DOT’s Plan for Thomson Ave Caters to Cars, Not the Thousands of Students Heading to School

Queens residents are petitioning DOT to change a project that widens car lanes on a key walking and biking connection near several schools.

The current DOT plan for Thomson Avenue will widen car lanes. Image: DOT
The current DOT plan for Thomson Avenue will widen car lanes. Image: DOT

A DOT redesign proposed for Thomson Avenue by LaGuardia Community College doesn’t do enough for street safety, and Queens volunteers with Transportation Alternatives are pressing the agency to come back with a stronger plan. LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow agrees, calling on DOT to incorporate more robust safety features for walking and biking.

Thomson is a crowded pedestrian street and the site of several schools. It’s also a wide, two-way, six lane road that carries motor vehicles to and from the Queensboro Bridge, which is swamped by drivers drawn to the free crossing over the East River. The street is designed to cater to the car traffic, not everyone who works and goes to school on Thomson.

In 2013, a speeding motorist heading eastbound on Thomson drove onto the sidewalk and killed Tenzin Drudak, 16, a student at nearby Applied Communications High School.

After Drudak’s death, DOT made some engineering tweaks to nearby intersections, and last year the agency presented a larger capital project that would widen the crowded sidewalk where Drudak was killed by six feet [PDF].

But the plan has serious flaws. On the other side of the street, DOT wants to narrow the sidewalk by 10 feet. There is no provision for cycling on one of the few street connections linking Long Island City to the rest of Queens over the Sunnyside rail yard. Thomson would retain highway-like dimensions for motor vehicle traffic — with wider lanes making speeding even more prevalent.

A petition launched by Queens resident, LaGuardia professor, and TransAlt volunteer Joby Jacob seeks a deeper commitment to safe street design in an area crowded with students and workers.

This concept for Thomson Avenue by Sergio Pecanha of the Queens Bike Initiatives calls for reducing the number of motor vehicle lanes on the blocks by LaGuardia Community College. Image: Sergio Pecanha via Transportation Alternatives
This concept for Thomson Avenue by Sergio Pecanha of the Queens Bike Initiatives calls for reducing the number of motor vehicle lanes and adding safety improvements for walking and biking on the blocks by LaGuardia Community College. Image: Sergio Pecanha via Transportation Alternatives

If Thomson were “designed with vulnerable users as the first priority and moving car congestion as the secondary priority,” the petition to DOT states, car lanes would not be widened, pedestrian crossings would be broken up with median islands, and people biking to school or to work would have protected bike lanes as they approach their destinations.

LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow sent a statement calling on DOT to do better:

It would be devastating if another family has to bury a loved one because of a preventable traffic accident in this intersection. The danger here has long been known and a smart solution needs to be implemented asap – especially as fall classes are gearing up to begin next month. I stand with City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer in fighting to ensure that the redesign emphasizes the thousands of students, faculty, staff, and other area visitors that come here daily — by expanding the sidewalks in front of our campus, which can become dangerously crowded when classes are in session; opposing any attempt to widen vehicle lane widths, which is known to result in faster driving speeds; installing a new crosswalk to facilitate a direct route instead of having to zig-zag between three intersections to get across; and establishing protected bike lanes for the ever-increasing number of cyclists in NYC. While vehicles are certainly important to our city, prioritizing their ease of travel over the lives of pedestrians and cyclists, who are much more vulnerable to fatality from a traffic accident, would be a huge misstep. Another solution to ease traffic congestion here must be found.

Jessame Hannus, a volunteer with TransAlt in Queens, said Thomson is hard to avoid when biking between Long Island City and points east. “Thomson is a natural bike route toward Queens Boulevard from LIC but it is a terrifying ride,” she wrote in an email. “Drivers going on and off the bridge are given highway cues everywhere they look and behave accordingly. Going into LIC there is no safe way to stay out of the way of bridge drivers.”

A full sidewalk rebuild, as put forward by DOT, does not come cheap. If the city is going to spend the time and money on a long-term overhaul of a key connection in the Queens street network, the design has to do more for walking and biking than what DOT is proposing.

Updated at 3:00 p.m. to include the statement from Gail Mellow and quote from Jessame Hannus.

  • rao

    Widening the car lanes should be an absolute non-starter. A few years ago, DOT actually converted a street passing through Baruch College’s campus into a pedestrian plaza, but apparently community college students are still acceptable fodder for raging drivers.

  • guest

    About the petition (this one and others): is it helpful if people from other neighborhoods / boroughs sign? Or do you think local lawmakers react in the opposite way than intended if they see signatures from people who don’t live nearby, feeling like outsiders are trying to influence their neighborhood? (We’ve heard this from community boards before…) I’m never sure if I should sign some of these, and there’s no space to add a personalized comment (e.g. in some cases, that I commute through an area or explore on the weekends etc.) Thanks.

  • Reader

    In what world does Vision Zero = making sidewalks narrower and car lanes wider?

  • Is there still an NYC DOT office in one of those buildings? If so, it’s pretty depressing if this is what the agency comes up with for their literal front porch.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/thomson-ave-skillman-vandam-feb2016.pdf

    DOT’s presentation enclosed above. It’s over 18 months old, and really isn’t much of anything. FYI, Thomson feeds the Upper Roadway to go, Queens Bl and the LIE (via Van Dam) to return.

  • fdtutf

    “New York,” I believe it’s called.

  • Daphna

    The new plan gives 4 feet less to pedestrians – rather it increases the road width from 58′ to 62′ feet. This is the opposite of a safety improvement. Just say NO.

  • aarrrrrimapirate

    There’s a DOT office between 34th & 35th – but that’s technically Queens Boulevard. DDC is located on the block between 30th pl. and 31st st.

    This redesign would be laughable if it wasn’t so dangerous.

  • J

    DOT safety plan: faster cars, narrower sidewalk. Is this a f**king joke??

  • Vooch

    Baruch College pedestrian zone is a stunning success and should be a model for the street in front of nearly every school

  • van_vlissingen

    Yes! LaGuardia has students, faculty and staff that commute from NJ & CT. I’m sure they’d love your signature!

  • AnoNYC

    The city needs to take a good look at all the streets surrounding CUNY campuses. The intersection of the Grand Concourse and E 149th St, the location of CUNY Hostos, was finally transformed after several crashes which led to death and serious injury. Same goes for Bronx Community College. There are plenty of other campuses that could use some major tweaks.

  • Simon Phearson

    It’s like the sharrows they paint in the door zone all over the city. They have to know better.

  • AMH

    More like an alternate reality.

  • Readen Reply

    The rent-ur-Uber drivers are hogging the roadways, street parking, blocking crosswalks. parking on sidewalks all around that intersection.