After Metropolitan Transportation Authority leaders gave the final sign-off on the redesign of the Bronx’s bus network, transit officials revealed they will roll out a revised draft plan for an overhaul in Queens early next year.
MTA officials plan to publish a “totally redone” proposal for bus routes in the World’s Borough some time in the first quarter of 2022, in other words by the end of March, after the agency’s sweeping earlier proposal faced backlash from locals during heated public meetings just before the pandemic.
“What you’re going to see is a totally redone draft plan in Queens,” said interim New York City Transit President Craig Cipriano during a press conference after MTA’s monthly board meeting on Dec. 15.
MTA halted efforts to remake its bus routes borough-by-borough during the pandemic and the Queens proposal already had a draft plan before the pause.
The prior plan describes the Queens network as a “confusing labyrinth” combining old trolley lines and routes run by competing private bus companies predating the MTA.
Bus ridership in Queens was on the decline before the pandemic, shrinking by 5.4% during 2014-2019 from 728,872 to 689,702 average weekday riders, as speeds slowed to 8.7 miles per hour.
The old plan proposed to wipe the slate clean and introduce a whole new bus network with straighter and simplified routes and stops spaced further apart, but locals balked at the elimination of some routes at public meetings before the plans were put on hold.
More than 11,000 people have sent in comments about the previously-proposed changes to the borough’s sprawling bus network, according to Cipriano.
“The core piece of redesign efforts is listening to our customers and other stakeholders, electeds, and you’re going to see that with the Queens redesign,” he said.
MTA’s acting chairperson and CEO Janno Lieber — who has promoted better buses as an “engine of equity,” due to the people movers disproportionately serving lower-income communities of color — said it was crucial to hear out Queens residents.
“There’s no place that buses matter more than Queens, because the history of the city,” Lieber said. “It has 2.3 million people but a lot less subway service than other parts of the city so bus redesign, Queens, really important and it deserves full attention in the months to come.”
MTA revived the borough redesigns in August starting with the Bronx, which was the first borough to get a redesign approved by the Authority’s 21-member board Wednesday since the agency overhauled the Staten Island Express Bus routes back in 2018.
The agency will start working on the northern borough’s 46 routes in the summer of 2022, redrawing 16 of them and adding two new ones, while collaborating with the city’s Department of Transportation — which controls the streets — to paint red bus lanes on high-traffic corridors.
Officials plan to ax about 20% of stops in the Bronx, and one advocate said straphangers will likely have to sacrifice stations in Queens too in exchange for faster trips.
“Historically we’ve had some of the closest spacing [of stops] in the world and that’s part of what makes them so slow,” said Danny Pearlstein of Riders Alliance. “The bus was never meant to be a door-to-door service and MTA planners have to balance spacing with the speeds.”
“You can’t have a fast bus that stops on every corner,” he said.
The redesigns were part of MTA’s Fast Forward systemwide modernization plan pushed by former NYCT President and “train daddy” Andy Byford.
They were originally supposed to wrap up in 2021, but MTA postponed completion until 2026 citing the pandemic and staffing shortages to do all the public outreach.
The plan for the next borough, Brooklyn, was at an earlier stage pre-COVID and Cipriano said the agency will keep staff focusing on Queens for now.
“In regards to the Brooklyn redesign, we’re also going to pick up those efforts,” he said. “We’re trying to balance out… how many of those resources will be taken from Queens needed in Brooklyn. So we’ll have more to say in the coming year in that regard.”