Boulevard of Life, Phase 1: DOT Will Add Protected Bike Lanes to Queens Blvd

The Queens Boulevard service roads will have buffer space converted to protected bike lanes under a proposal unveiled today. Image: DOT
On a western section of Queens Boulevard, DOT will convert buffer space on service roads to protected bike lanes and pedestrian space this summer. Later, that design will be cast in concrete. Image: DOT

A key section of Queens Boulevard will get protected bike lanes this summer, DOT announced today. The improvements are the first phase of a broader $100 million overhaul that will encompass seven miles of the notoriously dangerous street.

Queens Boulevard is one of the only continuous east-west connections in the borough, making it a natural biking route, but it is designed for high-speed traffic. Dozens of people are seriously injured or killed each year at its complex intersections.

The initial DOT project calls for bikeways to be striped on the boulevard’s service roads between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street by August. The bike lanes will later be cast in concrete as part of a total street reconstruction. Designs for future sections of Queens Boulevard, stretching seven miles east to Union Turnpike, will be unveiled after a series of public workshops.

DOT launched its Queens Boulevard planning process in January with a well-attended workshop in Woodside. Earlier this month, Families For Safe Streets and Transportation Alternatives rallied outside Queens Borough Hall to call on DOT to swiftly implement changes.

Advocates have been campaigning for a protected bike lane on Queens Boulevard for many years.

Lizi Rahman lost her son Asif, 22, when he was hit and killed by a truck driver in 2008 while riding his bicycle on Queens Boulevard at 55th Road. “We have to get a bike lane on Queens Boulevard. It might not bring my son back, but I would know that my son died for a good cause,” she said at a demonstration later that year. “I will do this for him and it will help save the other bikers in the future.”

Today, Rahman said she is “ecstatic” to hear about the bike lane plan. “I have been driving on Queens Boulevard for a long time and never really noticed, but after his death I noticed that there wasn’t a bike lane,” she said. “It’s a little bit emotional… I’d really like the bike lane to be named after Asif.”

From 2009 to 2013, six people, including two pedestrians, were killed on the 1.3 miles that will be redesigned first, making it the deadliest stretch of Queens Boulevard, according to DOT.

Much of the design’s success will hinge on imposing order on Queens Boulevard’s chaotic intersections and the unruly transitions between its central roadway and service roads. DOT said it aims to keep through traffic in the center lanes, reducing the tendency of drivers to cut back and forth to the service lanes to avoid congestion. Instead of “slip lanes” that allow drivers to access the service roads at speed, the design calls for right-turn lanes with stop signs carved out of the medians. The medians would also be widened to include linear walkways. Cross-sections of the plan show that it will not remove car travel lanes.

The redesign and full reconstruction of Queens Boulevard are part of the de Blasio administration’s Vision Zero “Great Streets” initiative, along with rebuilds of the Grand Concourse, Atlantic Avenue, and Brooklyn’s Fourth Avenue.

DOT is presenting the plan in detail to the Queens Community Board 2 transportation committee at 6:30 p.m. tonight.

Instead of drivers merging from the central roadway to the service lanes on high-speed “slip lanes,” the redesign calls for turn bays where drivers come to a full stop. Image: NYC DOT
  • JK

    I started working on Queens Boulevard pedestrian safety in about 1995, when I lived in a very different Long Island City. This redesign is incredibly encouraging and very exciting. If you live in Queens make sure you write your council member and CB and tell them you want big changes, and try to get to a CB meeting. Support big changes, but please do make suggestions, nit pick, critique and poke at everything DOT proposes. If DOT gets it wrong, it could take decades or a century to fix.

  • Jay

    That would make a lot of sense. Thanks!

  • Clarence, I like it! And I’m hard to please. Coming from a Vehicular Cycling background, I was an outspoken critic of NYCDoT’s designs in the beginning. But I’ve come around and NYCDoT has GREATLY improved their designs. This is another example of great bikeway engineering!

    Still, I wonder why the “pedestrian mall” needs to be so wide in the final design. Do people really walk out there? As an expert in urban forestry I do understand that the trees need a certain tree lawn width to grow big and strong. Still, I would rather see the final cycletrack made a little wider to accommodate passing.

  • Daniel

    This looks very encouraging. It gives pedestrians three refuges on that enourmous span and makes the side refuges walkable from end to end so you’ll get much less jaywalking. Eliminating the slip lanes will also make the service lanes much calmer. I wouldn’t have thought of the stop sign + turn approach, but with a tight enough turn and/or camera enforcement that could be really effective while still letting cars transition to the service lanes near their destinations.

    The bike lane will be really transformative too. In the past bike facilities on the similar Eastern and Ocean Parkways were crammed onto the sidewalk. In the case of Ocean Parkway there are slip lanes going right through this sidewalk making it unsafe for people walking and on bikes. In both cases the ‘bike lane’ is often filled with pedestrians, since it is a sidewalk, so no one in their right mind would use it on a bicycle unless their destination is on that street. This looks like a facility I’d use to go places on a bike. If this slip lane replacement works really well it might even be safe for kids, which would be huge.

  • sbauman

    Service level capacity (headway or trains per hour) is determined by: rolling stock parameters (braking and acceleration rates); train length; station dwell time and to a much lesser extend by the signal system. The signal system parameters are the accuracy of positioning trains and the system’s reaction time. A thorough analysis is contained in “Urban Rail Transit Its Economics and Technology” by Lang and Soberman, MIT Press, 1963, Appendix A.

    For typical rolling stock values and dwell times, this comes to a nominal headway of 84-90 seconds or 40-43 tph. Faster and more accurate signal systems might raise this to around 47 tph or 77 seconds.

    “for instance, Paris line 13 runs trains every 90 seconds.”

    Line 13 is a new line and used CBTC from its beginning. Lines 1 and 4 operated at 36 tph before installing CBTC. The installation was to bring these line’s service levels up to 40 tph, an 11% improvement.

    Some Moscow subway lines operate at 43 tph or 84 second headways. It uses a conventional block signalling system similar to that employed in NYC.

    “This is more frequent than anything possible in the past”

    Here’s a link to an insert in the Transit Authority’s first annual report.

    It shows the am rush hour service levels in June 1954. You will note they ran 36 tph on the Flushing Line. They currently operate 28 tph during the am rush hour, according to their schedule.

    “way more frequent than the L train during the last afternoon rush when I tried to ride it”

    The L currently operates 20 tph during the am rush hour. You will note they operated 24 tph in 1954.

    These 1954 service levels did not compromise safety. All trains were subject to being tripped, if they approached too close to the train ahead of them. Analysis shows the “keying-by” practice (going past a red signal at less than 5 mph) actually reduces service level capacity.

    CBTC’s negative impact on performance is due to the necessity for all rolling stock to be equipped with special CBTC equipment. The presence of a single train without CBTC equipment (or the inability of the CBTC sytem to detect this train’s CBTC equipment) means the entire line reverts to an emergency mode operation of 3-4 tph in that direction.

    This and the MTA’s proclivity for purchasing equipment on an as needed basis is CBTC’s achilles’ heel. It eliminates the MTA’s ability to quickly add rolling stock to a route that experiences an increased demand for service.

    The “L” train illustrates this. Only 212 CBTC equipped cars were purchased. This fleet could provide only 14 tph service levels. It took the MTA more than 2 years to retrofit additional equipment to increase service levels.

    The same problem could occur on the Flushing Line. The number of retrofitted CBTC trains will be able to handle only 30 tph. Should demand suddenly increase because increased demand because of development along Queens Blvd, it will take a couple of years to increase rush hour service to meet this demand.

  • Mitchell

    There should be more trees, a lot more trees in the center, instead of ugly concrete cornerstones and bent signs and streetlamps and fences…When entering a town like Forest Hills on the main Blvd once should know why it is named “Forest” Hills….Trees should be a prominent part of the landscape there. The center median is as ugly as sin right now when riding east towards the entry to the Grand Central parkway. And the removal of the statue, Civic Virtue on the corner now makes the whole section ugly and an eyesore. That statue should have been restored along with the fountain. And Traditional lamp posts should line the entire section of Queens Blvd.

  • Bob Kahn

    This needs to stop. The DOT is out of control and is making NYC more dangerous with their bike lanes. I have more dangerous encounters now with speeding bicycles that DO NOT observe traffic regulations than with cars.

  • While this is entirely untrue (as the writer well knows), this is nevertheless the perception of many in the general public. Most people who have this perception honestly believe it, owing to their having become inured to drivers’ rampant law-breaking. Of course, others, such as anyone who takes the time to write this sort of crap on Streetsblog, are consciously lying and are trolling.

    Nevertheless, this perception — albeit a totally false one — is something that we bicyclists have to combat. The fact is that almost all the law-breaking on the part of bicyclists causes no danger whatsoever to anyone. But it is worth repeating that the acts themselves (even if totally safe) tend to create outrage; they thus endanger our bike infrastructure, which is ephemeral by its nature.

    The unfortunate truth is that the idiot public holds our future in their hands. So we have the strategic obligation to adjust our behaviour in order to take account of their idiotic and baseless views.

  • Kevin Love

    I do not intend to let my behavior be controlled by idiots or criminals.

  • Maggie

    I think it takes a lot of nerve to read in the above article:

    ‘Lizi Rahman lost her son Asif, 22, when he was hit and killed by a truck driver in 2008 while riding his bicycle on Queens Boulevard at 55th Road. “We have to get a bike lane on Queens Boulevard. It might not bring my son back, but I would know that my son died for a good cause,” she said at a demonstration later that year. “I will do this for him and it will help save the other bikers in the future.”’

    and then open a response with “this [safety redesign] needs to stop. The DOT is out of control and making NYC more dangerous”, like the commenter did.

    I looked through his past comment history and decided it wasn’t worth engaging in a discussion. But I’m glad about the improvements that are coming to Queens Boulevard. It shouldn’t take deaths to get our city to do the right thing.

  • Realpolitik can be galling when considered solely from the idealistic point of view. But politics is a game in which one often has to deal with people whom one does not like or respect in order to protect one’s interests. Shrewdly playing politics is doubly important for a small interest group with large and powerful institutional enemies.

    If we bicyclsts take the moralistic view that you are advancing, if we ignore the political realities of the world in which we live, then the only result will be the loss of our bike infrastructure. That is unacceptable.

  • Kevin Love

    The problem is that, in reality, people who “play nice” get ignored or crapped upon.

    The political reality is that in very many places, bike infrastructure came about by protesters who were very “in your face” about not following the bigoted and discriminatory rules that were oppressing them.

    The Netherlands is a good example. The best bike infrastructure in the world. And it did not come about by cyclists playing nice. For example, see:

  • You are right to state that bike infrastructure came about in many places as a result of protest. But that’s not how it came about here in New York.

    Here bike infrastructure came about only because Bloomberg wanted it, and because he was not going to be told “no” by anyone. If bike infrastructure had not been one of Bloomberg’s pet projects, we would have but a small fraction of the bike lanes that we have now.

    We got very lucky that this forceful mayor valued bike infrastructure so highly. But that mayor is gone now; and we are in grave danger of sliding back to the status quo ante.

    The idea that we can expand our bike network by means of antagonism and pressure just doesn’t apply here, as it does in more civilised places like the Netherlands. Clearly the strategic move is to go into “defend” mode: the way forward in the context of our political reality is indeed by playing nice, and by not poking our enemies with sticks.

  • Simon Phearson

    What you’re advocating isn’t “realpolitik,” though – or it’s just incompetent “realpolitik.” Realpolitik is agreeing to a sub-optimal deal with Iran that its leaders can sell as a “win” to a hardline constituency. It’s opening the relationship up with Cuba by adjusting executive-branch designations that do not require congressional approval. It’s restoring military aid to the government of Egypt despite its having militarily overthrown a democratically-elected president (who has since been condemned to death), despite the amounts involved being largely symbolic.

    What it is not is: pushing for utter capitulation and obedience among a politically powerless and disorganized community, even and especially when contrary to what is in any of their best interests personally, in the hope that it might, just might, lead to concessions among an entrenched, powerful majority. To call what you are advocating “realpolitik” is to insult a generation of savvy and cynical negotiators who kept us from nuclear annihilation and choreographed the fall of the Iron Curtain. No; what you are advocating is pedantic lunacy.

    MoveNY was an attempt at realpolitik. The inferior bike infrastructure we’re getting now – which doesn’t protect cyclists well but does take road space away from drivers – may prove to be realpolitik. Getting the cars out of Central Park was realpolitik. And solidifying those gains is going to depend on more realpolitik – getting outer borough pols on board with an equitable tolling plan that can serve both their driving and transit-taking constituencies, convincing communities to take the next step toward bike lanes once traffic adjusts to fewer lanes or less parking, keeping UWSiders and UESiders on board with keeping cars out of their favorite dog walks, respectively – than it will on marginally reducing the number of cyclists running red lights.

  • Well, “choreograph[ing] the fall of the Iron Curtain” is not an accomplishment to be proud of, as this unleashed an era of unilateral state terror on the part of a United States which no longer needed to take account of a powerful opposing force. Long after the Soviet Union ceased to be a true proletarian state run by its organised working class and becamed ruined by an unaccountable elite, it continued to serve humanity by its very existence as a counterweight to American global hegemony. But, this is neither here nor there as concerns the present discussion.

    Bike infrastructure can survive only if politicians feel comfortable being identified as being in favour of it. For instance, we need City Council members who will be willing to sponsor legislation that can help bicyclists’ interests, ranging from curing the defects in the current bike lanes, all the way up to the Idaho Stop.

    But when City Council members take the pulse of their constituents and find mainly complaints about bicyclists, they are never going to bring in any such legislation. And no candidate is going to run on a pro-bike platform, as bike issues become political poison. Note that this is the case regardless of the merits (or lack thereof) of the complaints about bicyclists; it’s the general public’s perceptions of scofflaw bicyclists, not the underlying reality, that will determine how things go with respect to bike infrastructure.

    The sad fact is that we need the idiot majority not to hate us. And this requires us to follow the laws so as not to unduly piss them off. Aggravating, yes. But we must understand that we are not operating from a position of strength; and we must have the wisdom to adjust our strategy accordingly.

  • Simon Phearson

    As it’s been put to you repeatedly, this is not going to be an effective strategy. It is not going to work, first, because we have no reason to expect the “idiot majority” to take note of compliant behavior by cyclists or the absence of scofflaw behavior. We have every reason to expect them to continue to repeat those lines of opposition no matter how little scofflaw behavior they ever see. Second, it isn’t going to work because achieving the requisite level of compliant behavior your strategy would require to even be plausible is itself not feasible. The structural defects that inspire and incentivize scofflaw behavior are going to continue to do this, so no matter how many riders take your advice, most riders will ignore it as contrary to their personal interests. It might be worth noting, here, that many of those riders are already comfortable with the infrastructure we have, and are less personally invested in making additional improvements to the infrastructure, so they have even less incentive to go out of their way to further an agenda.

    In addition to being an ineffective strategy on its own, your advocacy of compliant behavior misses that most opponents to bike infrastructure are not really motivated by scofflaw cyclist behavior in the first place. They are, rather, more motivated by the possibility that they might lose free parking or traffic lanes. No matter how well cyclists behave, those interests will still be there, and they will continue to formulate excuses to oppose challenges to their perceived vested interests.

    That’s why a true or competent realpolitik approach seeks not to “win over” drivers, by demonstrating that cyclists are worth their concern, but getting drivers on board with changes that they perceive as furthering their own interests – while also helping cyclists. This is why MoveNY was structured the way that it was. That’s why cars no longer drive in Central Park’s northern sections. That may prove why painting wide parking lanes rather than bike lanes, when removing a lane of traffic, may prove to be a savvy move. If we’re to build better bike infrastructure and keep what we have, the only way to do it is to convince drivers that doing so will specifically help them, rather than that cyclists have somehow “earned” the privilege of being segregated from car traffic. That’s what will get the pols to change their tune – not some futile mission to change the rational behavior of thousands of cyclists.

  • Sometimes it’s possible to position bike-related improvements as improvements even for drivers. I don’t have the figures now; but I think I read somewhere that collisions for drivers have gone down on Prospect Park West and around Madison Square, as a result of greater order imposed by the bike lanes. I am completely in favour of taking this tack where it is possible and appropriate.

    But sometimes doing this is neither possible nor appropriate. There would have been no way to sell the beautiful Queens approach to the Queensboro Bridge as an improvement for drivers. Bloomberg empowered the DOT under Sadik-Khan to take space from cars and turn it over to the rest of us — bicycles and pedestrians. Furthermore, de-incentivising driving over the Queensboro Bridge (and thereby making it less attractive to avoid the Midtown Tunnel toll) was part of the plan.

    In the absence of Bloomberg, the only way that we’ll ever get something so big again is for opposition to be de-fanged. While you are right to suggest that our following the law will not completely eliminate the vocal opposition, riding in a lawful way will at least avoid providing them an easy narrative which they can use as weapon against us. To stop giving our enemies free ammunition is a necessary part of our defence of bike infrastructure, even if it by itself is not sufficient.

    And I’d be willing to grant, as you assert, that many riders are comfortable with the infrastructure we have, and that they harbour no great desire for its improvement. But even people of that mindset will be disappointed when our bike lanes start to disappear, either by lack of maintenence (such as on the Grand Concourse) or by active removal. As I mentioned, we are not operating from a position of strength; and there is no reason to assume that our bike infrastructure has to be here.

    In New Jersey, they have eliminated bike access to the bridge that carries Route 35 between Perth Amboy and Sayreville, even after bike lanes had been painted there, ostensibly because some people have jumped off the bridge. This was done despite the fact that such a response is completely inappropriate and addresses nothing about the problem. It was just politically expedient.

    The same thing can happen here, for reasons just as flimsy. We need to protect against this sort of thing by getting as many mainstream politicians on our side as possible. We can do this only by becoming a safe issue for them to get behind, which is currently not the case at all. As of right now, mainstream politicians can score points by appealing to the widespread contempt for cyclists; and it’s only a matter of time before this bites us in a big way.

    Do I think that most cyclists are going to take up my suggestion? I do not. And for this reason I am very pessimistic about the future of bike infrastructure in New York. But one person can do only what one person can do; so I try to set a good example, and to encourage in my fellow bicyclists the behaviour that is likely to do the most good for our common interests, namely riding according to the law.

  • Simon Phearson

    But it’s precisely your attitude that makes regression more likely. You dismiss strategies that could work as “inappropriate” and instead embrace one you concede is wholly futile.

    The Queensboro approach might not have been frame-able as a win for drivers. But it also wasn’t won by a league of compliant cyclists, and whether it is maintained won’t be determined by scofflaw cyclists. What will preserve improvements like that is a more sophisticated public discussion about how we design our streets and move millions of people around the city. We all walk; most of us take transit; we all value our small-feeling neighborhoods; we all want our children to be safe from crime and traffic violence on the streets. The argument for complete streets and smarter infrastructure needs to begin there, in values we share with drivers. That’s how the political debate can and must be won.

    As the debate moves in that direction, the construction of bike-specific infrastructure will become less contentious, because it’ll be less remarkable. Don’t forget that the Queensboro project improved conditions for pedestrians and transit-riders in that area, as well. Business and residents are moving into the area – that’s something we can sell. That’s a reason for the pols to perk up and listen.

    But you refuse to see this or to view it as relevant. You treat the deterioration of our bike infrastructure as a foregone conclusion. By instead choosing to scold scofflaw cyclists, you’re making the future you predict more likely, not less. It’s as though you’re committed to being a noble martyr.

    And when others point out how other communities have done exactly what we’re trying to accomplish here, which bears out the strategy I’m describing above? NYC becomes exceptional – for some reason, our only chance is to hope for visionary mayors while futilely pushing the public perception of cyclists, one stoplight at a time. It’s nonsense, top to bottom.

  • Maggie

    I agree. In light of the last two deaths of cyclists in NYC – the neurologist hit at high speed from behind, by a scofflaw driver fleeing police; and the 35-year-old man killed yesterday by a wrong way menace in a head-on collision – I think we should move past questioning whether cyclists “deserve” street infrastructure that keeps us more safe.

  • Kevin Love

    Looks like we will just have to disagree with each other.

    Because I am definitely not in “defend” mode. I want the three elements of the full Dutch model:

    1. Car-free central city (eg Island of Manhattan),

    2. Cut through car driving eliminated through residential neighborhoods and,

    3. Protected cycle paths and protected intersections on the remaining through car routes.

    Yes, this means being opportunistic when a Bloomberg or a revolution in Saudi Arabia comes along. But it also means 100% support for Families for Safe Streets (our equivalent to Stop de Kindermoord).

    It means pointing out how many people are killed by being poisoned by car drivers. And that every fine particle they put into our lungs is a lottery ticket in the car driver’s death lottery.

    Quite frankly, I don’t want to be dead because I was killed by a car driver. I don’t want to be crushed to death and I don’t want to be poisoned to death. I don’t want my children terrorized off the streets. I don’t want to live in a city hostile to people who experience constant stress because they are threatened with death on a daily basis.

    What I do want is life, health, prosperity and a city where people (particularly children) can move and interact with each other freely. It looks something like this:

    That’s the city I want to build for myself an for my children.

    I believe that creating this low-stress, happy, healthy, prosperous, people-friendly city is worth fighting for.

  • meesh

    Queens boulevard has more moguls than Hunter Mountain!


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