Jan. 26, 2018 By Christian Murray
The DOT is moving ahead with its plan to redesign the Forest Hills section of Queens Boulevard and held a workshop Tuesday evening at Borough Hall to solicit input from the public.
Despite the controversy surrounding the project, the event was a civil affair with about 150 people in attendance who were a mixture of Transportation Alternatives members, business owners and residents.
The general consensus was that the DOT should include protected bicycle lanes as part of its plan. However, while safer street crossings and other items are being sought, many made clear that a greater effort needs to be made by the DOT to protect parking spaces.
The event represented the beginning of the DOT’s outreach as it designs Phase 4 of Queens Boulevard, a one-mile stretch between Yellowstone Boulevard and 80th Road in Kew Gardens, a block east of Union Turnpike.
The DOT has already redesigned a significant portion of Queens Boulevard– from Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside through Yellowstone Boulevard—during Phases 1 through 3.
The most recent phase, between Eliot Avenue and Yellowstone Boulevard, however has drawn the wrath of several Rego Park business owners who claim that their business has suffered since the redesign led to the loss of 198 parking spaces to make way for the protected bicycle lanes.
They argue that their customers can’t finding parking and that the bicycle lanes are hardly being used.
The DOT on Tuesday divided the 150 attendees into more than a dozen groups, with a DOT representative assigned to each. The representative then discussed the existing conditions on the one mile stretch and sought feedback.
The agency noted that between 2010 and 2014 four pedestrians were killed on Queens Boulevard (between Yellowstone Boulevard and 80th Road), with 325 motorists, 88 pedestrians and 12 cyclists injured in crashes.
The DOT didn’t provide data post 2014, with the exception of fatalities. The number of deaths from Jan.1, 2015 through May 29, 2017 on this strip was zero.
The DOT started implementing Vision Zero on Queens Boulevard around the time of the decline, such as the speed limit being dropped from 30 to 25 mph at the end of 2014.
The DOT conducted a study of the number of bicyclists who use the one-mile stretch on Queens Boulevard on an average weekday. It determined that between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. 192 bicyclists ride on average in either direction.
While that equates to just 16 an hour (or 8 going in either direction), the DOT expects that number to rise—much like in other sections of the boulevard where protected bicycle lanes were installed.
The DOT said that the volume of bicyclists who use Queens Boulevard between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street (Phase 1) has increased 181 percent on that stretch since 2015.
The DOT did not provide the actual figures.
“It could be two [bicyclists] to four. I think it is important to know the actual numbers if we are going to be doing all this work,” said John O’Reilly, a Forest Hills resident, who attended the meeting.
O’Reilly was speaking to Nolan Levenson, who was presenting the DOT’s overview at one of the tables.
After the DOT’s briefing of the current conditions along the Phase 4 stretch, attendees discussed in groups improvements they would like to see. A member of each group spoke to the entire audience at the end of the evening.
Steve Scofield, an attendee who represented one group, said: “We want the highest quality bike lane possible…while acknowledging business needs in terms of parking and loading.”
Most groups wanted the DOT to add protected bicycle lanes to Phase 4, with the caveat that the agency preserve as many parking spaces as possible.
Several groups said they wanted the DOT to focus on several dangerous street crossings, particularly at Yellowstone Boulevard, Continental Avenue and Union Turnpike.
They said that the medians where pedestrians stand in the middle of the boulevard need to be looked at.
Some asked the DOT to make sure that it takes into consideration the taxi stands and bus stops when it make changes.
Steve Melnick, a Forest Hills resident and activist, said the DOT has to be careful as to the impact its changes will have on adjacent streets.
“Austin Street needs to be considered in any plan…there are a lot of businesses,” Melnick said.
Others asked the DOT to take into account future development, such as the buildings that will be going up adjacent to MacDonald Park. Trucks will be coming in and out of the area during construction and then additional residents will put pressure on traffic in the area, one resident said.
Some wanted the boulevard to beautified with trees and even wayfinding signs.
Most wanted the DOT to find ways to reduce double parking and others want better enforcement.
The DOT said that it would use the feedback as it puts the design together.
The DOT is expected to come up with a final plan by late spring before bringing it to Community Board 6.