By Stephen Keller

I took the Q35 twice last week. Both times, the Newport Avenue segment. Crowded. People deboarded and boarded at several stops on Newport Ave. The route must be popular (as it has been for a century, going back to the Green Bus period).

One of the things I noticed was a window poster announcing changes (no details) and a website to check what’s in store and send feedback. No details, and I venture to say that most passengers didn’t pay any attention… just more MTA bumf, like holiday schedule changes or employment notices. I now, after a little web crawling, see the lack of detail on the bus poster as just another MTA ploy to pull off changes without really revealing them in a way that would possibly upset riders. If they really wanted feedback, the poster should have had a heading saying, “We are changing this route, and you will be affected.”

Having a ferry is nice. Eliminating bridge tolls is wonderful for people with cars (even if it does little to solve congestion and emission issues), but a large number of people depend of the MTA buses and their connectivity with other buses, the 2 and 5 subway trains, and the shuttle train.

What follows is my reaction to the earlier proposal and the recent, hard-to-find website announcement of actual changes coming for the Q35:

The MTA has, over recent years, tried repeatedly to diminish bus service in the Rockaways and between Rockaway and Brooklyn… and has always been met with sufficient resistance to withdraw to “reconsider other solutions.”

The latest bit of legerdemain involves moving the Q35 from its popular high weekday, non-summer ridership (i.e., students, faculty and staff from Brooklyn College, St. Francis Prep, local and Brooklyn-based yeshivas, P.S./M.S. 114, patrons and staff of Beach 129th and Beach Channel Drive shops and medical offices, users of the 11694 USPS post office, home care workers, on election days, voters to P.S. 114’s polling place ) to replace a moribund section of the Q22 route. In addition, the MTA wants to eliminate some Q35 Brooklyn stops at convenient transfer venues that many Rockaway residents find essential.

The neighborhood newspaper article that preceded the final decision by a few months sought to justify changes— and win hearts and minds? — betrayed a staggering lack of understanding of existing bus travel on the Rockaway peninsula and how the bus system operates.

For example, the proposal said the current Q35, running on Newport Avenue, has stops two blocks apart. The relocated route will extend the distance between some stops to four blocks. To clarify: Saying that the current route has stops two blocks apart— implying that a bus makes every stop possible— is disingenuous. It does not mean that every Q35 bus stops every two blocks, i.e. at every DOT sign designating a stop. It’s not a subway train! Actual stoppages are made on demand when passengers press a button that informs the driver someone wants to de-board. Similarly, buses stop ONLY at designated (by DOT signage) spots and/or when a curbside individual at such a stop waves or signals to the approaching driver that they want to board.

(The actual consequence of this is that some buses actually run a minute ahead of schedule or a little behind. Bus drivers compensate for the former by waiting a few seconds or a minute at specific stops. Miss a bus and you’ll have to wait for the next one, usually 15 minutes during daytime hours… or dash two or four blocks at an Olympics pace to catch the one you just missed.)

“If it aint broke..”… Why shift the popular Q35 from Newport to the stretch of Rockaway Beach Boulevard to where the Q22 has trouble attracting riders? Why would a Q35 running the same stretch— with fewer stops for users, be more appealing to anyone?

The MTA wants us to think about the changes positively. As if, sure, people would have to walk further to get this new reincarnation and true, it would hurt businesses on Beach 129th and increase car congestion there… so why not also increase the distance between certain stops on RBB? Seriously, are they next going to say, “With the extra walking, some of you could drop fitness club memberships?”

When I hear “You’ll love it,” it’s sort of like a doctor telling you, “this procedure will be very painful and possibly have permanent lasting side effects but you’ll thank me later.” In those instances, I tend to be skeptical. When you hear something like that, you’d be best advised to seek a second or third opinion. But the MTA doesn’t respond to second opinions from its clientele. In fact, it camouflages its appeal for input in bureaucratic verbiage on bus windows directing anyone persistent enough to surf the web a bit.

Reasons to maintain the status quo:

  • It’s good for small businesses and patient care offices on Beach 129th St., Beach Channel Drive and their patrons.
  • People not wanting to walk the extra distance but able to drive, under the proposed changes would be tempted to go by car, increasing congestion and exacerbating parking problems on Beach 129th St.
  • Presently, the area around the Beach 116th/ Newport terminus, is convenient to the 11694 Post office, JPMorgan Chase, many medical offices on Beach Channel Drive.
  • And one final bonus from maintaining the status quo? As I said, we love our ferry. (The Q22 even has one set of westbound buses taking people from the eastern end of the peninsula to the ferry. It then proceeds to Beach 116th and Newport Ave. before returning eastward on Rockaway Beach Boulevard. That tweak enables people arriving on the Q35 from Brooklyn or the western part of the peninsula who want to go east to get off the Q35 at its present terminus (Newport and B. 116) and take a few steps around the corner to board a waiting, empty Q22. Win-win.

There’s no need to reiterate that ferries are fine, but we need good bus service. When, some decades ago, the government of the day finally took over the unlamented old Green Bus Lines, we were promised there would be no negative consequences. Moving the Q35 off Newport Avenue is certainly not beneficial to its riders.

Changing a couple of routes, renumbering another route that will certainly adversely affect ridership, extending walking distances to and between bus stops and, in general, increasing inconvenience for everyone… is that anyone’s idea of a solution? Or is it a solution to a non-existent problem?

The real problem is the Q22 does not serve people west of Beach 116th Street and replacing it with an emasculated Q35, dependent on folks used to the Newport stops, will lead to further loss of passengers … (and later, an excuse to eliminate the route entirely?)

One or two questions I’d like to ask MTA Board Members behind the changes would be:

  • Do you reside or work in postal zones 11693 or 11694?
  • Have you ever traveled on the Q35… and how many times during the period that resulted in the new plans?

As Russell Baker once said, “Usually, terrible things that are done with the excuse that progress requires them are not really progress at all, but just terrible things.”

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