Activist, city official spar over rapid buses proposal

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The city’s plans for a Bus Rapid Transit System tipped off a heated conversation between city Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Queens Civic Congress Executive Vice President Patricia Dolan Monday night.

Sadik-Khan visited the coalition of Queens civic organizations at its monthly meeting in Flushing and briefed the group on its capital plans over the next two years — one of the largest of which includes a Bus Rapid Transit system she hopes will streamline mass transit in areas like Queens, which are currently underserved.

“We envision a network over the next 10 years of basically what will be surface subways,” Sadik-Khan said.

Bus Rapid Transit is a system of dedicated bus lanes and other improvements that would give buses priority on the streets and streamline the process of boarding a bus.

The system is still in the planning stages, but Dolan said the DOT had failed to inform community boards in Queens of a recent planning session in Jackson Heights and accused the city of trying to keep the voices of borough neighborhoods out of the process.

“I didn’t find out about it until the night before,” Dolan said. “And when I was there, I was appalled by the presentation. It kind of made the point that the city was going to impose a set of new [bus] routes, many of which have already been rejected by local community boards.”

Dolan added she felt the DOT had failed to consider the economic impact of implementing such bus routes.

“Actually we haven’t done anything yet,” Sadik-Khan snapped back. “We’re still in the planning stages of this, no decisions have been made about what routes are going to go where yet.”

Deidre Parker of the New York City Transit Authority said notices of the BRT workshops were displayed in buses in all boroughs as well as some subway stations and were sent to all Community Boards although some might have come from the New York City Department of Transportation, co-sponsor of the BRT workshops.

She said the DOT is currently in the process of collecting feedback from communities and hopes to formalize its plans based on that feedback and its own analysis this fall.

Queens Civic Congress members also expressed concern about traffic rules regarding bicyclists, with the city making a huge push in recent years to bolster dedicated bike paths along roadways.

Sadik-Khan said the transition presents a challenge, as bicyclists were faced with a much different environment 10 years ago.

“We have to train and change the behavior of cyclists, who in the past operated under a different set of rules. For them, it used to be more of a game of survival, so this kind of change is going to take time and we’re working to make sure they understand those changes.”

Reach reporter Stephen Stirling by e-mail at or by phone at 718-229-0300, Ext. 138.

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