For the first time in a century, the Queens bus network is getting a makeover. The shiny new draft plan was unveiled by the MTA on Tuesday, following a series of town halls and online surveys of residents across the borough. Changes taken into account call for balanced stop spacing and improved crosstown connections, among other areas for improvement.
The proposed map follows a complete redesign of the Staten Island bus system last summer and soon-to-be-implemented plan for the Bronx under the MTA's Fast Forward Plan. NYC Transit President Andy Byford has described the borough-by-borough overhauls as the “beginnings of a renaissance.”
Advocates, too, praised the release of the draft plan, which is set to be rolled out by 2022. "It's important that the MTA is delivering now on promises made to fully redesign the bus network," Danny Pearlstein, a spokesperson for the Riders Alliance, told Gothamist. "Overall that's progress for bus riders because bus routing should reflect contemporary needs, not the needs of past."
The Queens bus network is long overdue for a redrawing, as the borough's routes have remained essentially unchanged since they were converted from old trolly lines or consolidated from private bus companies in the early 20th century. "Many of those companies served three central hubs in Queens, leading to three separate spoke-and-wheel networks to Flushing, Jamaica and Long Island City that severely limited the coverage area," the MTA notes.
The new routes aim to improve connectivity at major population centers and to connect existing and future accessible subway stations, the agency said, while also increasing speeds for the lagging system. Average bus speeds in Queens have dropped more than three percent since 2015, as ridership has declined more than five percent, in line with citywide trends.
Mayor Bill de Blasio has vowed to increase bus speeds across the city by 25 percent by the end of 2020. Accomplishing this, experts say, will likely involve additional busways, modeled after the successful pilot program on 14th Street in Manhattan.
While the mayor has said he's not ready to endorse any future vehicle restrictions, transit advocates hope that the new redesign plans will push the current administration to introduce new transit-first street changes in the borough.
"It sets the stage for that," Pearlstein said. "The miracle on 14th Street proves it's totally possible to transform bus service in this city is if we put political will behind this."
The MTA will solicit feedback on the draft plan beginning this month, ahead of the release of a final plan this spring. You can find the schedule of outreach events here, and an interactive map of the proposed plan here.