“We're here to show what the community really thinks of the SBS plan that's been put forward by the city,” said Woodhaven Residents' Block Association (WRBA) board member Alexander Blenkinsopp at a rally on Jamaica Avenue Saturday. “We strongly object to the specific plan that is being forced on us.
“There are so many thousands of people that are going to be affected by these changes who are still unaware of what's going on,” he added.
Blenkinsopp said the WRBA and other community groups are not opposed to changes on the two busy thoroughfares, but there are serious concerns with the current plan.
Earlier this year, DOT held three public meetings, but Blenkinsopp said he didn't believe the agency was interested in hearing what residents had to say at the last meeting he attended in Woodhaven.
“They weren't writing down people's input, they weren't taking the feedback seriously, and a lot of people left frustrated,” he said.
Blenkinsopp suggested off-board fare payments to speed up buses, longer buses to address overcrowding, and priority light signals for buses.
“The question is, why aren't they trying all of this stuff before they have dramatic, huge changes to the boulevard that cost hundreds of millions of dollars?” he asked.
The current plan proposed by DOT includes a new bus-only lane and bus shelters on the median between the main and service roads of both Crossbay and Woodhaven Boulevard.
According to DOT senior director of Transit Development Eric Beaton, there have been 22 deaths and 3,000 injuries on Woodhaven and Crossbay boulevards in just the past five years.
But residents weren't convinced the changes would improve safety or congestion issues.
“Whoever brainstormed to take away lanes to help people and transportation, they're out of their mind,” said Danny Ruscillo, co-chair of Community Board 14's Transportation Committee. “That's not how you get rid of congestion, by removing lanes.”
Residents also believe that having bus riders wait on the median poses a multitude of safety risks, especially during adverse weather.
“You can't put people in the middle of the street, that is not a good plan,” said WRBA president Martin Colberg. “What are you going to do when people are piled up on the median waiting for the bus and you have an elderly resident trying to cross the street with ice and snow?”
While Colberg spoke, residents held up photos a snow-covered Woodhaven Boulevard in the days following last winter's historic snowstorm
State Senator Joe Addabbo said he's not against the need to improve bus service, but is against the plan as proposed by DOT. He believes, however, that DOT has been amenable to suggestions throughout the process.
“I know we're being heard, because DOT has already postponed the plan and made some minor changes to allow access to our commercial strips,” Addabbo said. “So the idea here is that we still have a lot of work to do.”
A spokesperson for the DOT responded on Monday to say that while Woodhaven Boulevard is an important street, it's not one that is currently serving residents well. It carries over 30,000 bus passengers daily and has one of the highest fatality rates of any street in New York City.
The spokesperson also acknowledged that DOT has held extensive outreach and is working with residents on specifics.
"As acknowledged by the organizers of Saturday’s event, DOT made multiple changes to the original plan after listening to the community and working with stakeholders to address their concerns," the spokesperson said.
They added, "This extensive community outreach process yielded alterations asked for by residents such as not banning left turns at Jamaica Avenue (the site of Saturday’s event) in both directions, while still offering safety enhancements along the corridor that will benefit the thousands of pedestrians, drivers, and bus riders who travel, work and shop on the corridor every day."