The Commute: NYC Department Of Transportation (DOT) Announces Final Plans For Woodhaven Boulevard

The Commute: NYC Department Of Transportation (DOT) Announces Final Plans For Woodhaven Boulevard
Click to enlarge

THE COMMUTE: Why should this concern readers of Sheepshead Bites? Well, if you drive to Queens using Woodhaven Boulevard, chances are this will no longer be an option for you. Due to greatly increased traffic congestion, Woodhaven Boulevard will no longer be the best alternative. Your remaining choices will be the already congested Brooklyn Queens Expressway (BQE), Pennsylvania Avenue / Jackie Robinson Parkway or the Van Wyck Expressway. Cross Bay Boulevard may be reduced to two general traffic lanes each way for its entire length. The other option is the elimination of left turn lanes and narrowing of some lanes to 10 feet, which will have to accommodate large trucks. Will this even be safe?

Even worse, Woodhaven Boulevard will also be reduced to only two general traffic lanes at two points, the underpass beneath the Long Island Rail Road (LIRR) just south of the Long Island Expressway and over the LIRR, just north of Union Turnpike. These are already bottlenecks where traffic merges from four lanes to three. DOT plans call for a merger from three lanes to two that will exacerbate traffic even further.

The DOT has consistently lied to the communities since the beginning of this project. They held their first meeting specifically about Select Bus Service (SBS) in February 2014 although they had already been studying SBS on Woodhaven Boulevard since 2009. At the first meeting (see page five of their March 26, 2015 report) they presented SBS as only one possible option when they had long before decided SBS was in Woodhaven’s future.

The DOT states that Woodhaven Boulevard SBS was an outgrowth of the study of the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) Phase 2 corridors. However, when you go to the MTA website to view the BRT Phase 2 report, Woodhaven Boulevard / Cross Bay Boulevard is not mentioned once in the entire report. It was added later, probably at the insistence of Transportation Alternatives, the same group that got the DOT to lower the speed limit on Queens Boulevard to 25 mph after DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg publicly stated that the engineers believed 30 mph was the correct speed for the street. Why is Transportation Alternatives dictating policy for New York City?

The communities have been continually misled by DOT. When concerns were raised regarding increased traffic on Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards, DOT made continual promises that three lanes of general traffic would be maintained throughout the corridor. See page 14 of their January 13, 2015 report to Board 9. However, on Page 24 of their March 2015 report, they now show “main road bus lanes” extending from north of the Long Island Expressway until Rockaway Boulevard without a break. That means only two general traffic lanes under and over the LIRR. Of course, in typical DOT fashion, no negatives are mentioned in the text. You just have to figure them out for yourself from the diagrams.

Similarly, the only way you would realize left turns would be banned at Metropolitan Avenue is by looking carefully in the lower right hand corner of the picture on page 22 of the March report for the Metropolitan Avenue street sign, which is barely visible. Again, no verbal text regarding all Metropolitan Avenue left turns being banned, or any mention to ban left turns at Rockaway Boulevard.

The DOT claimed that traffic would flow better because several merges will be eliminated. However their final plan maintains mergers. Yet they still insist, through the providing of minimal data, that their model shows improved traffic flow during peak hours and no change during the off-peak.

My Experience

Two Saturdays ago, I was driving on Cross Bay and Woodhaven boulevards and I noticed that one of the three Cross Bay lanes was closed for only one block for utility repairs, which caused traffic to back up for five blocks. Imagine this lane closed full time.

At Metropolitan Avenue, vehicles were backed up one third of the way over the LIRR overpass going northbound waiting to make a left turn onto Metropolitan. Going south, the backup also extended for several hundred feet north of Cooper Avenue as cars waited to make a left turn onto Metropolitan in the southbound direction. The DOT is only looking at peak hour traffic, neglecting the heavy shopping center traffic on weekends.

Both left turns will be banned under DOT’s proposal with all cars funneled into Cooper Avenue westbound even if you need to go east. You can see on videos 1, 2 and 3, which I recorded on Wednesday, April 1, how traffic moves smoothly during midday between 2:00pm and 2:30pm without buses being delayed in the slightest. You will also notice heavily utilized left turn movements and extremely light pedestrian traffic. Exclusive bus lanes and a ban on left turns during midday and weekends can only delay traffic and cause cars to travel extra to get to their destination without even benefiting bus riders. But DOT is promising faster bus trips of up to 35 percent without any proof.

The Gain In Momentum

This project has been gaining steam as more and more groups have signed on to it, with virtually every news organization explaining only DOT’s position and allowing for one token mark of opposition at the most. This piece by City Lab, a division of Atlantic Monthly, shows how far some extremists are willing to go. The author of this piece, Eric Jaffe, in his extreme anti-automobile bias believes that one exclusive bus lane is not enough. He wants separate exclusive bus lanes for express and local buses. That would dedicate four traffic lanes solely for buses. So how could anyone even take him seriously? He also states that $200 million does not even buy full BRT. Jaffe also only presents one side of the story and is criticized in Railway Age for one of his other articles, in which he claims rail preference is a myth.

Not only is the sky bluer in the after picture, as Jaffe points out, notice how the 15 southbound vehicles turn into only seven vehicles in the “after” picture? Where did the other eight cars and trucks cars go? Apparently they magically disappeared and turned into 15 pedestrians that suddenly appear, when there is not a single pedestrian in sight in the “before” picture. The traffic signals and signage also disappear.

All this is typical of the deception the DOT is employing to garner support for their plans. Can we believe anything DOT is going to say, or do? Here is their press release. According to DOT, SBS or whatever they intend to build, does not have a single negative aspect. It will just benefit everyone. No project benefits everyone. There is always a downside. The Rockaway Wave was the only publication to tell both sides of the story.

The Woodhaven Boulevard Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) will never be completed in a year, as DOT claims. Every SBS project took longer than expected. We will be lucky if it is completed in two or even three years. Even the B44 SBS’ first year assessment is already at least four months late. The money will run out in the middle, and traffic during construction will be an absolute nightmare. The DOT will hold the communities hostage, saying if they want the traffic nightmare to end, they must fight for the approval of additional funding.

If not approved, DOT will begin the job as BRT but complete it as SBS. When the project does not achieve its goals, they will blame the Feds, stating that if all the requested money had been approved and all BRT features installed, the plan would have worked. They will insist they should not be blamed.

If additional monies are approved and the project is fully completed as BRT, it will still fail, but DOT will distort traffic statistics to show it as a success by performing an incomplete traffic analysis that will ignore traffic diverted elsewhere including the already congested Van Wyck Expressway. They will also exaggerate the positive effects the exclusive lanes will have on bus ridership and time savings.

Combine the true SBS and the proposed QueensWay High Line costs and you can bring back the Rockaway Beach Line (RBL), a faster transit corridor only two to six blocks east and parallel to Woodhaven Boulevard. The RBL is on its own right of way and won’t interfere with traffic.

Call your elected officials. Tell them not to waste $200 million of your tax money on BRT. Come to an SBS workshop. Tell your family and friends to promote the restoration of the RBL, a far better alternative. See here for workshop locations, dates and times. These still have not yet been posted on the DOT events calendar, on the MTA website, or even distributed to attendees of past public meetings.

Notices inside buses are insufficient public notice because they do not notify other street users of the proposed plans. Everyone concerned must learn about this plan — not only bus riders — and be given a chance to be heard and listened to.

The Commute is a weekly feature highlighting news and information about the city’s mass transit system and transportation infrastructure. It is written by Allan Rosen, a Manhattan Beach resident and former Director of MTA/NYC Transit Bus Planning (1981).

Disclaimer: The above is an opinion column and may not represent the thoughts or position of Sheepshead Bites. Based upon their expertise in their respective fields, our columnists are responsible for fact-checking their own work. Their submissions are edited only for length, grammar and clarity. If you would like to submit an opinion piece or become a regularly featured contributor, please e-mail nberke [at]sheepsheadbites [dot]com.