2013-07-19 / Columnists

From The Councilman’s Desk

Transportation is Key to Revival
Commentary By Councilman Eric Ulrich

ERIC ULRICH ERIC ULRICH The Rockaway Renaissance is well underway. Day by day, small businesses are re-opening and families are moving back into newly renovated homes and apartments. The beaches are packed and tourists are helping revitalize the local economy by spending money on food, swimwear and other goods and services. For the first time in a long while, optimism is in the air.

Recent transportation improvements have played an important role in the recovery process. A little more than two weeks ago, Mayor Bloomberg and the New York City Economic Development Corporation announced the continuation of weekday ferry service between the Rockaways and Pier 11 in Lower Manhattan through Labor Day weekend. The high ridership and strong demand in the days and weeks following Hurricane Sandy also resulted in expanded service, three additional morning runs on weekday mornings, as well as three return runs in the evenings.

In addition, added weekend runs now shuttle sun worshipers to the peninsula to enjoy the best kept secret in Queens: Rockaway Beach.

On May 30th, 2013 A Train service resumed much to the delight of straphangers.

Downtown Brooklyn and other parts of Queens are no longer out of the reach of high school and college students who struggled in weeks and months following Sandy to get to class each day.

Bus service is also on the rebound with growing demand on the QM16, QM15, Q52 and Q53 corridors. Beginning on September 8, 2013, the MTA has agreed to fill the overnight gap in bus service along the Crossbay/Woodhaven Blvd. corridor by operating the Q53 around the clock, with late night trips running on an hourly schedule. This request was originally brought to the attention of my office by the Broad Channel Civic Association and is a major victory for both Rockaway and Broad Channel residents.

Unfortunately, there is still another major roadblock standing in the way of Rockaway reaching its maximum potential: traffic. For the better part of the past decade, Woodhaven Boulevard has been a traffic nightmare to say the very least.

The daily commute during the morning and evening rush hours can be described as sluggish at best. Whether you’re in a car or on a bus, the slow and painful crawl up and down Woodhaven Boulevard is sure to make your daily ride even more stressful and time consuming.

Since taking office, I have been working with the Department of Transportation to alleviate traffic congestion along Woodhaven Boulevard and have pushed a number of measures which I believe would make a big difference. Here are just a few:

 I am committed to bringing the deployment of Transit Signal Priority to this corridor. TSP will improve travel time for all vehicles by optimizing overall traffic signal coordination, resulting ina5to10percentdecreaseinoverall travel time. This system can, for instance, hold the green light a little longer to allow buses and cars to proceed through an intersection before the traffic signal turns red. TSP is already operating in Staten Island, the Bronx and Manhattan. I am fighting to bring it to Queens.

 Implementing Select Bus Service along the 3.2-mile route would also have a significant impact. This bold initiative was first brought to my attention by long-time Rockaway resident Joe Hartigan, a.k.a “the ferry guy.” Basically, this would establish a dedicated bus lane for express and local buses only. It would speed up the average commute time for bus riders by 15 to 20 percent and prevent the bottlenecking situation that occurs at almost every major intersection along the boulevard.

SBS is more commonly referred to as Bus Rapid Transit and already exists on Nostrand Avenue in Brooklyn, Hylan Boulevard in Staten Island, First and Second avenues in Manhattan and Fordham Road in the Bronx. Woodhaven Boulevard is ripe for this proposal and that is precisely why I have allocated $300,000 in capital funding in this year’s budget to bring it to Queens.

 Site-specific improvements at certain intersections are long overdue. There are turning lanes that need to be widened or extended and others that need to be eliminated altogether. This is a delicate process that will require the advice and consent of the community. Nevertheless, it is one that must be part of our overall strategy to make Woodhaven Boulevard safer for drivers, mass transit users and pedestrians alike. When done correctly, modifications such as these can reduce traffic-related injuries dramatically and help the overall flow of vehicles.

The DOT has already made some progress by incorporating some of the above-mentioned ideas into the Citywide Congested Corridor study. In fact, data has been collected, traffic patterns and accident prone locations have been analyzed and several public meetings have been held to discuss possible solutions since the study first started in 2008.

Some of these proposals are common sense and easy to implement while others are all but certain to raise controversy.

Rockaway stands to benefit the most if this plan is put into action. It provides a realistic roadmap to improving public transportation without the usual false hopes and broken promises that have plagued the peninsula for as long as anyone can remember.

Even better transportation is within reach. Let’s move forward together.

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