A judge will decide next month whether New York City's plan to install a busway along a clogged commercial corridor in Flushing, Queens can proceed, after a temporary restraining order issued on Friday stopped the project from advancing.
The busway project on Main Street -- stretching .3 miles between Northern Boulevard and Sanford Avenue in Flushing's Chinatown-- is part of a city Department of Transportation pilot program aimed at improving service for 19 bus lines that crisscross the area. The project is much like the existing 14th Street busway in Manhattan, where the roadway is exclusive to city buses and commercial trucks. An analysis of the 14th Street busway shows service improved by 47% when compared to service before the plan.
In a statement responding to the temporary restraining order, de Blasio spokesperson Mitch Schwartz said busways are essential to improving mass transit, which is the "future of this city."
“It’s the key to fighting climate change and it’ll be the engine of our long-term economic recovery," Schwartz added. "This busway will serve 150,000 New Yorkers every day – from college students, to restaurant and retail workers, to local families who deserve a faster way to get home. That’s who we’re fighting for – and that’s why we remain confident that progressive transportation policy is coming to Flushing.”
The temporary restraining order issued by State Supreme Court Judge Kevin Kerrigan will last through December 21st, the deadline when attorneys are expected to submit their legal arguments that will determine whether the project can begin. Randall Eng, an attorney representing a consortium of business owners that include the Flushing Chinese Business Association, argues that the busway endangers his clients' bottom line. Their opposition to the project, which will lead to parking spots being removed, had delayed the project from even starting for several months.
"Our argument is that it has not been well thought out," Eng told Gothamist/WNYC of the project. "And it is not based upon data, sufficient data that's needed before something like this could be implemented. Certainly doesn't take into account the impact of COVID-19 because the businesses that are along that corridor were severely impacted in the course of the pandemic; they only began to recover. And to implement it now, particularly in the holiday season, we just further exacerbate the economic problems."
But in a presentation on overall traffic improvements for Flushing in May 2018, the DOT cited 2014 data showing that 79% of shoppers walk or use mass transit to get to a business. The data found 18% of people arrived to Flushing by private car.
Projects for new busways and other safety improvements across the city have been subject to lawsuits. When the 14th Street busway project was announced, it was met with legal opposition that was ultimately dismissed. Similar legal actions challenged the so-called "road diet" in the Morris Park section of the Bronx. A judge ultimately allowed the project to be built.
Nick Sifuentes, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign that supports the city's efforts for improved mass transit options, believes the Flushing project will eventually move forward.
"Just like the courts found that it was spurious on 14th Street, I think we're gonna see the exact same result here," Sifuentes said. "While this is a setback, and it's a setback that affects 155,000 daily bus riders along this route, I don't expect it to be in any way a permanent setback."