Representatives from the Department of Transportation (DOT) presented the plan last Wednesday at the board’s monthly meeting. The bus lane would run a half-mile between Metropolitan and Putnam avenues.
The goal, DOT reps said, is to speed up buses along the corridor, which average just 3 miles per hour, half of the borough-wide average. Among the buses that run on Fresh Pond Road is the Q58, the borough’s busiest bus route, which serves 30,000 riders daily.
Fresh Pond Road was among 24 priority projects in the DOT’s Better Buses Action Plan, which the mayor announced earlier this year to speed up bus service by 25 percent by 2020.
“General consensus for everyone we’ve spoken to is that there’s a problem on Fresh Pond,” said Deputy Queens DOT Commissioner Jason Banrey. “Bottom line is, something needs to happen to address the congestion.”
Banrey said city officials identified the project in winter 2017, and began conducting outreach and analysis.
DOT spoke to 65 businesses and asked them about their delivery times and needs. Sixty-six percent say delivery zones would be “welcomed and helpful.”
Officials also did a shopper survey to see how customers in the neighborhood get around. A majority say they walked, but many also take public transit. Only 22 percent used personal cars, according to the survey.
The DOT’s analysis showed that buses run the slowest in the afternoon and evenings, from 1 to 7 p.m. Buses also have the highest ridership from 2 to 8 p.m.
The proposed curbside bus lane would run Monday to Friday from 2 to 8 p.m. to “match those times when the buses are slowest and ridership is the heaviest,” said Kyle Gebhart, project manager of Transit Development for the DOT.
“What this would really try to do is not just help the buses, but improve traffic for everyone,” he said. “A large percentage of the vehicles on Fresh Pond are buses, so you’re pulling them out of the moving lane.”
DOT has installed similar bus lanes on Fulton Street in Clinton Hill, which saw a 22 to 31 percent increase in bus speeds, and Utica Avenue in Crown Heights, which saw a 17 to 26 percent bump.
In talking to business owners, civic organizations and the community board, Banrey said he heard that parking is “at a premium” in the area.
“That’s something we want to be sensitive to,” he said.
The proposed lane would repurpose 70 parking spaces, 55 of which are metered and 15 of which are subject to alternate-side parking rules. To mitigate the loss, DOT would add 61 new metered spaces of two-hour parking.
The agency would also consider switching “No Standing Anytime” zones to “Dedicated Loading” zones for businesses.
Other measures that the DOT is looking at are fixing the signal timing to speed up traffic, consolidating bus stops and daylighting near the bus depot.
“This is something we’re hoping to implement this summer,” Gebhart said.
Some members were receptive to the idea. John Maier, a Ridgewood resident, said Fresh Pond Road is a “nonstop traffic nightmare” from the early morning to the evening.
He noted that bus ridership has been falling in the last four to five years because buses have slowed so much.
“We need to improve bus speeds to get people into buses, so the people using cars can use them effectively,” Maier said. “Because right now, nobody using a car on Fresh Pond Road is doing it effectively from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m.”
CB5 member Edward Lettau, a regular Q58 rider, added that the bus sometimes takes so long to get to his destination that he “could get off and walk home faster.”
Others were not pleased with the proposal. Michael O’Kane, a member of the board’s Transportation Committee, said the plan “can’t avoid” comparisons with the Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevard bus lane, which he deemed “a disaster.”
“I can’t think of a better way to kill business on Fresh Pond Road than eliminating a lane,” O’Kane said.
Banrey responded that Woodhaven and Cross Bay boulevards, which are a Select Bus Service (SBS) route, is in active construction for the next five years.
Another member, Edgar Mantel, suggested shortening the bus lane times to 3 to 7 p.m. to not conflict with after-school pickups.
“There’s a lot of movement because of schools, parents with pcars and school buses from 2 to 3 p.m.,” he said.
Before the night ended, a local business owner chimed in on the proposal. Giuseppe Palmeri, owner of Gemelli Jewelers on Fresh Pond Road, told CB5 he thought the bus lane was a “bad idea.”
“The whole idea should be scrapped, it’s absolutely horrendous,” he said. “Where are the small businesses on Fresh Pond Road going to go when there are no customers to come to their stores?”
Instead, Palmeri said he would prefer coordinating the lights so traffic moves quicker.
He also spoke against adding more metered parking, noting that his customers constantly complain and run out of the store to make sure they don’t get tickets.
Palmeri asked CB5 members to oppose the proposal, which is going back to the Transportation Committee for more tweaking later this month.
“Fresh Pond Road will become a ghost town, you can mark my words on that,” he said. “I urge all of you to save the small businesses and not vote for this plan.”