May 31, 2018 By Tara Law
The NYC Department of Transportation will install protected bicycle lanes and an array of safety improvements along the Forest Hills/Kew Gardens section of Queens Boulevard this year— with or without the approval of Community Board 6.
The fourth and final phase of the controversial Queens Boulevard redesign project—which will include traffic calming measures, protected bicycle lanes and the elimination of about 200 parking spaces— will be implemented between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike in July despite the objections of many business owners and residents.
The aim of the project is to make Queens Boulevard safer by adding and modifying pedestrian crossings, taking steps to calm the service roads, reconfiguring the intersections, and installing other safety improvements.
“We aim this summer to continue this life-saving street redesign, which has shown dramatic safety gains in the places where it was implemented along Queens Blvd in 2015 and 2016,” a DOT spokesperson said.
The DOT provided CB6’s Transportation Committee with an “informational presentation” of the redesign in May, the agency said.
The DOT made it clear during the meeting that the plan would be implemented regardless of the board’s view, according to reports. “This is a mayoral priority,” Queens Deputy Borough Commissioner Albert Silvestri told the committee, reported Streetsblog. He added that the project would move forward.
Community Board 6 Chair Joseph Hennessy decided that there was little point in putting the project up for a board vote, according to Streetsblog.
“This plan is going through whether our board is voting for it or not,” Hennessy reportedly said. “So there’s no point in taking a vote.”
The DOT said that it will present the plan to the full board on June 13, but the meeting will be for informational purposes. The DOT may also incorporate community feedback at that point.
Community Board 6 could not be reached for comment by press time.
The DOT argues that the earlier phases of the Queens Boulevard project, which were rolled out in phases beginning in 2015, have made the thoroughfare significantly safer. The first three phases go from Roosevelt Avenue in Woodside through to Yellowstone Boulevard in Rego Park.
No pedestrians or cyclists have died on the sections of Queens Boulevard that have undergone a redesign, according to the DOT. Pedestrian injuries dropped by 55 percent, and the total number of crashes dropped by 19 percent, following installation.
The community’s reaction to the rollout of each phase of the project has been mixed.
For instance, Community Board 4 voted against Phase 2 of plan–which goes from 74th Street to Eliot Avenue– due to the installation of the protected bicycle lanes. Mayor Bill de Blasio, however, stepped in and the DOT to moved forward with it.
While some praise the program for making Queens Boulevard safer, others— especially businesses along the busy corridor— complain that the project has eliminated too many parking spaces, making it difficult for customers to reach them.
The president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, Leslie Brown, launched a change.org petition aiming to stop the project in February. The petition argued that the project was primarily being pushed by bicycle advocates— including activist group Transportation Alternatives— and that the program would hurt businesses. The petition has generated 1,761 signatures as of this writing.
Critics also argue that too few cyclists ride along Queens Boulevard to justify the project. About 16 bikes an hour ride along the one-mile length between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike, according to the DOT.
Nevertheless, the DOT says that it has the support of the majority of local stakeholders to move ahead with the plan.
The agency said that it has received positive feedback about its Queens Boulevard redesign, citing data it generated from a survey conducted between September and April. The DOT said that 65 percent of those surveyed were in favor of the design. Most of the respondents— 68 percent— lived in Forest Hills or nearby.
The DOT also noted that it has been responsive to feedback from the public. The department has modified the design of slip lanes to make it easier for drivers to see in response to community feedback, the department said.
During the presentation, the DOT also went into detail about how it intends to alter Queens Boulevard as part of Phase IV.
The DOT said it will install pedestrian paths and bike lanes along the road median throughout the project area. Shorter pedestrian crossings and new crossings will be installed, as well as stop-controlled slip lanes to smooth the transition from the main road to the service road.
Along 71st Road, the DOT will install pedestrian space between medians and restrict southbound left turns onto the eastbound service road.
Traffic calming measures will be installed between 77th Ave. and 78th Ave, including speed humps on the Grand Central Parkway service road, a right-turn only lane and a crosswalk at 78th Avenue and Queens Boulevard.
Along Union Turnpike, the DOT will install a “QWICK KURB” road separator system, and a right turn lane and red turning arrow, as well as a protected bike lane.
Finally, the DOT intends to extend the westbound turn bays at Yellowstone Boulevard and Ascan Avenue.
The project will create a “footprint” for the installation of a $100 million project planned along Queens Boulevard as part of the de Blasio administration’s Great Streets Program. The project is intended to beautify and improve safety along the boulevard.
This project will include the installation of a linear park line along the median, adding protection to the bike lanes and pedestrian paths, changes to slip lanes, additional safety improvements and a Q60 bus line that runs through the median.
The first stage of the project will be implemented between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street in 2019.