Queens Boulevard Safety Plan Has First Encounter With a Community Board

Queens Community Board 2 transportation committee chair Joseph Conley, left, looks at DOT's plan for Queens Boulevard in Woodside. Photo: Stephen Miller
Queens Community Board 2 transportation committee chair Joseph Conley, left, looks at DOT’s plan for Queens Boulevard in Woodside. Photo: Stephen Miller

Skepticism from the Community Board 2 transportation committee toward DOT’s proposed changes for Queens Boulevard wore off over the course of a meeting last night, as board members learned more about the project for 1.3 miles of safety improvements [PDF]. DOT will return to the committee again after tweaking the plan, which appears to be on track to receive CB 2’s backing by June, in time to put changes on the ground this summer.

The meeting got off to an inauspicious start. “The headline that’s gone out is that the community has spoken,” said committee chair Joseph Conley. The more than 100 people at a January workshop DOT hosted about Queens Boulevard, he added, shouldn’t overrule his nine-person committee. “We wanted to make sure that it came to the community board.”

But as DOT presented the proposal and answered questions last night, the heat subsided. “Queens Boulevard doesn’t lend itself to what’s happening for people that live here and work here,” Conley said later. “It’s more of a transportation corridor than anything else.”

The Queens Boulevard redesign will proceed in two phases — first with temporary materials and later with concrete. Image: NYC DOT

The most high-profile component of the project is protected bike lanes running along the Queens Boulevard service roads. A member of the public urged DOT to install more substantial protection than plastic posts, but Conley had a different view. “There’s just some roads where bicycle lanes don’t belong,” he said. “Maybe Queens Boulevard is one of those places where bicycle lanes don’t belong.”

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo replied that the jumbled street grid in Woodside doesn’t offer alternative bike routes. “Cyclists are choosing Queens Boulevard whether or not we put a bike lane,” he said, “so what we’re trying to do is make that activity as safe and comfortable as possible.”

Opposition to the bike lanes didn’t come up much again last night, except from board member Al Volpe, who railed indiscriminately against jaywalkers and cyclists. “Why are we giving them all these privileges?” he asked. Volpe lost his audience after he told Lizi Rahman, whose son was killed while bicycling to work on Queens Boulevard, that “bikers should obey the traffic laws.”

Conley feared that congestion would result from DOT’s plan to keep BQE-bound drivers off the service road and to introduce sharper turns as drivers exit the Queens Boulevard slip lanes.

He also had doubts about adding pedestrian space along the center medians. “Why would you encourage people to walk out into the middle of all that traffic?” Conley asked. “We already have wide sidewalks.” Russo said that while the initial project will consist of painted pedestrian space, it sets the stage for a capital project that can build sidewalk-grade promenades like the ones on Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway.

DOT said it had studied bus lanes for Queens Boulevard, but decided against including them in the first round of changes in the interest of keeping it relatively simple. Bus lanes are “not off the table” for the final capital project, said Nichole Altmix, DOT deputy director of research, implementation, and safety.

“We understand if people are skeptical,” Russo said. “We want to prove that this will work before layering on any additional things.”

The project will be implemented in phases. After initial changes to Queens Boulevard in Woodside this summer, DOT will move east, developing designs for two more sections on the seven-mile corridor. By the time the agency puts paint on the ground for the final, easternmost section, it will begin casting the changes in concrete in Woodside, then extend the capital reconstruction east for the full seven miles.

Conley asked why DOT isn’t proposing safety improvements to Queens Boulevard west of Roosevelt Avenue, where the roadway takes on a different configuration through Sunnyside. Russo said DOT would be happy to study it at a later date but made no commitments.

For now, the plan for Queens Boulevard in Woodside is working its way through the community board process. DOT said it is looking at signal adjustments, including leading pedestrian intervals, as part of the plan and will have more details in the future. “At the next meeting for the transportation committee, we’ll go more into depth on this,” Conley said. The full board is expected to vote on a resolution in June before its summer break.

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