Protected bike paths are coming to Queens Plaza as part of a major redesign of the area by the city’s Economic Development Corporation. Construction work to transform the dangerous, overwide streets and surface parking at "the gateway to Queens" has been underway for about a year. In a project update presented to the board of the Long Island City BID last month, EDC detailed the substantial bike and pedestrian improvements that are in the works [PDF].
Currently, Queens Plaza is a snarl of traffic around three surface parking lots, hardly a fitting entrance to Queens. EDC plans to turn the plaza into a one acre park while putting in place a major street redesign. Construction started last summer and will be finished in 2012, thanks partly to a boost from federal stimulus dollars.
When the project is complete, cyclists will be able to travel safely between Vernon Boulevard and Northern Boulevard, at the foot of the Queensboro Bridge. Between Northern Boulevard and 23rd Street, said EDC VP Tracy Sayegh, cyclists will be able to ride along a ten-foot, two-way fully separated bike lane running in a landscaped median along Queens Plaza North. A pedestrian path will run adjacent to the bike lane.
Between 23rd Street and 21st Street, said Sayegh, less space is available, so the plan calls for a shared bike-ped path. That multipurpose path will then be extended to Vernon Boulevard in the second phase of construction, following the route of an existing, but inadequate, path. EDC worked closely with DOT to plan the street redesign, and the lane is designed to connect with the rest of the Queens bike network.
The redesign features ample pedestrian safety improvements, too, said Sayegh. Signal retiming will give people more time to cross the street while new medians will serve as pedestrian refuges on both Queens Plaza North and Queens Plaza South. Currently, she said, most pedestrians cross those streets using a subway station overpass rather than brave the at-grade crossing.
It’s encouraging that this project removes three parking lots and doesn’t replace the parking elsewhere. In a neighborhood with so much attractive transit, said Sayegh, the city should be supporting non-automotive modes of travel. If the market demands parking, she said, the market will build garages, as it does across the river in Midtown. That statement seems to be a major departure from the standard EDC position on parking, which includes vigorous public sector activism to ensure that parking is provided beyond what the market demands.