Flushing Transpo Project Boosted Safety While Curbing Congestion

This sidewalk extension, part of a broader package of improvements in Downtown Flushing, provides badly needed space to walk along Main Street. Image: NYC DOT

It might not be as bold or attention-grabbing as the overhaul of Times Square and Herald Square, but a set of changes made to New York City’s third-busiest pedestrian intersection is having its own quiet success. In Downtown Flushing, a 2010 project that expanded sidewalks, daylighted dangerous intersections, and introduced numerous turn restrictions is boosting safety even while traffic flows more smoothly, according to a new evaluation from NYC DOT [PDF].

Downtown Flushing’s streets needed an upgrade perhaps more than anywhere else in Queens. The Main Street subway station, fed by 21 bus routes, is the busiest outside Manhattan. In one 12-hour period, DOT counted 97,000 pedestrians on a single block of Main Street. And in 2009, more pedestrians were hit by cars at the corner of Union Street and Northern Boulevard than any other location in the borough.

Few of the changes installed by DOT in July of 2010 reshaped the street, but together, they have noticeably improved how the area’s transportation system functions. In four locations, DOT used paint and bollards to expand the sidewalk, creating 700 square feet of new pedestrian space. At seven locations, parking spaces were removed to daylight intersections and improve visibility. New turn restrictions at five intersections reduced conflicts between automobiles and pedestrians crossing the street, but buses are allowed through at certain locations.

The overall safety effect has been substantial, according to DOT’s recently released evaluation. Crashes with injuries declined by 20 percent in the study area (Prince Street to Bowne Street, 35th Avenue to Sanford Avenue). Total injuries fell by 29 percent. Drivers and their passengers benefited the most from the safety gains, with injuries falling by more than a half. The improvement to pedestrian safety was more modest, with only an eight percent reduction.

The safety upgrades didn’t delay bus riders or motorists, either. The level of service — a measure of congestion that is often used to justify widening roads and otherwise degrade the pedestrian environment — improved at nine out of 19 intersections studied and remained unchanged elsewhere. Average traffic speeds increased on almost all of Flushing’s clogged streets.

There’s much more that can be done for this critical transit and pedestrian hub, however. Safety is still a major concern. Two weeks ago, two pedestrians were struck and killed by drivers in Downtown Flushing in just two days. And anyone who’s walked in the neighborhood knows that the sidewalks remain full to bursting. With its overflowing pedestrian corridors and high-volume transit network, the heart of Flushing needs the kind of change that DOT has brought to the heart of Manhattan: bold commitments to bettering the public realm.

  • Joe R.

    I noticed how much more orderly things were the last time I was there. I really think they should totally ban cars from the several block square CBD. There really isn’t much parking for them there anyway. Plentiful municipal parking exists a few blocks away. Through traffic could be diverted to streets with less bus traffic. Buses really should be prioritized because this is the biggest subway to bus hub in the entire borough, possibly in the entire city.

  • carma

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus 
    Depends on the time of day.  The muni lots get full QUICKLY.  the problem with flushing is mass transit is only served by the 7.  (i dont consider buses in queens very efficient)  on top of that most folks who come to flushing really DO come from areas without mass transit so cars are unfortunately the only way to get there.

  • Andrew

    @d8d46f16f380afef59ca318522397233:disqus So all those people who ride buses to Flushing are figments of my imagination? (Just because you don’t like buses don’t mean they don’t exist.)

    I think @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus ‘s approach is needlessly restrictive, and that instead, when congestion pricing was an active proposal, it should have been presented as an option to all parts of the city, not just the Manhattan CBD.

  • carma

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus 
    Have you even tried taking a bus in these parts of queens?  seriously buses with a headway of 30 minutes is NOT what i call mass transit.
    buses that you can outrun is NOT what i call mass transit.

  • Andrew

    I used to live in Queens. I’ve ridden many of the buses. And I wasn’t the only one.

    Again, you don’t have to like them, but they exist and they have lots and lots and lots of riders.

  • carma

    @Andrew_J_C:disqus I dont know which parts of queens you live in, but part of the reason flushing has so much traffic IS because the lack of quality mass transit from folks who want to get to flushing.   Im not talking about the 7 being accessible to manhattan in around 40 minutes.  (plus its packed like a sardine can).  the problem is a lot of asian folks who go into central flushing do so for food, shopping.  but guess where most of those who drive in live.  OUTSIDE of flushing where buses dont cut it.

    sorry, but when you live in places like fresh meadows where buses really do come in 30 minute headways, then you need to walk 20 minutes to catch a bus PLUS it takes another 30 minutes to get to your destination.  How many would opt for a bus?

  • Joe R.

    Just to underscore the point carma is making, when I go to downtown Flushing, I’ll generally walk the 3 miles rather than wait for the bus. The bus stop is 2 blocks away, so there’s no issue of walking a long distance to the bus stop. The reason I walk because there is frequently a 20 minute wait.  Add in 15-20 minutes travel time, and I save no time over walking, plus I have to pay $2.25 besides. I’d probably opt to bike over walking if there was a safe place to keep my bike, but there really isn’t.

    The bus system in Queens is generally set up for subway connections.  Even that it often doesn’t do all that well. Traveling from one part of Queens to another by bus is usually at best a lesson in frustration (unless the origin and destination are on the same line, and that line runs frequently). Because of the poor bus system and very sparse subway coverage, Queens more than any other borough could seriously benefit from cycling infrastructure. Cycling really could replace a lot of car trips here.

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