This could be a big year for safer street designs in Corona and Elmhurst. DOT’s plan for a protected bike lane on 111th Street is poised to improve access to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, and the agency is expected to move ahead with the second phase of its Queens Boulevard redesign. The way things are shaping up, however, it looks like DOT may have to take the initiative without waiting for Queens Community Board 4 and chair Louis Walker to sign off on these projects.
On Tuesday, two local residents spoke in favor of the 111th Street safety improvements [PDF] at a CB 4 meeting. Martin Luna said that when he and his family bike or go to the park for baseball practice, getting across 111th and its highway-like design is nerve-wracking. “If something happened to me it’s nothing, right, but my kids are more important for me,” he said. “We don’t feel safe in this area.”
But Walker denied that dangerous conditions on 111th are an impediment to park access. “We have access to the park. Don’t say that we don’t have access to the park,” he said. “The park’s not closed, it’s open all the time. It’s very used.”
Walker was not in the mood to listen to people talk about the plan, which would narrow the traffic lanes and add a two-way protected bike lane along the border of the park. “Just remember, it has not been presented to us — whatever the latest official plans are — and we’ve not voted on it, so that’s the end of that discussion for now,” he said. “I frankly am getting a little tired of hearing about [111th Street], when it hasn’t been presented to us. When it is presented to us we will see what is presented and debate it at that time.”
DOT already presented a plan for 111th Street to CB 4 twice last year, but board members have so far failed to advance it. The department has also conducted two traffic studies because the board is worried that 111th Street can’t handle traffic from major sporting events if the car lanes are trimmed. (Video captured by Transportation Alternatives volunteers during the World Series suggests this is an imaginary problem.) In addition, Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland hosted multiple public design workshops with DOT last summer.
A DOT spokesperson said via email that the department “look[s] forward to returning to CB 4 in Queens regarding 111th Street.”
Earlier in the meeting, Council Member Danny Dromm spoke about two other safe streets initiatives in the works: pedestrian improvements by Elmhurst Hospital and the next phase of the Queens Boulevard redesign. Dromm said that he anticipates DOT will propose a design similar to the section through Woodside, with a protected bike lane along the service road, and asked that community board members “try to keep an open mind to it.”
Walker wasn’t having it. “In the other districts, nobody has Woodhaven Boulevard, Queens Boulevard, LIE — all these buses and trucks,” he told Dromm. “It’s a very confusing intersection. I don’t know how to get a bike in that.”
“Well they have [cyclists] there already,” said Dromm. “So I think what they’re going to try to do is in some way make it safer for the bikes are there because, to be honest with you, whenever I go into the city… you’ll see a lot of people already riding bikes, especially mostly immigrant guys who are going to their jobs in the city basically.”
The discussion on Tuesday didn’t reflect the needs of the residents who are already biking. Nor was it grounded in fact. One board member argued that heavily trafficked parts of Queens Boulevard should not have bike lanes because “in Manhattan around Macy’s, Herald Square, you don’t have bike lanes. It would be impossible to have, it’s crazy. You don’t have bike lanes on First Avenue.” Both Herald Square and First Avenue do, in fact, have bike lanes.