Community debates Queens Boulevard redesign
by Jennifer Khedaroo
Jan 30, 2018 | 1202 views | 0 0 comments | 75 75 recommendations | email to a friend | print
As the Department of Transportation (DOT) moves forward with the next phase of its Queens Boulevard redesign project, the agency last week held a workshop to solicit public input at Borough Hall.

DOT will make changes to Queens Boulevard between Yellowstone Boulevard in Forest Hills and 80th Road in Kew Gardens.

The city began making safety improvements to Queens Boulevard in Woodside and Elmhurst beginning in 2015, before moving on to the area between Eliot Avenue and Yellowstone Boulevard last year.

“In 2017, 214 people were involved in a traffic accident, an all-time low since 1910, but that 214 is still high and that’s why we’re continuing year after year trying to make our streets safer,” said DOT Queens Deputy Commissioner Al Silvestri.

At the workshop, about 100 people were broken up into small groups to discuss concerns and offer solutions to ease traffic and increase safety.

Chief among the concerns was the loss of parking in the one-mile section due to new bike lanes. In the previous phase, many business owners in Rego Park said they’ve lost business due to the removal of nearly 200 parking spaces.

Marla Cornejo, owner of the popular Mexican restaurant 5 Burro Cafe on Austin Street, feared the same fate.

Cornejo urged DOT Queens Commissioner Nicole Garcia to visit shops in Rego Park and listen directly to owners about the decline in business since the bike lanes were installed.

“In five years, I will not renew my lease if that happens here because I won’t be able to afford to stay there,” she said. “I’m one of the better businesses there, and if I go it will be like a domino effect.”

Garcia said DOT wants to implement safety measures for pedestrians in the summer, but it depends on feedback from Community Board 6.

“I would put a big circle around Austin Street, and I would say that we’d look into all of the side streets,” Garcia said.

“I am so upset,” Cornejo said after Garcia walked away without giving a clear answer.

Steve Melnick, founder of the Friends of MacDonald Park, added that “Austin Street needs to be considered in any plan. There are a lot of businesses.”

A DOT study found that an average of 196 people use bikes in the one-mile section daily in either direction. They said the number of cyclists will rise once the bike lanes are installed, like it did in Woodside, Elmhurst or Rego Park.

Most residents at the workshop agreed that protected bike lanes were necessary, though the execution of the lanes needed improvement.

Furthermore, access to and from the bike lanes were an important issue. Residents wanted to see a way where the lanes did not just end with nowhere to go.

“Where it ends now is just a really bad stop, it’s just so abrupt,” said Mk Moore, a cyclist and founder of Friends of Forest Park.

Moore and his group also suggested creating better access to the bike lanes going in the east-west direction from Union Turnpike.

To reduce double parking, some suggested incorporating more delivery and loading zones, as long as the hours were limited. Others wanted to upgrade slip lanes by adding more signage and making cyclists yield as well.

The groups also debated whether it was wise to get rid of the taxi stand on the Queens Boulevard service road near the 71st/Continental Avenue subway stop.

They all agreed, however, that there needed to be traffic-calming measures at the intersections of Queens Boulevard and Continental Avenue and Queens Boulevard and Union Turnpike to make it safer for pedestrians, drivers and cyclists alike.

According to a DOT study, 40 people have either been killed or severely injured along Queens Boulevard between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike since 2010.

“As a cyclist crossing the intersection at 71st Avenue, you stop and look and see if the cars are going to run you over or you and the driver look at each other to see who is going first,” Moore said. “It’s unpredictable for everyone.”

“It’s a mess,” added cyclist and resident Martin Lewison. “I dress like a Christmas tree so people can see me.”

Moore, Lewison and their group discussed solution like enforcement of speeding and pedestrian and bike signals with DOT representatives Nadine Chalmers and Drew Jungkutz.

“We’ve seen very significant safety benefits during the first three portions of this project, and although this project doesn’t have to look exactly like the other projects, we’d like to bring a lot of the things that we’ve learned,” Chalmers said.

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