Planned Q44 SBS Service and Stops (Source: DOT)
The Q44 and Current Plans
The current Q44 is one of the busiest routes in Queens and the city, linking 9,240,459 riders annually with Jamaica, Flushing, and the Bronx. In Queens, it runs through severely congested corridors such as Main St in Flushing, and Hillside Blvd, Sutphin Blvd, and Archer Av in Jamaica, while in the Bronx it makes all local stops. With the introduction of SBS, travel times will be slashed by using off-board fare payment, traffic signal retimings, and bus lanes in congested areas.
Offset bus lanes in the most congested sections of road in Jamaica and Flushing (as is proposed for Main St, and hopefully the plan in Jamaica) would be a godsend and allow significantly improved bus flows if the bus lanes work as intended and are properly enforced. In this case, curbside lanes are not an acceptable alternative; in the sections where there will be bus lanes, there are often so many bus stops that the entire curb has no parking because it is all reserved for bus stops. Curbside lanes implemented in areas like this would effectively be useless, because buses coming up to occupied stops would have to pull out into general traffic to get around bypass stopped buses, rendering the bus lanes rather pointless.
Ultimately, the plans for new bus lanes are very welcome. However, they’re not the best plan, and they certainly don’t solve all the issues with traffic congestion in Jamaica and Flushing.
What the Jamaica-Flushing SBS Could’ve Been
Original plans did not call for the Q44 to be the only SBS link between Jamaica and Flushing. Originally, as seen in these images from previous study PDFs, the Q25 on Kissena and Parsons Blvds was also considered for SBS treatment in the beginning stages of the study.
The Kissena Blvd/Parsons Blvd corridor is similarly very congested in both Jamaica and Flushing; due to the street layout of Downtown Flushing, nearly all bus routes heading from the southeast (the Q17, 25, 27, and 34) all have to merge onto Kissena Blvd and then Main St to get to Downtown Flushing. SBS treatments such as bus lanes, traffic signal priority, and prepayment would’ve helped traffic on not only the Q25, but these other routes.
To illustrate this point, here are the amount of buses entering Downtown Flushing and Jamaica on a weekday between 6-7PM:
Highlighted in these images is the path of the Q44:
As you can see, the Q44 shares its main stretches with a large number of bus routes. However, the lanes for the Q44 would not cover all of the busiest routes (in the case of Jamaica) or would only cover a short distance of the busiest routes (in the case of Flushing.)
Highlighted in the following set of images are the paths of the Q44, and the Q25:
In Jamaica, the impact of the additional Q25 bus lanes would be limited; Jamaica is already covered by a good deal of both offset and curbside lanes, as shown here in an image from DOT’s earlier Jamaica Bus study. However, it would provide bus lanes to a particularly segment of Parsons Blvd that hosts the Q110, Q111, Q112, Q113, and Q114, and would also provide bus lanes on a stretch of Sutphin Blvd that the Q44 does not serve.
In Flushing, the Q25 lanes would have a bigger impact. Most buses heading into Flushing from the south do so using the path of the Q25, from Kissena Blvd to Main St. Bus lanes on these routes would benefit the Q17, Q27, and to a lesser extent the Q65, as well as the Q25. So it is unfortunate that the Q25 seems to have been passed up for SBS improvements.
What to Do Next
Giving the Q44 SBS is good. Giving other busy routes into Jamaica and Flushing SBS service like the Q25, Q65, Q12, Q43, etc. would be even better. However, the limited nature of SBS improvements would probably only be good for a short period of time before Flushing and Jamaica would become congested again. The core of the issue is that all bus traffic in Flushing (and to a lesser extent, Jamaica) is largely funneled into a few roads that become very congested. The problem is particularly acute in Flushing, where nearly all traffic from the south heading further north than Roosevelt Av must merge onto Main St.
The only true way to solve these problems in the long term would be to both extend the subway network east, and to grade separate the busiest of the remaining bus routes. Currently, many routes from the south and east of Jamaica, and the north and east of Flushing, must go out of their way to reach the two subway hubs. Extensions of the subway, while certainly very expensive and very far in the future, would allow routes to be reconfigured in a more optimal manner so that routes would only go into Flushing and Jamaica when necessary. That being said, Flushing and Jamaica are also the two biggest commercial hubs in Eastern Queens, so even then there will still be significant bus traffic in the area.
This significant bus traffic would be best off grade separated; doing so would allow the freeing up of sidewalk space currently taken up by bus stops, and in addition would improve both surface and bus congestion. Ideally, either busway or light-rail tunnels (built to B Division subway standards for later conversion) would traverse the busiest roads in Jamaica and Flushing, with surface portals in less congested areas for diverging branches, similar to what is done in the Philadelphia and Boston streetcar systems. Such a busway system could also be configured to have turnstile-restricted fare control, thus allowing both all-door payment and potential in-station transfers to subway stations. These developments would reduce congestion and allow future growth in Eastern Queens.