BUS STOP NO MORE
By Joani George & Heather Dalton
Without any notice to community residents, bus commuters or local police, the busy Q22 bus stop at Beach 117 street and Rockaway Beach boulevard was removed from the Green Bus Lines route Wednesday, November 10. The elimination of the bus stop had many local neighbors dancing in the street with joy over the prospect of a "troubled" corner being "cleaned up". Others, who believe the troubles on Beach 117 street do not stem from bus commuters, stated that they were concerned over the real reasons and methods that were employed to get the bus stop eliminated.
Loiterers, quality of life problems, traffic and safety issues are among the reasons that added up to Community Board #14’s decision to recommend that the New York City Department of Transportation discontinue the bus stop at the corner of Beach 117 street and Rockaway Beach boulevard.
Civics and community residents who pushed for the bus stop to be discontinued began their fight back in fall of 1998 when they joined forces, circulated a petition and stated their case before the community board. Five hundred signatures were presented in favor of the removal of the bus stop. By February of 1999 Green Bus Lines responded to a letter from Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer, who had asked them to explore the relocation of the Q22 bus stop. It had been suggested that the bus stop be moved to the location of Beach 116 street and the beach, but that idea was rejected due to safety reasons.
Green Bus Lines suggested a move just one block east to Beach 115 street which was strenuously opposed by residents of Rockaway Beach boulevard and by the Rockaway Action Committee, who stated that this location was too narrow to support a bus stop.
Although the decision to discontinue the bus stop by D.O.T. was announced at Tuesday night’s Community Board meeting, a specific date was not given at that time. According to a Green Bus Lines’ spokesperson, D.O.T. informed them only early Wednesday morning to immediately bypass the widely used Q22 Beach 117 street bus stop. With such short notice the bus line had little time to inform commuters of the change in venue. The bus line is now in the process of posting signs on buses and dispatching an on-site inspector to make people aware that the stop is no longer in existence.
The bus stop’s semi-enclosed shelter has been gone for some time and D.O.T. removed the overhead bus stop sign prior to Wednesday mornings run; however, no public relations efforts were made to inform bus travelers that the stop was no longer to be. Hundreds of commuters congregated throughout the day and waited at their accustomed stop until word spread by mouth that they would have to move on. The local police were not advised of the change and no Green Lines inspectors were on hand to assist those travelers waiting at Beach 117 street for their bus that was not to come. With no substitute stop designated by the D.O.T., bus commuters, including students and the elderly, had to choose to move on to Beach 114 street or Beach 119 street. Calls to D.O.T Wednesday from The Wave went unanswered and its offices were closed on Thursday for the Veteran’s Day holiday. Many questions remain unanswered as The Wave went to press.
Community Board District Manager Jonathan Gaska told The Wave Wednesday that he honestly didn’t believe that the removal of the bus stop would be so quick. He also noted that D.O.T. could have handled the situation better. According to Gaska, his office received more than 100 calls from people in the community who wanted the bus stop removed. "When the issue is safety vs. inconvenience, always choose safety," Gaska said.
Statistics compiled by the police to determine the safety issues of the area surrounding the bus stop include 16 traffic accidents on the boulevard between Beach 116 street and Beach 117 street; 23 arrests on Beach 116 street and Rockaway Beach boulevard; 56 arrests on Beach 116 street, from Ocean Promenade to Beach Channel drive; and 14 arrests on Beach 117 street from Ocean Promenade to Beach Channel drive. In addition, 87 Quality of Life summonses were issued for January 1999, year to date. Captain Sirica, the commanding officer of the 100 Precinct, said that he couldn’t honestly correlate that the arrests had to do solely with the fact that the bus stop was situated on that corner. However, he did say that traffic safety is a major concern in that area.
Still, some civics, residents and merchants in the community feel that the removal of the bus stop was unnecessary. Many people who spoke to The Wave said that the removal of the bus stop would not stop the loiterers from hanging around in front of the Seaside Queens Library branch. They said that the people causing the quality of life problems on that corner are not bus travelers, rather Rockaway’s local vagrants.
Calls flooded into The Wave on Wednesday and Thursday, mostly by bus users looking for someone to blame or complain to about the removal of the bus stop.
100 Precinct Community Council President Palmer Doyle called the removal of the bus stop "comical." When The Wave contacted him on Wednesday evening, Doyle said he had just returned from a trip in the vicinity of the stop and said that there were numerous people, mostly elderly, standing at the bus stop, in the cold and dark for hours with no direction from anyone as to where to go.
"I find it very, very discouraging that at a time in this community when we are trying to see the light at the end of the tunnel to get some kind of improved transportation in this area, whether it be the Rockaway Line reopening, the Q-Rail, a ferry service, or expanded bus service, it is very discouraging that the one thing we can get accomplished with our illustrious politicians and community board, it to close one bus stop," Doyle said. "And, which bus stop do they choose to close? The one at the doorway to the hub of Rockaway Park’s business area. It’s just comical, that’s all I can say."
Several Beach 116 street merchants were up in arms about the closing of the bus stop. Peter Patel, one of the proprietors of Rogoff’s Cards Gifts and Toy Store, said, "They’ve got to be crazy to do that because more people get off at Beach 116 street than any other of the stops in the area. It’s only common sense to have a bus stop near Beach 116 street." Others stated that they wanted to know when a replacement stop would be designated closer to their merchant strip.
Local residents living nearest to the corner of Beach 117 street said they were relieved that they would no longer have to be harassed by those who congregate at the bus stop.
Noach Dear, city council member and chairman of the city’s transportation committee, had been one of the major forces pushing for the elimination of the Beach 117 street bus stop. In an official press release issued Wednesday, Dear said, "The residents of the Rockaways have been asking for the removal of the bus stop at Beach 16 street and Seaside Library for at least six months. Their issues of safety are a real concern. . . Based on those facts, the 500 petition signatures provided to me and the many complaints that I received from residents, I agreed with the community board, other elected officials and the 100 Precinct that the stop posed safety concerns and should be removed – that is why I offered my assistance to the collaborative effort."
Rockaway’s Democratic District Leader Lew Simon had suggested that the bus stop be moved to the post office/Waldbaum’s area and had some residents in agreement with him. Wednesday’s secret move by the D.O.T. was unacceptable to Simon, who said that an alternative stop should have been put into place before the Beach 117 stop was eliminated.
As The Wave went to press Thursday, people were still congregating at Beach 117 street and Rockaway Beach boulevard waiting for the bus. There was still no inspector on site to explain the situation to bus goers, local police were not informed until The Wave contacted them for comments.
Additionally, The Wave learned late in the day Thursday that the QM16 bus, the only express bus out of Rockaway Park into Manhattan that stops each morning at 7:15 a.m. in front of Greenpoint Savings Bank on the boulevard, has also been re-routed to Beach 114 street or Beach 119 street. A very angry QM16 rider said that signs were posted on the bus Thursday morning explaining the elimination of the bus stop that these riders have been using for several years. Due to the holiday, The Wave was unable to contact Green Bus Lines, the DOT, the Community Board, Audrey Pheffer’s or Noach Dear’s offices to find out how the QM16 fits into the picture with the problems in front of the Seaside Library.
A small white paper was taped to a tree near the Q22 bus stop Thursday. It stated that the bus stop has been eliminated and that anyone who wanted to comment should call the local Community Board District Office at 718- 471-7300 or the D.O.T. at 212-676-0868; however, many of those who placed their calls found that these offices were closed for the day and called The Wave for some direction.