Bus riders and advocates rallied in Queens Thursday afternoon to convince the city to complete bus lanes that aim to speed up transportation for straphangers.
Members of the Rider Alliance massed at Jamaica Avenue and Sutphin Boulevard in Jamaica, Queens, where they urged the city’s Department of Transportation to paint the bus lanes and install signage for 1.9 miles of Jamaica Avenue and the six miles of Merrick Boulevard. The intersection is near the community’s transit hub, just three blocks from the Jamaica Long Island Rail Road and AirTrain station and the Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue stop on the E and J/Z trains.
South and east of Jamaica, however, lies a relative transportation desert where, for many, buses are the only public transit option to get around. Advocates say the bus lane and new signage would improve commuting times along the often crowded bus routes used by thousands of riders. The funds for the new bus lanes have already been allocated in the capital budget for this past year, officials said.
The bus lane project, dubbed the Restart Better Buses program, is part of a total of 20 miles of bus lanes that are slated for Queens. The bus lanes have been completed in most other boroughs.
Advocates say Mayor Bill de Blasio promised back in June that he would order the DOT to create bus lanes along Jamaica Avenue from Sutphin Boulevard to 186th Street, and on Merrick Boulevard from Hillside Avenue to Springfield Blvd. The new bus lanes would speed up commuting by 25 percent, advocates say. But the lanes have yet to be started and advocates say that if cold weather hits, expected by November, the bus lanes will not be even started until the spring. Lanes cannot be painted in the colder weather.
“We know that 50 percent of essential workers are bus riders and 75 percent are working class low income people, so this is a social justice issue,” said Jolyse Race, a senior organizer for Riders Alliance. “By improving bus commutes, you are then improving the lives of minorities. This is going to help working class families in south-east Queens, and they are getting to their jobs by the bus.”
Members of the Riders Alliance gave out flyers and distributed letters for commuters to fill out and send to the mayor’s office asking for the lanes to be completed.
Karen Hamilton of Rosedale and a bus rider on Jamaica Avenue, said it was important to have the bus lanes completed. She was a regular bus rider before the pandemic and was starting to use the buses more often.
“Life is coming back to downtown Jamaica, and I think it’s important to improve bus service – I walked faster than the buses coming from Parsons to Sutphin [Boulevards],” Hamilton said. “As I walked along I saw double parking and triple parking, streets being closed on side-streets, and commercial parking using the lanes, so I think the bus lane is crucial for the rejuvenation of downtown for its continued existence. Transit riders need to be assured that transit times along Jamaica Avenue and connections are improved.”
Riders Alliance, along with members of NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, TransitCenter, and Transportation Alternatives, will continue to urge the city to move ahead with the bus lane installations.
DOT officials say Merrick Blvd is scheduled to be finished during “this year and we are working with the community on next steps for Jamaica.”