After Hit-and-Run Death, Neighbors Press DOT to Tame Traffic in Astoria Park

Outside of the occasional special event, Shore Boulevard in Astoria Park is dedicated to cars. Photo: Green Shores NYC
Only during the occasional special event do people have priority on Shore Boulevard in Astoria Park. Photo: Green Shores NYC

Park advocates, a local civic association, and Council Member Costa Constantinides are calling on DOT to implement traffic calming around Astoria Park after a hit-and-run driver killed a woman just outside the park last month. The effort could grow much larger than changes to the intersection where the crash occurred: Pressure is mounting for DOT to reimagine the way motorists drive around — and through — the popular Queens park.

Betty Jean DiBiaso, 21, was leaving Astoria Park at about 12:30 a.m. on June 27 when she crossed Ditmars Boulevard at 19th Street. Then Nicholas Colleran, 24, struck her with his Chevrolet Impala and kept going. He later turned himself in to police, but only after filing a report that his car had been stolen, according to WNBC. He now faces charges for falsely reporting an incident, failing to stop at a stop sign, leaving the scene of a crash, and unlicensed driving.

Two days after DiBiaso’s death, reports the Queens Chronicle, the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association passed a resolution asking DOT to install traffic calming on Ditmars Boulevard between Shore Boulevard and 21st Street, an area including the intersection where DiBiaso was killed.

Council Member Costa Constantinides also launched a petition gathering support for traffic calming in the area. “This isn’t about one traffic light or one speed bump,” Constantinides said. “This is about coming up with a real comprehensive plan for the streets that surround Astoria Park.”

One street of particular concern: Shore Boulevard, which runs along the water’s edge through the western side of the park. “Astoria Park was founded in order to give people access to the waterfront, so having barriers to the waterfront, especially something that has the potential for danger like a street, it’s a challenge to the original concept of the park itself,” said Martha Lopez-Gilpin, co-chair of the Astoria Park Alliance.

“Crossing the street, it’s a little bit like playing frogger. It’s not relaxing,” said Katie Ellman, president of waterfront advocacy group Green Shores NYC. “It’s a city street that goes through the park and disconnects the park from its waterfront.”

Each summer, the Alliance hosts Shore Fest, which turns Shore Boulevard into a car-free event space for three Sundays. “If you’ve ever been to Shore Fest when we close the street, the evening time is magical,” Lopez-Gilpin said. “There’s so many people that come out to enjoy that waterfront.”

Things aren’t always so magical. Constantinides said there’s often conflict along Shore Boulevard on busy weekends because groups of motorcyclists use it as a gathering spot at the same time area residents crowd the waterfront. “We have families that want to enjoy the park, and then we have people racing on the strip,” he said.

So far, the city has only made minor changes, like prohibiting overnight parking on Shore Boulevard. A speed hump was also installed on Ditmars Boulevard between Shore Boulevard and 19th Street earlier this year. When the city installed a segment of the East River and North Shore Greenway through Astoria Park, it left Shore Boulevard as a zone for cars, and wedged most of the greenway onto an existing walkway through the park. “When you look at it, you think, ‘Why isn’t this just in the street?’” Ellman said.

“I know a lot of bike riders are frustrated using it,” said Lopez-Gilpin. “We strongly believe there should be a protected bike lane.” To make room for a bikeway, the Alliance has advocated for converting Shore Boulevard and 19th Street, a narrow two-way street on the eastern edge of the park, to one-way operation.

A completely car-free Shore Boulevard could be in the cards down the road. Advocates look to Jackson Heights, where a pedestrianized 78th Street is being rebuilt as part of Travers Park, and recent car-free expansions for Central Park and Prospect Park, as precedents. “We’re not inventing the wheel,” Ellman said. “I think it’s an idea whose time has come.”

Constantinides wouldn’t commit to supporting a car-free Shore Boulevard, but he wouldn’t rule it out, either. “I am not taking anything off the table,” he said. “We are seriously looking at any plan that would make Shore Boulevard a safer place, and making sure that the uses on Shore Boulevard are in line with the neighborhood.”

Constantinides has met with DOT about the issue, and the Astoria Park Alliance is organizing another meeting with DOT for mid-August. The online petition from Council Member Constantinides has garnered about 300 signatures so far, he said. His staff will also be at events in the park this summer gathering signatures on paper before hosting a community workshop about traffic calming around the park this fall.

  • AnoNYC

    How about aggressively calming the traffic on streets around all parks?

  • Reader

    There should be protected bike lanes, safe sidewalks, and raised crosswalks around every park in this city and they should radiate out from there. Most people experience these places on foot and on bike and most people get to them the same way. It’s insane that a street next to a park should be this dangerous.

  • Simon Phearson

    Shore Boulevard is one of my favorite places to bike. With few cross streets, no stop lights, and relatively low levels of traffic, it’s a great way to bike between 20th Ave. and Astoria Park South. It is far safer than many of the closest N-S alternatives. When I ride it, I stick to the street, not the Greenway, where I can keep up a good pace – the Greenway is not safe for 12+ mph speeds when there are even a handful of people out. Of course, I am always on the lookout for pedestrians (and their dogs, often)!

    While I think it makes sense to make it safer for pedestrians to cross to or from the waterfront, I really hope that we don’t take this relatively safe street for exercise and commute cycling and make it into a stop-and-go zone for everyone, the same way we’ve done with Central Park. I fear, for example, that we’ll see stoplights for ghosts and more unavoidable speed bumps here (there are already three) instead of taking away a lane for traffic, and I don’t trust our advocates to avoid that kind of result.

    A protected, bidirectional bike lane with more frequent, raised pedestrian crossings that people can negotiate safely without traffic signals? Sure. Something that compels people using this street as a safe bike arterial to find other, less safe routes and makes Shore Boulevard a NYPD ticket trap? Please, no – don’t force us to take 21st instead.

  • Shore Boulevard should be made car-free. Drivers often go thru there far too fast with all the kids and people walking around. It’s dangerous.

    Short of car-free, an alternate idea would be to severely restrict the roadway to just one-direction, have parking on only one side of the road and take back the other half of the street and widen the park and expand the bi-directional bike lane and put it in the street and return the current bike path to pedestrian use.

  • There are no stoplights there now. NYC DOT is not going to put in stoplights if they were to make it car-free.

  • Simon Phearson

    But that’s my point. I doubt they’ll make it car-free. It’s more likely they’ll add stoplights and speed humps, just because that’s how our DOT approaches “pedestrian safety.” They won’t calm the street or make it more pedestrian-friendly. They’ll add elements that will continue to allow drivers to use it freely.

    We keep seeing that in all of the slow zones they roll out – lazy band-aids slapped on bad road design. All to conserve parking and traffic lanes.

  • Joe R.

    NYC is probably unique in all the world in that its 20 mph zones still include traffic signals and/or stop signs. Every other 30 kph or 20 mph zone in the world manages to avoid using these blunt instruments. In general it seems whether at the behest of ignorant community boards, or out of sheer incompetence, NYC’s way to tame speeding in a section of street is to break it up with either stop signs or traffic signals. Of course, that makes the speeding worse as drivers either try to make lights, or make up for time lost at stop signs, but this doesn’t seem to phase the DOT.

  • Joe R.

    If there’s one thing NYC can be counted on, it’s that traffic signals will magically appear like mushrooms once you discover a great street to ride on. I’ve had it happen to me multiple times on streets in my area. Even worse is the traffic signals never solve any of the problems they were ostensibly put there to solve.

  • ahwr

    Pedestrians over bikes. If making it easier for someone to cross the street in their neighborhood slows down a commuter in a car, nobody sheds a tear. But that commuter on a bike and nothing changes.

  • Rita

    19th street needs to be one way… It is just too narrow and it would make crossing Ditmars and crossing 19th itself at 23 ave. much safer. Something has got to give, especially with the fireworks traffic and the addition of the ampitheater next year.

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