Nov. 18, 2015 By Laura A. Shepard
The Department of Transportation is bringing safety features to new segments of Queens Boulevard, a notoriously dangerous road.
The latest corridor to receive DOT attention is the busy commercial stretch from 74th Street to Eliot Avenue, through Woodside and Elmhurst.
Ann Marie Doherty, DOT chief of the research, implementation and safety unit, said the agency hopes to implement safety improvements to this section next spring or summer, but they do not have a definite budget for the project yet.
The DOT hosted a workshop on Nov. 12 to solicit feedback and on-the-ground knowledge from local residents to help with their designs.
The 150 or so participants were seated at tables around giant maps of the territory and told to highlight areas for improvement.
Jennifer Harris-Hernandez, a DOT facilitator, explained to a group the many issues on the boulevard, an arterial “slow zone,” with a 25 mph limit. She displayed a subway map, bus map, bike facilities and the truck route.
This stretch contains some of the widest parts of the boulevard and the longest pedestrian crossings, such as Queens Boulevard and 51st Avenue, which are lengthened because they are at angles instead of perpendicular to the road.
One resident suggested “pedestrianizing” these intersections with “more and direct crossings.”
He said that the angled crosswalks force pedestrians to go out of their way to cross the street, while the cars get a direct path. He suggested more clearly marked intersections, with curb extensions to make the intersections less angled. He also advocated closing the slip lanes to further divide through traffic and local traffic and discourage weaving between lanes.
“Personally speaking, I have three small children and we cross Queens Boulevard every day and every day is very scary,” Erica Cruz said, as she advocated for wider medians and longer crossing times, especially at Queens Boulevard and 57th Avenue, one of the longest intersections. She suggested a pedestrian overpass and measures to alleviate the traffic caused by the malls and new condos.
Harris-Hernandez said that the majority of pedestrians are hit while crossing with the signal and cyclists are most frequently hit at intersections.
The DOT uses a variety of methods to calm traffic. These include adding visibility to a lane with diagonal stripes, creating or extending medians to provide refuge for pedestrians who cannot cross the boulevard in one signal cycle, and plastic bollards to prevent cars from encroaching on some areas. There are also several types of bike lanes, protected and not.
There were several calls among attendees to alleviate traffic at Grand Avenue and Queens Boulevard, a pedestrian-dense intersection with a long crossing.
Residents complained about aggressive drivers and many turns at that intersection. The Q58 and Q59 – some of the MTA’s slowest busses, according to the Straphangers Campaign – pass through too.
The DOT also has a “beautification toolkit” at its disposal. This includes creating plazas, public spaces, benches, murals, artwork and other way-finding signs, although doing so requires a business partner to assume maintenance responsibilities.
One resident argued that beautification serves as a safety mechanism.
“We felt that Queens Boulevard, because it’s such a hostile, alien environment as it’s currently designed, makes people act in an aggressive and unfriendly and over-speeding-type way. We feel that if we made it a little bit nicer, people might want to stay on it a little bit longer,” he said.
“Queens Boulevard is treated like a highway by drivers,” Sarah Niklic, a resident, said. “We have to convince them it’s a local road.”
Niklic presented her table’s main points and said the DOT should not have any shortage of maintenance partners for beautification. She claimed, “all of the businesses have an incentive to make this a beautiful and pretty street.”
“We talked about beautification, which I think is vitally important and I happen to think is a social justice issue for people who live in this neighborhood. And we also talked about having that funded by the giant retailers who make their home in this spot, where all of the people who live here use them, they are making a ton of money and they give us back very little. So they should give us green space, they should give us art, and they should give us all kinds of things and we should force them to do it,” Niklic said, to cheers and applause from attendees.
She believes that the businesses should install art, trees, murals, lighting, signage and other embellishments to spruce up dreary places such as the Long Island Expressway underpass.
Rachel Beadle remarked that the underpass is difficult to cross safely.
“People shouldn’t have to cross three streets to cross one,” she said, referring to the entrance/exit ramps on either side of the LIE and Eliot Avenue.
Clara Alonso came to the event to call the DOT’s attention to the dangerous situation at the intersection of Queens Boulevard and Jacobus Street. She said that students at I.S. 5 and the 51st Avenue Academy who live on the north side of Queens Boulevard often hop over the barriers in the middle of the boulevard and jaywalk across the busy road.
Many attendees called for extensions of the protected bike lanes installed in the previously redesigned segments through Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside, throughout the boulevard, all the way to Jamaica.
“We definitely want to see them continue what they started,” Jessame Hannus said. “Queens Boulevard connects all the way to Jamaica and it should be a uniform experience.”
One resident likened the improvements of phase one to a “first class ticket for vulnerable road users.”
Juan, a self-described former teenage mall-rat, said that as a cyclist, he considers the dedicated bike lane important.
In contrast, Ann Darby from the Community Board 4 Transit Committee, argued that the DOT should “forget the bike network around the city,” and install overpasses over Queens Boulevard instead.
Another resident proposed that the main bike route through the borough be diverted over to Flushing Meadows Corona Park rather than continue along the commercially-dense boulevard. He noted that there are many double-parked trucks, buses and teenagers on bikes in this area and described a ghost-bike installation on a corner where a child was killed.
One table representative spoke of the need for better curbside management and bus access at the Queens Center Mall. All of the bus routes that run up and down Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards terminate near the mall, so the area serves as a giant hub for commuters and students from southern Queens, en route to Manhattan and other parts of the borough.
Doherty said that once biking infrastructure is built, cyclist capacity increases. She said that the DOT counted more than 250 bikers on a recent day and that she’s glad to hear that a lot of people felt the previous designs could be extended.
She said that she was happy with the workshop’s turnout and hopes to use the input in forming the designs.