trip. But other users of the road do not matter to you. And if you think anyone will leave his car for SBS, you are fooling yourself. The people who are driving now do not have both their origin and destination near Woodaven or Cross Bay. Most likely neither destination is near Woodaven or Cross Bay. If it were, they would now be riding the Limited buses now.

    They are in their cars because they would need one or two, perhaps even three buses to get to Woodhaven, and another few buses once they get to the other end. Saving ten minutes will not cause them to switch modes since they still will need up to six buses and three fares each way to make their trip by bus.

    Woodhaven is not only used by locals. It is the best route from southern Brooklyn to northern Queens except late at night. That is because the BQE and the Van Wyck are usually hopelessly clogged with traffic. Woodhaven saves drivers at least 30 minutes. If your plan is implemented, all three driving alternatives, the BQE, Van Wyck, and Woodhaven would be equally slow and would be no quicker than the indirect 90 minute train ride through Manhattan.

    No existing SBS route has demonstrated reduced congestion. That is just an absolute lie. Traffic on parallel roadways where some traffic was diverted was never measured. This plan would hurt far more than it will help.

  3. Clark Morris | May 1, 2014 at 8:47 pm |

    Have you also evaluated whether light rail would be the more cost effective option based total cost over 30 years per passenger carried? Have you evaluated using trolley buses? What are the origins and destinations of those using Woodlawn Boulevard? If a transfer is required anyway, them light rail functions better as a collector distributor because of its ability to accept multiple bus loads per train.

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