Jackson Heights: New Front in One-Way Battle

A view of 35th Ave. in Jackson Heights, part of the DOT’s proposed one-way pair for the neighborhood

Apparently undeterred by the resounding community rejection of proposed one-way streets in Park Slope in March, the city’s Department of Transportation is proposing changing two major thoroughfares in Jackson Heights from two-way to one-way.

The proposal, which would affect 35th and 37th Avenues, will be on the agenda for Queens Community Board 3 on Thursday, June 21st, as part of a package of measures to reduce congestion in the neighborhood.

The DOT’s arguments in favor of the Park Slope one-ways were based on studies from the 1970s, and ignored more recent evidence that such thoroughfares encourage faster driving speeds, force motorists to drive more to get to their destinations and are more dangerous to pedestrians, especially children.

There is a real problem with traffic in Jackson Heights, and Will Sweeney of the Western Jackson Heights Alliance has been studying it ever since he got fed up with the way traffic backed up onto his residential block of 73rd St.

But he and other members of the community reject the notion that a one-way pairing of 35th and 37th avenues, an idea dismissed by the DOT nearly a decade ago because of potential negative side-effects, would do anything to help the neighborhood’s chronic congestion.

A few weeks ago, Sweeney stood at the bustling corner of 73rd Street and 37th Avenue, waiting for what he knows is going to happen, what he calls a "perfect storm" of traffic.

"OK, here we go. A livery car is parking in the bus stop on 73rd Street. That delivery van parked across the street and unloading to the market on the corner is partially blocking the street. Now, here comes the bus…"

Bingo. The bus traveling southbound on 73rd St. gets stuck between the van and the car. Cars can’t turn from 37th Ave. The intersection starts gridlocking. Pedestrians scurry between the stopped cars. Traffic on 73rd St., the only southbound street for a couple of blocks in each direction, backs up more than halfway down the block (sometimes, says Sweeney, it goes as far as Northern Boulevard, three blocks away). Before too long, horns start blaring.

This neighborhood, one of New York’s most diverse, is dealing with complex stew of issues. An ever-increasingly popular shopping destination for Indian and Bangladeshi people from the tristate area and beyond, this part of Jackson Heights is a thriving commercial district. Parking is at a premium and double-parking is rampant. Ongoing BQE construction is diverting more cars onto surface streets.

But it is also a place of intense residential density, blessed with some of the best mass transit around, and the lowest car commuter rate in Queens. That Jackson Heights — the one that walks, that rides bikes, that takes subways and buses to work and school — is the one that Sweeney and his group want the DOT to foster. And they fear that one-way streets would do the exact opposite.

Photo: Sarah Goodyear

  • Clarence

    Folks in Jackson Heights may want to view our Park Slope video from earlier this year. The fourth most popular on StreetFilms…


  • Will

    The one-way pair for 35th & 37th Aves has been turned down twice in the last six years. The Community Board voted against it in 2001 & 2003. According to Steve Kulhanek, the chairman of the Transportation subcommittee of CB3Q, the vote count from 2003 was 50 against and 1 for. There is no support for this proposal in the community. Businesses, schools, churches, and residents are all against this. It is amazing that they are proposing it again. It seems like a complete waste of time and a distraction from the real problem at hand — too many destination shopping-motorists in a densely populated area. We need to find ways to calm the traffic and to encourage shoppers to use different modes of transportation.

  • Lauren

    Primeggia strikes again?

  • Charlie D.

    If the problem is double parking, then there needs to be (1) more enforcement, and (2) adjustment of pricing of curb-side spaces.

  • Anon

    Yes, when will Sadik-Khan rein in Primeggia?

  • Angus

    Those of us in Sunnyside who are familiar with the difficulties of keeping
    businesses afloat and maintaining social networks on 43rd Avenue (and even
    on Skillman, although there are mitigating factors on Skillman) will know
    that that’s a bad idea. The increased danger is another important reason
    to oppose the plan. If you know people in Jackson Heights, please tell
    them to support the community leaders who are fighting this proposal.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Hey, I wrote that there, not here! Who reposted my comments?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    To clarify for those who aren’t familiar with Sunnyside: 43rd and Skillman Avenues are one-way, and fairly analogous to Eighth and Sixth Avenues in Park Slope, except that they’re partly commercial. 43rd Avenue has a very high rate of failed stores and restaurants, particularly in the few blocks east of 48th Street, and it seems pretty clear to me that it’s at least partly due to it being one-way. That strip in particular feels very unpleasant to walk down, and I avoid it as much as possible, but the rest of the avenue would be much more pleasant if it weren’t used by the DOT as an auxiliary route to the Queensborough Bridge.

    The corner of 43rd and 51st is also where a friend of mine was waiting to cross when a motorcycle and car collided. My friend was knocked into the side of a parked van by the motorcycle and disabled for several months; the motorcyclist was killed.

    If this plan for Jackson Heights is implemented, I expect that 35th and 37th Avenues will go from being neighborhood streets to being on and off ramps for the BQE, and their quality of life will deteriorate to the level of 43rd Avenue.

  • Emily

    Is Sadik-Khan even aware of this proposal?


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