Judge halts Flushing Main Street busway launch until further review

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The intersection of Main Street and Prince in Downtown Flushing. (Photo by Mark Hallum)

Where other suits by opponents to bus lanes have been brushed off by judges as frivolous, Hon. Kevin Kerrigan in Queens County Supreme has ruled in favor of halting busways planned for Main Street between Northern Boulevard and Sanford Avenue.

Kerrigan granted a temporary restraining order against the city Department of Transportation adding an unknown amount of time to the completion of the already-delayed project which would serve up to 150,000 daily bus riders until the judge can complete a full review.

The coalition of business owners who are opposing the bus lane have argued that commercial access will be hobbled if street space is reserved for buses based on the belief that the majority of their customers are motorists who will be inconvenienced.

“Mass transit is the future of this city. It’s the key to fighting climate change and it’ll be the engine of our long-term economic recovery,” City Hall spokesman Mitch Schwartz said. “This busway will serve 150,000 New Yorkers every day – from college students, to restaurant and retail workers, to local families who deserve a faster way to get home. That’s who we’re fighting for – and that’s why we remain confident that progressive transportation policy is coming to Flushing.”

Transit advocates banded together, issuing a joint statement on Friday that called out the nature of the lawsuit as affluent interests hindering the needs of working class New Yorkers to reach up to six hospitals and over 3,400 essential businesses like pharmacies, grocery stores and delivery services. Tri-State Transportation Campaign, Riders Alliance, StreetsPAC, Transportation Alternatives, TransitCenter and NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign released a statement as one.

“Today’s temporary restraining order stands in the way of a 23% increase in bus speeds that would benefit 155,000 weekday bus riders on Main Street. This delay in basic and necessary transit improvements is hurting many low-income New Yorkers who rely on several bus routes running through downtown Flushing,” the joint statment read. “Sadly, despite increasing congestion on our roads and pollution in the air we breathe, riders face this well-funded opposition whenever we call for bus improvements on city streets. But as the Mayor recognized in accelerating bus priority in response to the pandemic, our buses and subways will play a critical role in ensuring essential workers can get to work safely and that New York City isn’t paralyzed by gridlock. Now more than ever, we need to prepare our city for both the second wave of COVID-19 and the economic recovery after the pandemic ebbs.”

The Flushing Chinese Business Association and Randall Eng, an attorney and retired judge representing the group, have opposed the busway plan based on the claim that the majority of shoppers hitting storefronts throughout the bustling, congestion-choked business district come by personal auto.

According to Eng, they fear motorists may forego shopping in the area altogether due to the number of detours that will be required during the hours the corridor is exclusive to buses operated by New York City Transit.

Opponents to the bus lane planned to flex their own numerical muscle at a rally on Monday at 3 p.m. located at the Flushing Public Library with up to 25 civic groups and individuals that include Councilman Peter Koo, Congresswoman Grace Meng and state Senator Toby Stavisky.

This rally and march was postponed after Kerrigan granted the TRO.

In September 2019, Judge Joseph Esposito dismissed Arthur Schwartz’s argument against the southbound bus lanes on Fresh Pond Road in Ridgewood, Queens, claiming it would bring economic ruin to the shops on the gridlocked corridor. A judge similarly dismissed Schwartz’s Article 78 litigation against the 14th Street busway, as well.

Esposito brushed off the suit as little more than a group of people fighting against change.

The busway through one of the most traffic heavy sections of Queens would improve the speed of transit and link several bus routes with the 7 train and the Long Island Rail Road’s Port Washington line.