Take a Look at What’s on the Table for Long Island City Streets

"Option 2" for the Pulaski Bridge gateway, right, would provide pedestrians and cyclists more space and safer crossings. Image: DDC/DOT/Parsons
“Option 2” for the Pulaski Bridge gateway, right, would expand pedestrian space and create a two-way bike connection to Vernon Boulevard on 49th Avenue. Image: DDC/DOT/Parsons

Every street in Long Island City is in line for a top-to-bottom reconstruction, and as part of the project DOT and the Department of Design and Construction are proposing several improvements for walking and biking. Here’s the presentation the agencies gave to Queens Community Board 2 earlier this month, showing the preliminary redesigns. The project covers several streets and intersections, and some of the options on the table go a lot farther than others to make walking and biking safer.

With the Queensboro Bridge to the north and the Midtown Tunnel and Pulaski Bridge to the south, Long Island City is plagued by car and truck traffic. The neighborhood’s population is growing rapidly, but its streets still suffer from wide car lanes, excessive speeding, and chaotic intersections that make for a poor walking and biking environment.

DOT and DDC are looking to address these shortcomings at several places. In many cases, the city showed different design options for each location, some clearly preferable to others. Overall, there’s a lot more to like if the city follows through on the more ambitious designs.

At the foot of the Pulaski Bridge, one option would create a much better connection to Vernon Boulevard by adding a two-way bike lane on 49th Avenue. It would also make a short block of 48th Street car-free to create a more continuous walking environment. But another option includes neither of those improvements.

At the intersection of Jackson Avenue, 46th Avenue, and 21st Street by MOMA PS1, the agencies are considering three options. One would create new plaza space on 21st Street in front of the museum, while the other two settle for improved crossings without a whole car-free zone.

"Option 1" for the intersection outside MOMA PS1 would close a slip lane to create a new plaza in front of the museum. Image: DDC/DOT/Parsons
“Option 1” for the intersection outside MOMA PS1 would convert a short block in front of the museum into a plaza. Image: DDC/DOT/Parsons

At a December design workshop, residents expressed concerns about dangerous crossings where Jackson intersects with Vernon Boulevard. Currently there are a lot of irregular angles, wide crossing distances, and parked cars littering the area. The redesign would move parking spots from Vernon Boulevard to Borden Avenue to clear space for an expanded Vernon Boulevard plaza and more pedestrian space around Old Hickory Park.

Both possible designs for the Vernon-Jackson pedestrian hub would move parking spaces to Borden Avenue in order to improve pedestrian access to the park and plaza located at the intersection. Image: DDC/DOT/Parsons
Both potential redesigns for the Vernon-Jackson hub would move parking spaces to Borden Avenue and expand pedestrian space. Image: DDC/DOT/Parsons

Also on the table are wider sidewalks and bike lanes (but not protected bike lanes) on 11th Street between 47th Road and 44th Drive:

11th_street

Several more pedestrian improvements and traffic-calming measures are in the presentation — the whole thing is worth a look.

After hearing feedback from Community Board 2 earlier this month, the city plans to present a final proposal by the summer.

  • c2check

    Making 49th a 2-way bikeway would be great. That intersection is really hairy, and the connection westward confusing, but there’s a lot of space available to do something about that. This would be especially helpful with the upgraded bikeway across the bridge. And this whole area has a lot of unnecessary asphalt. I hope we can make these happen!

  • J

    Why does DOT refuse to implement protected bike lanes when they clearly have the space to do so (11th St)?? I just dont get it. Do they actually think that bike lanes full of double parked cars are good?

  • BBnet3000

    Some pretty good ideas here but j expected more out of a “complete reconstruction of LICs streets”. Even where big interventions are being made they seem to follow the recent pattern of making the median twice as wide as is needed and excluding cycling as a mode of transportation.

    Fun fact: In the presentation the “existing conditions” on 11th shows sharrows in the center of the lane, but in actual fact they’re painted in the door zone.

  • Leave the median the same size as it is now, build protected bike lanes.

    Vision Zero doesn’t have to be this difficult.

  • big nicky

    It’s possible that there are reasons and you just aren’t aware of them. For example, maybe the bus stops are an issue, or maybe more clearance is needed for turning trucks that use 11th Street, or maybe there are too many driveways. Either way this is a step in the right direction, no? I don’t understand why such outrage is warranted here. A lot of American cities in this position would be looking to widen the road and add lanes.

    A wider raised median means wider pedestrian islands

  • r

    Sure, but a lot of European cities would look at this and laugh.

  • big nicky

    Sure. And cyclists who ride Bianchis would laugh at the Diamondback my mother bought me when I was 8. But that’s no reason to throw a tantrum and tell my mother I hate her and why can’t somebody please buy her a ticket to Tour de France. These are positive changes being proposed. Is outrage the appropriate response?

  • BrandonWC

    I usually agree that incremental change is not the worst thing. However, with raised medians, bad design is literally set in stone (well, concrete). The city is not going to spend capital funds to build out a median and then come back in a few years and redo it. Whatever we get now will be with us for decades so it’s important to get it right.

  • William Farrell

    It boggles my mind that this still isn’t just standard design by now.

  • J

    The issue is that we, as humans, know how to design streets really well. The Dutch have pretty much perfected the art. However, in NYC, the people designing the streets simply refuse to acknowledge that anyone outside of NYC could possibly have insight useful here (except for a brief moment when JSK brought Jan Gehl here). As a result, the folks at DOT do the same thing over and over again (unprotected lanes) and over and over again those lanes are clogged with double-parked cars. The city repeatedly builds concrete center medians with extra spaces and then cannot go back and build protected bike lanes. It’s maddening.

    The path from no bike infrastructure to good bike infrastructure simply doesn’t need to involve a crappy infrastructure step. In fact, I would argue that building mediocre bike infrastructure is detrimental to biking, as bike projects remove driving lanes and parking (pissing a lot of people off), but the resulting bike lane is poorly designed and thus lightly used. If you’re going to spend that kind of political capital, you might as well implement best practice bike design so you have something to show for it (lots of people biking). The Prospect Park West project was a huge success because there were s many kids that used it. No parent is going to let there kid bike on most of the crap that DOT is building. The current practice at DOT is both bad design AND bad politics. And yes, I’m going to complain loudly about it.

  • big nicky

    Again, you don’t know if there are other issues (e.g. design, utilities, political, whatever) that make a protected bike lane infeasible. Have you reached out and asked?

    I agree that biking in New York is still insanely frustrating and I wish every street could have a protected bike lane this instant. But I can’t help but feel that there might be more to the story than your gut reaction. The caustic tone of “Can someone please buy the staff at DOT tickets to Amsterdam so they can see what good street design actually looks like?” reminds me of a crazy person bellowing at a CB meeting.

    Why so ugly?

  • ahwr

    It’s a 70 foot crossing with a narrow 5 foot median on a street that’s zoned for denser development in a booming neighborhood with lots of through car traffic and poor pedestrian accommodations. The median should be much wider than that. DOT shouldn’t consider narrowing it back to ~5 feet in the future, even if money isn’t an issue. 11th runs less than 4000 feet north of the pulaski bridge. It’s not a through street. Not every street should be. Also this wider section of 11th is just the first 2000 feet. An improved Vernon with a good connection to Pulaski around 48th or 49th can serve through cyclists. That doesn’t mean the design for 11th can’t be improved. Swap the parking and bike lanes on 11th and you have a narrow protected bike lane. Narrow means it will sometimes be slow. That’s okay, the through street is 700-800 feet away. Normally you’d run into problems with drains catching bike wheels, but if the road is being rebuilt you can put the storm drains ten feet off the curb. At bus stops the bike lane could raise to sidewalk level, put in some painted bumps/crosswalk to remind cyclists to yield to pedestrians heading to/from the bus stop. This might slow cyclists even when nobody is crossing. But that’s okay, this isn’t a through street. Depending on the intersection DOT can either daylight a mixing zone, install separate signals for bike and turning traffic, or install a floating pedestrian island aligned with the offset parking lane to slow turning vehicles, or some combination of those or similar safety features.

  • BBnet3000

    So would a lot of American ones.

  • Bernard Finucane

    Is the BQX supposed to go through here?

  • chekpeds

    Wide median makes it a better experience for drivers. This is the only group of customers engineers have been trained to satisfy! The robots need to be rebooted.

  • chekpeds

    By the way, no description of new signals . How many fully protected pedestrian crossings will be implemented?

  • ahwr
  • Simon Phearson

    I don’t know why you think the fact that 11th stops at the bridge means that 11th doesn’t need better bike infrastructure than what’s being proposed. It’s the most direct and safest route to/from the Queensboro bridge and most of Astoria (including the bike lanes on 28/29), to say nothing of points further to the east/northeast. Cyclists take that route all the time, rather than detouring off to the Vernon bike lane, which is “through” but provides poor connectivity to the neighborhoods it runs past (not through). It doesn’t help that the Vernon bike lane is blocked by parked cars all the time and has poor pavement conditions in LIC.

    This intersection needs better routing to/from the bridge to 11th. Unfortunately it looks like they’re doubling-down on the impractical detour via Vernon.

  • big nicky

    Wide median makes it a better experience for pedestrians too

  • chekpeds

    I mostly walk and do not like medians at all. who wants to be stuck between fast moving cars and trucks on both sides? Broadway, park avenue, WEst side highway? very uncomfortable . only helpful if the crossing is so wide that there is not other alternative..still very scary.. Would e better to provide enough walk signal to get all the way across .

  • chekpeds

    OK so if you know the other issues – which you seem to know – tell us about it and we can discuss how to best address them . At this point it is clear that “TRUST US” is not going to work.

  • chekpeds

    that’ s funny…

  • Miles Bader

    It seems like you want both. Ideally there simply wouldn’t be streets so wide that it’s a problem, but where there are, it should be possible for the majority of people to get across within the signal.

    However when you have really wide streets, it seems inevitable that there will be some people that get caught out, either because they move very slowly, or because they start crossing at a non-optimal time (or both). For those that are caught, and aren’t able to simply run across before the traffic starts moving in earnest, it would be nice to have a refuge…

  • Joe R.

    I know the idea isn’t particularly popular here, but a partial answer is overpasses or underpasses. That avoids any issues of light timing, being stuck in the median, or waiting for a walk signal to cross. So long as you still have the option to cross at the surface, I’m not seeing overpasses or underpasses as a bad thing. You can use them if you don’t feel like waiting for the light, but you don’t have to. They would be great for cyclists also for that reason. I’d personally rather climb an overpass than sit there and wait for a 60 second red light.

  • Miles Bader

    I don’t disagree with you… Pedestrian under/overpasses can work very well when excuted properly, particularly when they’re part of a larger network of grade-separated pedestrian networks, so you don’t have to go up or down at each street you cross, and when shops/transit/etc have entrances directly on the pedestrian level. They’re very common in Japan, and often very convenient.

    [It’s pretty easy to tell when and under/overpass is done well, simply by counting the number of people that use them versus crossing at street level.]

    Still, good luck selling them in the U.S. Doing things properly costs money, after all… ><

  • big nicky

    I’m only speaking hypothetically about what the issues could be with a protected bike lane on 11th street. I’m not sure what DOTs reasoning was. It may very well be just mediocrity and poor critical thinking. I have no idea. All I’m saying is maybe one should ask the question before assuming the worst, lashing out in blind rage and making nasty remarks.

  • chekpeds

    Very fair…

  • neroden

    It’s mediocrity and poor critical thinking. Period.

    Well, assuming it isn’t maliciousness.

  • ahwr

    If there’s a safe alternative nearby, less than a thousand feet away, asking cyclists to take a small detour to that safer route is far preferable to giving them a second safe route at the expense of making it safe for people on foot to cross the street. People live here. More are going to. They have no alternative. Making it safe to cross the street should be the top priority of any redesign. All the comments here arguing for a minimal pedestrian safety refuge to make room for protected bike lanes argue the opposite. That cyclist convenience is more important than pedestrian safety. Want to get rid of a parking lane to make room for a bike lane? Fine. Want to make it dangerous to cross the street? Nope. That’s just wrong.

  • Simon Phearson

    You can “ask” cyclists to take the detour, but my point is that the detour is there now, with its superior “protection,” and people just aren’t taking it. They’re not going to start taking it just because you think they should. Cyclists take 11th because it’s more convenient than Vernon, period. As such, the street design should reflect that reality – just as it should reflect the reality that people live along the street. It’s not a “through” street, but that being the case doesn’t mean that it shouldn’t be designed to be safe for all users, including cyclists (whose interests are not as opposed to that of pedestrians as you make out).

  • ahwr

    A cyclist can choose a safer route. What comparable detour does a pedestrian seeking to cross 11th have? That some cyclists choose convenience over safety is not a reason to make their preferred route safer at the expense of pedestrians with no alternative but to move to a new home, find a new job, find a new store to shop at etc…

    Streetsblog’s current featured comment:

    “Leave the median the same size as it is now, build protected bike lanes.” – Doug G.

    whose interests are not as opposed to that of pedestrians as you make out

    When the call is to eliminate a pedestrian safety feature to install one for cyclists, the interests of pedestrians and cyclists are opposed. The existing median is inadequate and does not provide safe refuge. As I’ve said, if you can get a parking lane removed to put in a protected bike lane, or install a curb side bike lane on the other side of the parking lane with drainage offset from the curb in the road rebuild that would be different. But that’s not the call I’m responding to. I’m responding to those who wish to eliminate pedestrian safety features if it will benefit cyclists.

  • JK

    Yes, exactly right. Pulaski Bridge to 11th to 23rd is by far the most sensible route to the QBB bike path. It’s most direct, and most inviting — once you get through the hell hole intersection on the Queens side of the Pulaski. A key part of the bike design equation here is creating the best connector between the QBB and Pulaski, that’s 11th.

  • Simon Phearson

    You’re just not looking at all of the relevant factors here.

    11th Street simply isn’t that wide to begin with. So adding a pedestrian refuge is unlikely to provide much of a safety benefit for most pedestrians in the first place. In addition, forgoing a pedestrian refuge in favor of protected bike infrastructure would come with the side benefit of reducing crossing distances for pedestrians even more, on top of the elimination of a lane for car traffic. Are pedestrians better served by the current, wider crossing with a refuge in the middle, or a crossing that is narrowed by something on the order of ten feet? It’s worth noting, too, that buffered lanes or sharrows invite erratic driver behavior, relative to protected lanes, so that pedestrians are put at increased risk by this kind of infrastructure. Pedestrians also tend to use unprotected bike infrastructure as a place to wait for breaks in traffic, so there’s risk there, as well.

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