New York City Transit President Andy Byford took questions and comments from all sides Wednesday night in Jackson Heights as residents barely gave transportation officials room to breathe during a workshop on the controversial Queens bus redesign project.
Rather than sending representatives to take the heat, Byford showed up in person and was greeted with an array of gripes from bus riders, and pleas that several busy bus routes on the chopping block in the draft bus redesign plan.
The workshop space contained within the “Rumpus Room” of the Southridge Senior Center was so packed, one attendee likened it to riding a Queens bus at rush hour.
The complaints voiced ranged from stops being set farther apart, to lines that may be completely wiped from the Queens slate — such as the Q49, the Q32, the Q33 and the Q66. But Byford and the MTA stressed that “nothing is set in stone” with the bus redesign plan.
“What we’re offering the opportunity for you to do – and you don’t have to take this up – is we’re saying, tell us what you like about the existing network. Tell us what you don’t like and what we should be aiming to do is leave in place what you like and improve what you don’t like,” Byford said over shouts of protest. “But if we don’t have conversations like this, I’m not a mind-reader, I don’t know. So it may well be there’s some stuff that’s sacrosanct, that may not want to change.”
An MTA spokesman further explained that the perception of important lines being eliminated was the result of an incorrect oversimplification. Routes will be redrawn and renamed, but service will remain where there is demand.
Of all the routes concerning Jackson Heights, residents made appeals to Byford over the fate of the Q49 and the Q53. The Q49 goes to the main hub at 82nd Street – Jackson Heights, an essential connection to subway lines and other buses; the Q53 is a Select Bus Service route running between Woodside and Rockaway Beach.
“They want to send [the Q49] to all the local stops with no elevator, no express train, no escalator,” Jim Burke said. “[At the main hub] we have the E, the F, the R, the M, Little India, Little Colombia, the gay bars, everything. So that’s what we’re fighting for.”
Assemblyman Michael DenDekker claimed the new bus plan would cut seniors in Southridge off from the rest of the community and direct them to a subway station that is not ADA accessible. Although only a draft plan and one of 10 workshops where the MTA will be accepting feedback for the final plan, DenDekker complained the agency was not listening to the communities needs.
“[Seniors] can’t go to the train anymore because all of the [replacement bus routes] that they have will take the buses to the 90th Street – Roosevelt Avenue station, which has no elevator. So it’s not a good plan for this community,” DenDekker said. “We’re trying. I’m glad [Byford] came, I’m glad my community turned out in force to tell [the MTA] how bad this plan is for each and every one of them.”
The next community workshop will take place on Jan. 21, from 6 to 8 p.m. at the Greater Ridgewood Youth Council, located at 59-03 Summerfield St. in Ridgewood, Queens.