Flawed Proposals: Off-street Bus Terminals

Once in a while, someone will suggest a bus terminal in Flushing as the solution to the chronic bus and traffic congestion in Flushing. It sounds like a nice idea; separating buses and cars is bound to make both faster. However, these proposals are generally horribly misguided, for a variety of reasons. The latest one, for a bus terminal west of Prince Street, manages to get everything wrong, by moving it as far from the existing subway complex and retail hub as possible. This location makes absolutely no sense; the station’s facilities are all to the east, including a new eastern entrance that was built in 1999 to relieve crowding at the existing western entrance.

In general, I am opposed to an off-street terminal for largely two reasons:

1. In New York City, off street bus terminals, especially those run by the MTA, tend to be pedestrian dead zones.

Off street bus terminals exist in the five boroughs; the 165 St terminal and Williamsburg Bridge Plaza are notable examples. However, they tend to be located in out-of-the-way locations where transfers may not be convenient; for example, the 165 St terminal is located a full three blocks away from the nearest subway entrance. Where they do exist, they tend to create huge dead zones in otherwise thriving neighborhoods. This is excusable at Williamsburg Bridge Plaza, which is right next to the bridge’s highway-like approach; this is less appropriate at Jamaica, and completely inappropriate in a thriving neighborhood like Flushing. The addition of a giant pedestrian dead zone to Flushing would either kill the development already occuring, or stymie the development that DCP is trying to generate in Flushing West.

DCP is hoping to get around the issue by enticing a developer to cap a bus terminal with a mixed-use development. This approach is used in Hong Kong to try to reduce the impact of bus terminals on the surrounding neighborhood. However, keep in mind that Hong Kong has extremely high property prices, reaching above thousands of dollars per sq ft; property prices in Flushing are certainly high, but nowhere near those levels. Combined with the hard height limits in Flushing West due to LaGuardia Airport nearby, it might not be possible to entice developers to build both a bus terminal big enough for all of Flushing’s buses, and a development as well.

2. Bus terminals may not actually end up reducing congestion.

If you look at where they’re proposing to build another bus terminal, it is in the north and west. Let’s take a look at this diagram:

Flushing-Diagrams

As you can see, the overwhelming majority of bus traffic comes from the south and east, via Kissena Blvd. To get to somewhere north of Roosevelt Av and west of Prince St, all of these buses would have to cross not only Main St, but Roosevelt Avenue, and going northbound would have to make a left at some point. All of these buses would still be going through the most congested area bar some serious rerouting, and due to all the additional turning movements would cause additional congestion.

A good example of where turning movements cause too much congestion is the parking lot of the New World Mall located at the intersection of 40th Road and Main St in downtown Flushing. Theoretically, a parking lot for the New World Mall should ease congestion; if all the drivers visiting the mall have a guaranteed free parking space, that reduces congestion from mall-bound drivers who circle the block looking for free parking. However, because the cars are turning in a heavily trafficked intersection and must wait for breaks in pedestrian traffic to do so, the parking lot ends up causing more congestion than there should be.

This project was proposed by an anti-bus business elite in Flushing, as Cap’n Transit asserts. However, if done correctly, a bus terminal could potentially reduce bus congestion and car congestion in Flushing, without necessarily compromising transfers.

 

The Ideal Flushing Bus Terminal: The Union St Parking Garage

FlusshingCurrent

The Union St Parking Garage is bounded by 37 Av, 138 St, 39 Av, and Union St. As a parking lot, it’s ripe for redevelopment, and a bus terminal, especially with development on top, would be perfect. It’s a better location for this than the DCP location, because unlike Flushing West it is located in an already vibrant section of Flushing, and height limit restrictions are probably more negotiable because it’s farther away from the airport. On top of that subway entrances do exist as far east as the pedestrian walk that cuts to the Union St Parking Garage, so it’s not even that much farther from transit.

Unfortunately, the best option isn’t available because redevelopment of the parking garage is already underway. However, we can still reroute some of the bus routes through the area, like so:

FlushingNew

The key to this plan is rerouting all Main St bound bus traffic from Kissena Blvd onto Barclay Av and Union St, since the merge from Kissena Blvd onto Main St is currently the biggest cause for delays in the area. Barclay Av is lightly trafficked and would be converted to two-way, bus only operation between Kissena Blvd and Union St. The Q17 and Q27 would terminate along 138 St, while the Q25, Q34, and Q65 would stop on Union St before heading north and turning left on 35 Av to reach their existing routes, since lefts from Union onto Northern aren’t really possible.

The farthest buses in this plan from the subway are as close as the closest buses under a Flushing West plan (Prince St is as far from the westernmost entrance as Union St is from the northernmost entrance), and distances for some riders could be shortened further by creating a small pedestrian walkway between 138 St and Roosevelt Av. Not only is it more convenient for passengers than the current proposal, but it is easier to implement; all the traffic changes here, save Barclays Av, use traffic patterns already used by buses that go through the area, whereas going through Flushing West would require creative rejigging of routes; there isn’t currently an easy way to route a lot of buses from west of Main St to east of Main St south of Northern Blvd that doesn’t miss most of the dense neighborhood.

By locating it at the Union St Parking Garage site, you place passengers in a more developed, pedestrian friendly section of Flushing, as well as activate the current development going up on the parking garage site. Riders won’t be significantly farther from the subway, and speeds should increase for routes no longer using Main St. It’s definitely cheaper than the other option, which is to build some sort of tunnel for either light rail or bus underneath Main St.

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