Merrick Boulevard bus lanes continue to ire elected officials of southeast Queens

traffic safety
Bus lanes on Jamaica Avenue in Queens. (Photo by Todd Maisel)

Southeast Queens elected officials are calling on the city to resolve safety and transportation barriers along Merrick Boulevard where sidewalks and a bus lane is obstructed by auto shop vehicles.

Councilman I. Daneek Miller stood on the stretch of road where the city Department of Transportation placed bus lane on Wednesday where he says a bus lane, unwanted by members of the community to begin with, is hobbled derelict cars parked on the sidewalk and along the road.

According to Miller, as well as state Senator Leroy Comrie, a lack of Vision Zero improvements leave the surrounding neighborhoods in less safe than more affluent counterparts.

“We have had many, many problems. We’ve had the same problems that other communities had with safety. With the advent of Vision Zero, other communities had seen major investment in [through] extended sidewalks, street closures, curb extensions and other capital investments that make their communities safe. What have we seen? We’ve seen speed cameras, punitive beyond belief. We want to be safe like everyone else,” Miller said. “If you look down Merrick Boulevard from Hillside Avenue to Farmers Boulevard, there’s now a bus lane except for in front of these auto shops. The same ones that are causing the problem.”

Comrie urged DOT to remove the bus lane and end the scourge of shop vehicles along Merrick Boulevard before the Christmas in order to mitigate a negative impact on business access during the holidays.

“This is a total disrespect to the community boards, to the civic leaders, to the religious leaders, all who unanimously told [DOT] they didn’t want a bus lane,” Comrie said. “And then they’re putting in bus lane cameras as well, right in the commercial strip where [small businesses] are struggling during the pandemic.”

Assemblywoman Alicia Hyndman said residents of the area are car-dependent based on limited transit options, and that the bus lane could force traffic onto side streets. 

“It’s not that we’re a community that doesn’t want bus lanes. We want equitable transportation and go back and forth to work in a timely manner,” Hyndman said.

To promote better transportation in underserved communities and facilitate a rebound from the COVID-19 pandemic, Mayor Bill de Blasio announced the Better Buses Restart which included the 3.2 miles along Merrick Boulevard which serves the Q4, Q5, Q84, Q85, X63, N4 and N4X as well as 94,000 daily riders.

Twenty miles of bus lanes were included in the Restart plan in total across the city.

“I strongly encourage this administration (and the one that follows it) to do a better job of engaging with the community before making decisions that significantly impact our daily lives,” James Johnson, a candidate of the district currently represented by Miller, said “I am aware of the Mayor’s office’s claims that there was a notice to the community due to the contact with the current Councilman and a few community leaders (long after the decision). I hope the Mayor understands just how large and diverse our community is and that they demand that they receive the opportunity to be heard.”

DOT documented three different meetings in August and September with community advisory boards, outreach to businesses on the corridor as well as walking tours with Community Board 12, Miller, NYPD, MTA, and Allen Cathedral Residence, according to the agency.

“Our progressive, data-driven transit improvements are carefully curated to the communities they serve,” City Hall spokesman Mitch Schwartz said. “We are committed to continuing to work with the Council Member on parking and vehicle storage concerns he rightly raised today.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio promised back in June that DOT would create bus lanes along Jamaica Avenue from Sutphin Boulevard to 186th Street, as well as on Merrick Boulevard from Hillside Avenue to Springfield Boulevard to boost average bus speeds by up to 25%.

In October, the Riders Alliance showed support for the bus lanes at the corner of Jamaica Avenue and Merrick, explaining that this would be an asset to the transit desert that is southeast Queens, but that it would serve essential workers in the pandemic, 50% of whom take mass transit, the group said.

But while the elected officials in the area having been pushing back against the bus lanes on Merrick Boulevard, transit advocates have shared enthusiasm for what they see as a connection to the Long Island Rail Road, the AirTrain station and the Sutphin Boulevard-Archer Avenue stop on the E and J/Z trains.