The MTA's proposed revamping of the bus routes in Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst were released December 31st as part of the sweeping overhaul of the Queens bus network, and they have already drawn plenty of criticism.
An online petition urging residents to protest the changes, which would reconfigure the area's bus service by eliminating three popular east-west routes serving the 74th Street-Roosevelt Avenue subway station, has more than 1,700 signatures.
"The elimination of the Q49, Q33 and Q32 bus routes will have drastic negative impacts on the Jackson Heights community," the petition reads. "There will no longer be any busses going east-west to take people to and from the 74th Street Roosevelt Ave subway station."
The proposed changes are part of the MTA's redesign of the entire Queens bus network -- the first reworking in a century since the current routes were drawn along trolley lines and private bus companies that used to serve the borough. The changes are meant to increase speed in the system -- average bus speeds in Queens have dropped more than three percent since 2015 -- while also connecting to existing and future accessible subway stations, according to the MTA.
But one resident said the three existing routes are vital for traveling to the 74th Street-Roosevelt Avenue station, one of the only stations with elevators.
"They're incredibly popular routes. They are highly utilized within our neighborhood by our neighbors getting to the 74th Street-Roosevelt Avenue subway station. And it just seems nonsensical to eliminate buses that go to that subway station," said Rachel Knopf Shey, the petition's organizer and Jackson Heights resident. "That is the only subway station in the neighborhood that has accessible elevators. There are so many people who need that."
The 74th Street-Roosevelt station had an average weekday ridership of 51,766 in 2018, making it the 15th busiest station in the system, according to the MTA.
"The Q49 bus is used by senior citizens and people with disabilities to transfer to the 74th Street/Broadway (Roosevelt Avenue) subway station because it is a major transit hub and is the only station in the area that has an ADA-accessible elevator," said Assemblyman Michael DenDekker in an emailed statement. "I feel that the MTA has made some critical mistakes in the formulation of this plan, but I am hopeful that they will listen to the vociferous community response that is opposed to these wholesale changes."
But the MTA said Queens residents should think less of the specific route numbers -- even the ones they may have used for decades -- and start thinking more logically about how to use the bus system to get from Point A to Point B. To that end, the bus network plan has renamed all the routes with the moniker QT for "Queens Temporary" so riders don't get attached to set routes during the proposal phase.
"There's no elimination or replacement because we're completely just wiping the map clean. We're putting in new routes," said Amanda Kwan, a MTA spokeswoman, in a phone interview. She said the draft plan offers four new routes that serve the 74th Street-Roosevelt Avenue station.
She added in an email, "The Queens Bus Network Redesign is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity to completely reimagine the borough's bus network, which hasn't changed in a century. Our redesign is a dynamic, iterative process that is led by customers, and we welcome the feedback and enthusiasm we've received so far on our draft plan to improve service, speed up rides, increase frequency and add more transfers between subways and buses. We look forward to discussing our draft plan with Assemblyman DenDekker and residents in Jackson Heights and collecting the public input that will directly inform the future of bus service in Queens."
While many proponents of the overhaul say it's long overdue, some critics question if the plan goes far enough in fixing the system's flaws.
A rally to protest the suggested bus changes is scheduled for tonight at 73-19 37th Road at Diversity Plaza next to the 74th Street - Roosevelt Avenue station, where the MTA is holding an outreach event tonight from 4 p.m. to 7 p.m. Residents have other opportunities for feedback on January 15th at 33-04 93rd Street in Jackson Heights, and another forum January 31st at the Langston Hughes library at 100-01 Northern Boulevard in Corona.
Shey encouraged as much community participation as possible in the MTA events.
"Queens has such a dense population that is not served by the subway network as well as in other boroughs," Shey said. "We need more buses, not less."