March 15, 2022 By Allie Griffin
Council Member Sandra Ung is calling on the Department of Transportation to improve signage along a busway in Flushing where she says motorists are unknowingly driving in the bus-only lanes and getting smacked with fines.
Ung sent a letter to DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez last week urging the department to install larger, more visible signs to alert drivers that they will be fined if the travel along the Main Street Busway.
The busway, which was designed to speed up bus service, was established at the beginning of 2021 and covers a 0.6 mile stretch of Main Street – from Northern Boulevard to Sanford Avenue.
“While the drivers were violating traffic laws, many are doing so unintentionally because they are unaware of the busway’s existence,” Ung wrote in the March 9 letter. “I feel more can be done by the Department of Transportation (DOT) to ensure that drivers are aware of the changes, and that summonses are never issued in the first place.”
Only buses, trucks and emergency vehicles are permitted on the busway as through-traffic. The DOT prohibits all other motorists from using it, unless it is for local street access, pick-up and drop-offs, or garage access—and the operator of the vehicle makes the next available right turn off it.
The DOT began fining busway violators in early April after a 60-day grace period when the new busway first opened. A single-vehicle violation costs $50 — with fines increasing to as much as $250 for a fifth offense. Violators are caught by a camera and mailed the summons.
Ung said despite the grace period, many drivers are still unaware they’re breaking the law by driving along the busway.
She said that several residents have reached out to her office to report that they have received summonses for failing to turn off Main Street at 37th Avenue, specifically.
Ung said the signage ahead of the intersection is easy to miss and unclear. The two signs alerting drivers that they must turn off the street are “simple white signs and do not stand out in the streetscape” and are “relatively small,” she said.
“Given the congested nature of Downtown Flushing, it is easy to see how a distracted driver could overlook the signs,” Ung wrote in the letter. “Outside of those two signs, there are no other markings delineating the Busway is about to begin.”
Some drivers received multiple fines in the mail before they realized they were committing an infraction because it can often take two to three weeks for the summons to arrive by mail, Ung added.
The council member suggested the DOT install larger and more conspicuous signage or paint the busway road red to alert motorists that through traffic isn’t allowed.
“I believe the DOT can take some fair and simple steps to alert motorists to these changes without resorting to costly fines,” Ung wrote.
The busway has stirred controversy among residents since its inception. A group of local business owners mounted an unsuccessful legal challenge to stop it from being installed, arguing that it would deter customers from coming to the busy shopping zone. Former Flushing Council Member Peter Koo also opposed its installation.
There was seed money in the previous MTA $32 billion 2015 – 2019 Capital Plan to look into the possibility of the long forgotten Flushing Bus Terminal, which closed in 1954. It was originally located adjacent to the corner of Main Street and Roosevelt Avenue near the old Woolworth Department store. There is no indication that these dollars have been spent. This need has been previously documented in planning studies going back to the 1960’s. Construction of a Flushing intermodal bus terminal could facilitate a smoother transfer between bus and subway. In the 1960’s Flushing Municipal Parking Lot 1 was thought of for construction of an intermodal bus terminal. This facility would take hundreds of buses off the surrounding streets, where they discharge and pick up riders. For 58 years, generations of public officials have failed to secure any funding to support this badly needed transportation improvement.
A short term improvement could be construction of bus holding lights at bus stops. This would assist riders transferring from subway to bus when a train arrives several minutes after scheduled bus departures. Missing a bus during off peak and late night hours is frustrating to riders.
(Larry Penner is a transportation advocate, historian and writer who previously worked for the Federal Transit Administration Region 2 New York Office. This included the development, review, approval and oversight for billions in capital projects and programs for the MTA, NYC Transit, Long Island and Metro North Rail Roads, MTA Bus, NYC Department of Transportation along with 30 other transit agencies in NY & NJ)