By Gabriel Rom

Transportation advocates gathered this weekend at the Q44 bus stop in Kew Gardens Hills to announce that they had collected more than 2,000 signatures from bus riders across Queens calling for better service along the Q44 route and throughout the borough.

The campaign, led by the transit advocacy organization Riders Alliance, urges city agencies to adopt Bus Rapid Transit, which in New York is known as Select Bus Service, along the Q44 route from Flushing to Jamaica . The proposed plan would replace the Q44 limited with the Q44 SBS.

“Queens is a bus borough, and we want to show politicians that bus riders are a legitimate constituency. We want to create a platform for bus riders and bring them together,” said Josselyn Atahualpa, a community organizer with the Riders Alliance.

The DOT is currently studying implementation of Select Bus Service along the Q44 route. Final design and implementation is expected in late 2015.

Bus Rapid Transit is described by the MTA as “a cost-effective approach to transit service that cities around the world have used to make riding the bus more like riding the subway.”

The proposal, advocates say, has three main intended benefits, all of which are meant to increase the speed and efficiency of city buses: new bus lanes, off-board fare payment and transit-signal priority

More than 30 percent of citizens travel to downtown Flushing by bus, according to an MTA survey, while the Flushing to Jamaica corridor was identified in a 2006 BRT study and a 2009-2010 BRT Phase II study as “characterized by long and slow bus trips.” That, assessment, rider alliance members say, makes this proposal all the more pressing.

Handel Forde, a Riders Alliance member, hopes this BRT proposal will set the ball rolling for others.

“Transit is a copy-cat industry, from a political/policy standpoint. No city wants to see another city performing better than them. Implementation gets copied. Improved transit is a self-fulfilling prophecy” Forde said.

Proposed BRT routes have met opposition from local civic groups across the city.

“We get a lot of NIMBYism. But with time, I’m confident that people are going to be more open to this. This is going to happen,” added Forde.

In February, 11 elected officials came out publicly in support of BRT bus lanes in their districts. Councilman I.Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) was the only lawmaker to oppose the proposed changes.

Reach reporter Gabriel Rom by e-mail at grom@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.

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