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.

  • BBnet3000

    Did anyone ask Conley what sort of road design it would take for him to consider using a bicycle for some trips?

  • AnoNYC

    There’s just some roads where automobiles don’t belong (like the service road along Queens Blvd which should be dedicated to buses, have it’s sidewalk widened and retain the proposed protected bicycle lane).

    Put the parking in the main line and make it a 2×2 moving configuration. If drivers complain about traffic, eliminate the parking.

  • Simon Phearson

    I’m sure Conley would prefer to zig-zag along the side streets in order to avoid having to touch Queens Boulevard.

    It’s funny to see that CB 2 meets right where a major choke point for east-west bikers happens. When you look at the routing options in that area, it’s hard to avoid concluding that Conley’s “cyclists don’t belong on some roads” really means “cyclists don’t belong in some neighborhoods.”

  • com63

    Where do most of the safety issues occur in the current design? Is it from the main roadway or the service roads?

  • Bobberooni

    Without cars on the service road, how will you make a (safe) right turn? or service businesses on the Boulevard? Your suggestion here is a political non-starter. And completely unnecessary, given the available width.

    A bus lane isn’t so important either. Unlike Woodhaven Boulevard, Queens Boulevard has excellent subway service already.

  • Until drivers begin following all traffic laws, we should not build or reconstruct a single mile of roadway. If we don’t hold drivers to the same standard we hold cyclists, then where’s that argument going.

  • walks bikes drives

    The problem with that idea is it affects all users, including cyclists and pedestrians. Rough roads are safety issues for pedestrians when they occur near crosswalks, as well as vehicles hitting or avoiding pot holes can veer into pedestrians. Rough roads and pot holes actually affect cyclists a lot more than cars for obvious reasons. Additionally, these rebuilds are purposed to make the roads safer, not specifically for drivers, but all users.

  • walks bikes drives

    This one is easy – split signals for buses and cyclists on the service road vs cars on the main road. A car makes a right turn while buses and cyclists have a red light, but right turns have a red light when the service road is green.

    But I agree that bus lanes are not as important due to the subway, but those subway stations are not accessible stations, so buses are still needed for those with mobility issues.

  • Bobberooni

    You will now need right-turn pockets on the main road — probably doable. This solution will also limit the length of the green signal on the service road, but I suppose that won’t be a big problem.

  • You do of course understand that I am sarcastically paraphrasing the quote from the article. I no more believe this to be a good policy for drivers than I do for cyclists.

  • Joe R.

    You could have cutouts in the median for delivery vehicle parking. The delivery vehicles could park there without needing to leave the main road. That takes care of the servicing businesses part. As for right turns, I don’t feel we should allow any turns at all from the main road, either left or right. Once you get on you’re committed until it ends. That would encourage its use only for through traffic. Other traffic which needs to go on some side street could take a parallel route. Also, making auto trips more circuitous tends to discourage auto use, as many European cities have found out.

  • walks bikes drives

    Sorry, didn’t get that.

  • Bobberooni

    > You could have cutouts in the median for delivery
    > vehicle parking. The delivery vehicles could park
    > there without needing to leave the main road. That
    > takes care of the servicing businesses part.

    Except that now delivery drivers will have to wheel all their stuff down a curb, across a bike lane and a bus lane, and then up another curb, whereas previously they could unload directly on the sidewalk. All pain, no gain.

    And from the biker’s point of view, the bike lane on the left of the service road is much preferable. I won’t have to worry about delivery trucks, cars pulling in/out of parking spaces, or pedestrians who think the bike lane is an expanded sidewalk.
    > As for right turns, I don’t feel we should allow any
    > turns at all from the main road

    You’re being ridiculous. This will make life really unpleasant for anyone in Woodside, Elmhurst or Rego Park, and they will vote against any such measure.

    As was pointed out earlier, there ARE no parallel routes, that’s why it’s important to put bike lanes on Queens Boulevard in the first place.

  • Joe R.

    Probably not a great solution as red light cycles are already ridiculously long on Queens Boulevard due to the crossing distance. Adding to them so cars can turn right will only make it worse. Frankly, the long and frequent red lights are one issue this plan failed to address in the long term. Part of the 2018 plan should include overpasses for the bike lane at every intersection with a major road. That’s especially true if this treatment is given to the length of Queens Boulevard. We can make this a great, speedy, safe direct route to the Queensboro Bridge which would be heavily used but we need to take into account travel times as well as safety. Every other country where bike travel is heavily used does this. Does NYC want to make biking a serious travel option, or are they just interested in adding bike lanes for the sake of adding bike lanes?

  • Joe R.

    A compromise solution could be to allow delivery vehicles and buses on the service road. The combined volume of both would still mean pretty low average traffic levels. As for making life more unpleasant for people in Woodside, Elmhurst, or Rego Park, how many of those people even own a car or drive on a daily basis? The problem with NYC community boards composed mostly of rich elites is the windshield perspective. They drive, and they think everyone else does, too. You might find there would be more support for making it more difficult to drive than not if the end result makes it more pleasant for people on foot. That’s really the majority in those areas.

    Yes, there are no parallel routes but with bike lanes in place most of those who might now drive could bike instead. Isn’t that part of the point of bike lanes — to get people who would otherwise drive to bike instead? And if NYC got rid of its stupid electric bike ban then bikes might be seriously useful even for trips with a lot of cargo. An electric cargo bike could easily move a few weeks of groceries for the average family, for example.

  • Simon Phearson

    It might be “ridiculous” to suggest that we make travel by car along a corridor that is well-served by transit so inconvenient that drivers will approach QBlvd the same way cyclists do now (i.e., to be avoided at all costs), just because no driver would stand for it. But there’s an essential truth in suggesting it, which is that making driving inconvenient is an important part of making our streets safe and our communities livable.

  • AnoNYC

    Making a right turn is entirely possible with traffic signals that will only allow automobiles to proceed if the BRT lane (service road) clear. When buses come close, all lights except the bus lane should be red. Otherwise the signal will operate normally.

    Businesses can still load from loading zones along the main line as they currently do from the sidewalk. Cutouts could work if parking was eliminated.

    Bus lanes are important in attracting riders from the subways to complete local trips. We also have to realize a growing population.

  • AnoNYC

    Delivery drivers don’t load onto the sidewalk, the goods must enter the store. I don’t see the distance an issue, especially not in comparison to the benefits of say BRT.

    But Queens Blvd should definitely get bus only lanes, even of they are located within the mainline. Efficient bus service could be attractive enough to reduce congestion on the subway

    This is a thought experiment.

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