Western Queens Locals Tell DOT Their Vision for Bike-Friendly Neighborhoods

Many cyclists in Queens feel theirs is the forgotten borough. Though it ranks first in size and second in population, Queens ranks third behind Brooklyn and Manhattan in bike lanes. And the existing bike lanes too rarely link up, cyclists say, discouraging bicycle use for commuting to work or for recreation.

"Queens Boulevard is the big ask," said one workshop participant. In recent years, cyclists ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2008/07/28/make-queens-boulevard-a-complete-street/##Asif Rahman## and ##http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/10/01/tomorrow-ta-rides-for-james-langergaard-on-queens-boulevard/##James Langergaard## have been killed on the highway-like thoroughfare that connects many Queens neighborhoods.

With the goal of improving bike travel in their borough, Queens residents met with city Department of Transportation officials Saturday for some bottom-up planning. The idea was to get the people who know their streets best to provide initial input for new bike lanes.

Convened by Queens Community Board 2, the meeting was the first of its kind for the city, said Hayes Lord, who directs the DOT’s bicycle program.

CB 2, which includes the western Queens neighborhoods of Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside, is strategically located to improve bicycling for Queens residents. It is home to the Queensborough Bridge, an important route for cyclists commuting to work, and with a burgeoning collection of cultural institution, it is increasingly a destination unto itself. “We definitely see that there’s a great deal of excitement for cycling in Queens and we want to be able to support that,” Lord told the roughly 50 attendees.

Cyclists gathered in groups around large maps showing existing bike lanes and conferred about traffic trouble spots.

The Queens side of the Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn was described as “atrocious,” by Helen Ho, who often bikes that route to commute between her Astoria home and office near Union Square in Manhattan. “To get to the bike lane on Vernon Boulevard you have to go across some really scary intersections,” she said.

Some participants urged the creation of a continuous east-west route. Jonathan Dunn, a former investment banker, said he regularly uses that thoroughfare for his one-hour, forty-minute recreational jaunt from his Sunnyside home to the Rockaways. “But you have to be very careful along Queens Boulevard,” he said.

“Queens Boulevard is the big ask — the dream,” said Astoria resident Ian Hardouin. “It’s a major thoroughfare and connects to many other neighborhoods.” Hardouin noted that a Queens Boulevard bike lane would be a heavy lift because the boulevard is home to many stores, restaurants and other business that depend on street parking, some of which could be lost by the creation of bike lanes.

Lord had another concern: whether Queens Boulevard bike lanes would be safe. He said DOT would like to look at a possible parallel route.

Workshop participants considered other routes, including Roosevelt Avenue, which runs under the 7 train elevated line. “Roosevelt Avenue probably isn’t the ideal place for a bike lane,” said Thomas Mair, who bike commutes from his Sunnyside home to his job at Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in Manhattan. The avenue is a busy commercial street with heavy truck traffic, he noted.

The next step calls for city transportation officials to review the advice and come back to Community Board 2 with some recommendations, possibly before summer. Installation of all the recommendations could take up to three years, Lord said.

Community Board 2 now has 11 miles of bike lanes, up from 1.7 miles in 2007, and Lord said he could envision a roughly two-fold increase once the work is done.

Expanded bike lanes have the support of local City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who told the audience that he’s become a regular cyclist in recent years.

Joseph Conley, the chair of Community Board 2, is also an advocate, backing more bike lanes, on-street bike storage and the city’s bike-share program. “The population that is riding bicycles in our community has grown very quickly in the last few years,” he said.

Conley believes bike lanes will likely become an even greater priority in the near future. “Predictions on the price of gasoline say it’s going to be around $5, so people will look for alternative ways to get to work,” he said. “The easier you can make it for bicycling, the better for bike safety and the environment.”

Nancy Silverman, who lives in Astoria and often bikes to her adjunct professor post at LaGuardia Community College, said meetings like Saturday’s were important: They showed the diverse faces of the cycling community to skeptics.

“They have this image of a 22-year-old-male, a bicycle messenger type, but when they see somebody like me, who’s a 48-year-old chubby woman, that changes the image. It’s hard for people to be opposed to someone like me biking, because they wouldn’t see me as a risk taker and dangerous.”

  • vnm

    If they can stripe bike lanes on both sides of the Grand Concourse, they can do the same for Queens Boulevard.  

  • Ben from Bed Stuy

    VNM – You are right. And the thing is, before a bike lane goes in, it is a scary, crazy place to ride a bike – whether we’re talking Queens Blvd. or any other route in the city. When DOT installs bike infrastructure, it makes it safer and builds up more cycling. So, when we ask, “Why a Queens Boulevard bike lane, it’s so crazy there!?” that’s the wrong question. A better question is, “Since it’s so crazy there, why don’t we put in a bike lane to make it safer?”

  • Ben from Bed Stuy

    I’m also curious what made this event happen in the first place, and how can we arrange for more to happen in the Bronx, Staten Island, and Upper Manhattan, the homes to some gaping holes in our burgeoning bike network. Because people in these areas are biking, and waiting for the lanes to make them safer!

  • J

    Another thing to look at in Queens is bike boulevards. There are many low-volume streets that could easily be configured to allow convenient bike access but discourage car use except for local trips. The bike lanes on 28th & 29th Streets in Astoria and LIC, which lead to the Queensboro Bridge are ok right now, but with a few diverters, speed bumps, and bike priority at intersections, these could be high-quality bike boulevards.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Queens Boulevard doesn’t strike me as place to encourage people to ride.  There must be other routes north and south of it that are better east-west candidates.

  • Joe R.

    Queens Boulevard would be the perfect place to try grade-separated bike lanes.  You even have the #7 viaduct you can use for part of the run (and do the same for Roosevelt Avenue). I’m just not seeing how street level bike lanes on that road can be viable given the huge number of turning cars, huge number of traffic signals with very long cycle times, and frankly the poor condition of most of the road. Queens Boulevard 20 years ago was actually a pretty decent bike route when the road was smoother, and there weren’t as many traffic signals or cars.  Now it’s just a hopeless mess for anything but motor traffic.

    As for other parts of Queens, we can leverage the large number of expressways we have here, and hang bike lanes off the elevated viaducts.  Same thing with LIRR viaducts.  This would facilitate covering the long distances which need to be covered to make bike use much more practical here. While I’m personally fine riding along arterials, I realize many would-be cyclists shy away from this.  Also, travel times along arterials are generally not that great unless you pass red lights because of the awful and/or completely nonexistent light timing. Like I said, leverage the huge amount of above-grade infrastructure which already exists here to make safer, faster bike routes.  I’d love to be able to ride, say, 10 blocks from my house to the LIE, get on a grade-separated bike route, and then be able to take that most of the way into Manhattan, or perhaps even to some destination further east, without dealing with cars or traffic signals.

    I also like the idea of closing low volume streets to cars. Once you do that, you can reconfigure these streets for bike traffic.  Narrow the street, use the (former) parking lanes for a widened sidewalk, get rid of all the traffic signals and stop signs, replacing them with a simple yield-to-pedestrians sign. The much narrower road (perhaps 15′) will be very easy for pedestrians to cross.

  • LENMANIACE

    Queens Community Board 2 requested the meeting and city DOT complied. I have to say the cyclists seemed pretty sophisticated about what was likely to work.

  • Ben from Bed Stuy

    Thank you, Len, for the info. Which tells us that cyclists/advocates can and should be in touch with DOT, asking for a community meeting with their local community boards. Remember, all of these projects are several years in the running, so we want to start getting the ball rolling now…especially while we have a friendly DOT looking to steadily introduce new bike infrastructure.

  • LENMANIACE

    Ben, I think it would be best to first contract the Community Board, especially transportation committee members. The sense I have is that DOT is receptive. I think the key to such a meeting is the interest of the CB. Good luck.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Queens Boulevard would be the perfect place to try grade-separated bike lanes.”

    My guess is that the cost would make this impractical, but perhaps it is worth estimating.  The viaduct could be over the space between the local and express lanes.  It would have to clear the street by 14′ 4″ to allow trucks, perhaps 15′ for a safety margin.  I’ll bet the big cost would be the footings and the ramps.

  • In the Sunnyside/LIC area there are some streets parallel to QB, however from New Cavalry Cemetery East there are almost no parallel roads.  Queens has a rather unique road system compared to other parts of the City and has a dearth of relatively straight East-West and North-South Streets.   To avoid Queens Blvd you often are relegated to narrow, twisty roads that have poor sight lines and are poorly lit at night, and that are often interrupted by train lines and highways requiring significant detours away from the most efficient direction of travel. Whereas QB is relatively straight, uninterrupted and for much of its length lies in a valley between hills making it a much more efficient route.  I have ridden QB several times and there is quite a bit of room in the local travel lanes that could be better utilized to allow for a striped lane – especially from 50th Street east to the Target Mall.  Also when bikeshare eventually makes its way out to that part of Queens you will absolutely need to have bike lanes on QB to link the several malls and shopping districts sitting along its length.  The “safety” argument puzzles me a bit: people are riding now without lanes and it is not safe, so improve safety on QB.  Also, there is virtually no safety dividend on some of the “parallel” routes.  In Central Queens most of those streets are narrow crowded thoroughfares between malls and larger housing complexes that put cars and bikes in much closer proximity to one another than on QB.

  • Joe R.

    @twitter-49430708:disqus What you describe is pretty much the problem with most of Queens-basically if you’re going any distance, then arterials like Queens Boulevard are really the only viable routes. The problem is these arterials are also the only viable routes for motor traffic as well, and are therefore heavily used. I couldn’t imagine that it would be feasible removing a traffic lane on, say, Northern Boulevard or Union Turnpike, given the traffic volumes there. That might be possible to do on Queens Boulevard, although a myriad of other problems make QB less than ideal for biking. I think it’s at least worth estimating what it would cost to build grade-separated lanes on QB.  Given that it’s a key trunk route, these lanes would undoubtedly be very heavily used.

    In lieu of a complete viaduct system, I wonder about the feasibility of having protected lanes which go below grade at intersections.This neatly avoids the messy problem of turning cars and bikes interacting. It also avoids the issues of frequent stops for red lights. You would only need to go about 8 feet or 9 feet below grade. It could be a quick cut and cover job not much harder than digging a trench for a gas or electrical line. To climb such a small amount, grades of 10% can easily be tolerated, so you’ll only start descending 80 or 90 feet from the intersection. Unknown is whether or not subway mezzanines or utility lanes would interfere with this. I’d love to have someone who knows more than I do study this. I think this idea could work not only on Queens Boulevard, but on a lot of other arterials. I’ve noticed many arterials in Queens generally only have signaled intersections where they cross other arterials. This is generally perhaps every 5 or 6 blocks, meaning you’ll only need to go below grade every 5 or 6 blocks. Adding in protected bike lanes for the above-grade portions gives you practically the same benefits as a totally grade-separated bike lane, but at a fraction of the cost. You also avoid viaducts which could potentially be an aesthetic issue in some places.

  • carma

    @2555783a6f62598b6aadd2d882a4830f:disqus 
    It would be nice to have a grade separated bike lane on queens blvd except for one place of that i can think that physically may be impossible.  The overpass for the LIRR at around 69th St.  It is only a 2 lane express/local lane in each direction, and i cant see how possibly you can make a bike lane unless you were to cut onto the sidewalk.

    Other than that, the whole damn blvd could be redesigned.

  • Dgkulick

    I commute from Flushing to lower Manhattan and for me a better route (than QB) would be Grand Avenue. That runs straight from the LIE right to the Willy Bridge. I use it now but it would be better with a bike lane.

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