Last Thursday, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan and Councilman Robert Holden joined Fresh Pond Road merchants to speak out against the project, which was supposed to be installed this summer.
Earlier this month, Community Board 5 voted against the proposal.
“Even though the traffic does need to be addressed, the solution has to work for everyone,” said Nolan, who lives on Grove Street off Fresh Pond Road. “We do not want to hurt our small businesses or local residents and have something that is unworkable.”
The curbside bus lane would be in operation between 3 and 7 p.m. between Bleecker Street and Putnam Avenue, a half-mile stretch heavily used by buses heading toward a depot on Fresh Pond Road.
Among them is the Q58, one of the busiest bus routes in Queens, which serves 30,000 riders daily. However, the buses on that corridor run an average of 3 miles per hour, according to the DOT.
The city’s plan would repurpose 70 parking spaces, but would add 61 metered spaces of two-hour parking. The DOT would also consolidate bus stops, improve signal timing and create new part-time loading zones.
Holden, who sent a letter to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to oppose the project two weeks ago, said the problem with the agency’s plan is that it’s “all or nothing.”
Instead of the bus lane, the councilman recommended a series of other actions he believes would reduce congestion on Fresh Pond Road.
Many of those suggestions, like synchronizing the traffic lights and consolidating bus stops, were part of the DOT’s proposal.
Holden also recommended making more turn lanes by eliminating some parking spots near corners and better enforcement of double-parking by the NYPD.
He added that most of the congestion is caused by the bus depot, which is not wide enough to have a bus go in and a bus go out at the same time. He suggested widening that space by four to six feet.
“All we’re asking on this proposal is that you try different things first before you go to the nuclear option of putting a bus lane,” Holden said. “Let’s try all that first before hurting the businesses.”
The councilman said he wants to try those approaches for six months to a year to see how much they reduce congestion.
If all of those measures fail to improve traffic flow, he “might support” a bus lane from 4 to 7 p.m.
“But I would never support 2 to 8 p.m.,” he said. “That will kill many businesses on the avenue.”
Geoffrey Elkind, president of the Ridgewood Property Owners & Civic Association, produced a six-page report detailing their position against the project.
The group also suggested “congestion reduction solutions,” which includes a plan to divert “ghost buses” and limit commercial delivery times.
At the rally last Thursday, Elkind asserted that the bus lane, if implemented, would only increase speeds by 0.75 miles per hour.
“I honestly believe that’s not meaningful in any way that would make a difference for the bus riding experience,” he said. “It is, in fact, trivial and frankly unnoticeable.”
Business owners on the corridor also opposed the project, largely on the grounds that it would take away parking for customers and residents.
“DOT has this little blindfolded or narrow-minded thinking that if bus lanes work here, they should work everywhere,” said Andy Gouzoulis from Krisch Realty. “That’s not going to happen, it’s absolutely false.”
Giuseppe Palmeri, owner of Gemelli Jewelers, added that business owners are “fighting an uphill battle” on many fronts, including paying high wages, high taxes and high rents.
He said it feels like the city is “looking to just choke us out” by adding the curbside bus lane, which he said is unpopular among merchants, customers and residents.
“Everybody who hears this is flat out against it,” Palmeri said. “It is very unpopular because we’re going to be suffering to find parking.”
Both Gouzoulis and Palmeri asked that the DOT sit down with merchants and elected officials to discuss alternatives.
“We have great ideas on the table,” Palmeri said, “which we think should be implemented before the nuclear option.”
Should the bus lane go through, Nolan said legislators are exploring the possibility of bringing an Article 78 proceeding, which is used to appeal the decision of a local agency in court.
“But I’m certainly hopeful that the mayor will listen to the voices of this community and our elected colleagues,” she said. “We want to work with the city, we’re a very reasonable community.”
Upon hearing of the rally to delay the bus lane, Riders Alliance member Kerry Herlihy said in a statement that while Fresh Pond Road’s access to public transit makes it a thriving commercial center of Ridgewood, cars and parking spots take up too much of the road.
“As a Ridewood resident and bus rider, I couldn’t be more excited for a bus lane on Fresh Pond Road,” he said. “The Q58 is a vital and crowded bus line, and it is exasperating to be at the mercy of extreme congestion when I ride down Fresh Pond.”
DOT said it has received the feedback from business owners and lawmakers, and will take it into consideration.
“However, a robust solution is needed to fix the mobility problems on Fresh Pond Road that have plagued this commercial corridor,” a spokesperson said in a statement. “DOT’s plan is a comprehensive solution, as opposed to a piecemeal approach, which we do not believe would achieve the kind of meaningful results that the users of Fresh Pond Road need and deserve.”
The spokesperson added that the DOT has worked with the business community to address concerns, and as a result are adding loading zones and more metered spaces.
“This and other feedback from the public, including CB5 members, has helped inform and improve the plan,” the spokesperson said, “and we will continue to work with the community as we move forward.”