The Boulevard of Life, Phase 2: DOT’s Plan for Queens Blvd in Elmhurst

Hundreds of people were injured in crashes on this 1.2-mile stretch of Queens Boulevard from 2010 to 2014. Image: DOT

Last night DOT presented a plan to redesign Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst with protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements to Community Board 4 [PDF]. While local Council Member Danny Dromm has supported the project, DOT may have to proceed without an endorsement from CB 4, judging by the reactions of key board members.

Queens Boulevard is designed like a surface highway funneling east-west motor vehicle traffic across the borough. It’s unavoidable for people walking or biking, but also deadly.

DOT installed 1.3 miles of bike lanes and safer pedestrian space along the Queens Boulevard service roads in Woodside last year. The current plan would basically extend that design 1.2 miles from 74th Street to Eliot Avenue. A third phase through Rego Park and Forest hills is slated for 2017, and then capital reconstruction of the street would begin in 2018, casting the recent changes in concrete.

Like the design in Woodside, the next phase of the redesign aims to improve safety on Queens Boulevard by making the service roads function more like local streets, with more predictable motor vehicle movement and a continuous bike lane and pedestrian path running along the median.

The basic template for the second phase of the Queens Boulevard redesign. Image: DOT

The phase two segment may be the most dangerous part of Queens Boulevard. From 2010 to 2014, 777 people were injured in crashes within the project area, including 133 pedestrians and 20 cyclists. Most of the pedestrian victims — 54 percent — were struck while crossing the street with the signal, according to DOT. The pedestrian toll included four deaths and 17 severe injuries.

In addition to the bike lane, the project calls for calming traffic on the slip lanes between the central roadway and the service roads. By adding stop signs for drivers as they exit or enter the main road, the design seeks to discourage “lane shopping” and enhance pedestrian and cyclist safety.

DOT has been surveying people on the street, holding public workshops, and collecting feedback via an online portal since the fall. Of special concern are the blocks around the Queens Center Mall, where Queens Boulevard converges with Woodhaven Boulevard, the Long Island Expressway, and multiple subway entrances. In that area, the service roads are also significantly wider.

The next phase of the city's Queens Boulevard "Great Streets" project includes this dangerous and chaotic block outside Queens Center Mall. Photo: DOT
The current design of Queens Boulevard outside the Queens Center Mall. Photo: DOT

DOT wants to install a multi-lane bus loading zone in front of the mall’s entrance and shift the taxi stand further west in order to reduce conflicts between the two modes. And in what looks like an awkward sequence for cyclists, the westbound bike lane would jog over to the southern service road for a short stretch, then back to the northern side, in order to maintain the number of westbound motor vehicle lanes approaching the mall.

Westbound cyclists would approach the Woodhaven Boulevard crossing from a short segment of two-way bike lane on the southern service road, then cross over to the northern side of Queens Boulevard via another short two-way segment. Image: DOT

CB 4 Chair Louis Walker and District Manager Christian Cassagnol did not stake out explicit positions, but their questions echoed the skepticism hurled at Council Member Dromm when he spoke about the project at CB 4’s February meeting. Walker wondered why the bike lane was being proposed when “only two cyclists have been killed in this whole area.” (He was presumably referring to the two severe cyclist injuries in the project area between 2010 and 2014.)

In a tense exchange with committee member James Lisa, whose position on the bike lane bordered on total opposition, DOT’s Ann Marie Dougherty compared the redesign to Eastern Parkway and Ocean Parkway in Brooklyn. “We want people to come, we want people to use it,” she said. “We want it to be a sense of place for the community.”

In response, Lisa railed against the “threat” of bicyclists injuring pedestrians. “Only two people that were injured on Queens Boulevard — all of a sudden now you spend all this money to put a bike lane in for two people,” he said. “It makes no sense to me.”

Lisa was the only committee member in attendance last night, and there was no vote.

The meeting was the first of three between DOT and CB 4 regarding the Queens Boulevard redesign. DOT will brief the full board at its March 8 meeting and present the proposal again in April, when the board will vote on the project. DOT says the project can be implemented in June.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    I was in attendance. Yes, there was a healthy back-and-forth for a couple of points, and I personally will submit some suggestions for tweaks (and how better the DOT can convey their message on certain points), but all-in-all a great plan where I felt the major concerns were addressed. It’s not over yet, but pretty hopeful this precarious section of Queens Bl will be taken care of in June.

  • BBnet3000

    They still haven’t figured out that the green color of the bikeway should run across the slip road junctions where they are giving it priority.

    As for the bikeway switching sides, it’s plainly unacceptable and I’m not sure why they are doing it anyway. There is a short sidewalk to nowhere at the spot where they are determined to maintain 4 lanes on the service road that could be used for a bike lane. They could even work around the existing trees.

    We really need to demand good design, because if these facilities aren’t heavily used the James Lisas of the world are going to get the next Mayor to tear them out. Is he being purposely dense on what a bike lane is for by the way? It’s for people to use and feel comfortable, not just to prevent deaths.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Agreed on the path switching sides. Their idea was that it was safer and less traffic on the north side, yet our argument is that incorporating the unused space adjacent the tunnel as finished product from the get-go and to keep the consistency, once Phase III kicks in Rego Park onwards (which will be a whole new beast).

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Correction: I meant less traffic on the south side (as shown in the slides).

  • BBnet3000

    I’m glad you were there to make this argument but you shouldn’t have had to. They should have come to the meeting with a design in keeping with best practices to begin with. The side switching is even beyond a best practice issue, it completely beggars belief that it was proposed.

  • AnoNYC

    “only two cyclists have been killed in this whole area.”

    What a POS for saying this. Are 2 lives a worthy sacrifice in the name of moving automotive traffic? Apparently they are according to Louis Walker.

    Even if taking a lane away would increase automotive travel times, so be it if it means a safer road for all.

    Public health should always come first.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    ‘only 2 cyclists Have been killed’

    It almost Sounds as If he wanted more to die

  • Crazies are going to be crazy. The bigger problem will only come if DOT listens to her.

    Overall it’s a good plan and I hope it moves forward!

  • Joe R.

    I’m surprised it never occurred to him perhaps the number is only two cyclists because most cyclists avoid Queens Boulevard simply because it feels too dangerous. The idea here is more to attract lots of new riders than solely to deal with reducing a relatively small number of fatalities. Of course, the latter is a worthy goal in and of itself.

  • Joe R.

    I did a double take when I saw that. I visualized myself booking along, perhaps trying to make the light at Woodhaven. Chances are nearly 100% I won’t even notice the sharrows directing me to the other side. Even if I did, there’s a 0% chance I would actually bother switching sides. Seriously, this is as brain-dead a design as it gets. So instead of just moving along on the same side, now I’m supposed to wait for cross traffic to clear enough to cross over, then ride across, almost certainly costing me an extra light cycle to get across Woodhaven, only to have to get back to the same side one f-ing block later? Do the people who design these things actually go out of their way thinking of how to make biking slower and less convenient?

    I’m not that thrilled about the treatment of the transition zones either where you have to jog left so cars get a left turn lane, then turn sharply right after the stop line. Again, another unnecessary slow-down. Most likely I would just ride straight across if no cars are in the left turn lane, or even veer to the right of any cars waiting there if the traffic lane is clear.

    What I really want to see talked about are bike overpasses at major intersections. Putting aside my quibbles on the transition zones and switching sides, the overall design isn’t bad BUT it fails to account for the very long red light cycles at Queens Boulevard. Part of what can attract more riders is faster travel times. Ultimately we should have the design goal of making all 7.2 miles of Queens Boulevard a non-stop corridor for bikes. Overpasses wherever there are traffic lights would be a necessary part of that. Long term we should consider similar design goals for other major outer borough arterials.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    It’s muni-meters at this point. I believe the loss of parking is high may be because the DOT is hypothetically viewing both the left and right lanes of the service road at full capacity (which happens at very specific locations within the project area). Since the left-side parking lane was added as a safety measure 15 years ago, and the DOT noticed people are avoiding the meters regardless, the DOT will forego the metered parking in favor of regular on-street so motorists will transition to the right in order to make way for the bike lane on the left.

    I can see this working for this phase but it will be a different story in Phase III.

  • joan

    A road is to move people from point a to point b as quickly and safely as possible. It is not for someone’s it should not be a park or parking lot. Taking two lanes away for a bike lane for just a few people will make Queens Blvd even more congested. Already, the exhaust from the congestion makes the area unhealthy…so I’m not sure what health benefit these bike lanes will serve the area.
    I personally think these bike lanes is another political pork project… 100 million dollars for painting a few bike lanes… who is really benefiting? I rather they spend the money on paving all those dangerous pot holes.
    Councilman Dromm… you’re so out of touch with Elmhurst. Maybe you need to just stay in Jackson Hts and keep away from Elmhurst.

  • BBnet3000

    You’re thinking of a highway or arterial, and the inner lanes of a boulevard can serve this purpose as well, and will continue to on Queens Boulevard.

    The outer lanes of a boulevard are similar to most city streets in that their primary purpose is to provide access to adjacent properties. Making them a more pleasant place to be is an additional amenity that provides value to those properties and to the city.

  • chekpeds

    According to the DOT “Most of the pedestrian victims — 54 percent — were struck while crossing the street with the signal, ” Which means they were hit by turning cars. unless everyone is running the red lights,in which case th solution is more cameras.
    How many turning lanes and split phase signals will be installed to address this real problem? Bike lanes are great and necessary, but bike lanes with SPLIT phases reduce pedestrian deaths twice as much as bike lanes with mixing zones.. and split phases for left turns at two ways intersections reduce death and injuries by 77% ..
    So lets make sure DOT is doing what is really needed.. For 100 millions, Queen residents deserve it .

  • BBnet3000

    The bike lanes have to be split phase because they’re in the middle, but I think as far as pedestrian safety there would be a greater impact with signal phasing on the cross streets that people are turning off onto QB. Its a very good question whether they’re doing any phasing there. I doubt it, though maybe in 2 years when the capital project happens they will.

  • HamTech87

    Those walking from the subway stations and bus stops desperately need protection from motorists. Exhaust comes from the number of cars moving through it, not just from congestion. Make it quicker, and you get more cars and more exhaust.

  • chekpeds

    If you are attending those meetings , please ask..beg.. do whatever.. this is terribly important and you’d think that $ 100 million give them enough resources to include this .. otherwise, these corridors are not really vision Zero projects… and phasing doe into require capital just expense budget ..

  • neroden

    A “service road” should never *ever* have multiple travel lanes for cars — because there should be no through traffic!

  • rao

    DOT had f”ing better do this regardless of whether the community board is behind it. Queens Boulevard of all places is not the CB’s personal street, and these redesigns only work if they are continuous.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    Found this in today’s Metro cover page:

    Some Construction projects take you from point A to point B.
    Some redefine a neighborhood.
    Others spark creativity and inspire operations to come.
    When you’ve been building in New York City for more than 100 years, it’s an hour to build a project that does all three.

    – Skanska on WTC Transit Hub

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    * honor…ugh ruined it.

  • This is great! We’ve moved from “This isn’t Amsterdam!” to “This isn’t Jackson Heights!”

  • Miles Bader

    A road is for whatever use its users want it to be for. If that involves pedestrians wandering in the street and engaging in small talk while drivers stew in their own juices, then so be it.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    when are drivers going to stop whining and start paying the full cost of Their ‘entertainment’ ?

    when are drivers Gong to Pay the full cost of killing and maiming 50,000 New Yorkers Every year ? When are Drivers Finally going to Pay for Storing their private Death machines on public streets ? When are drivers going to Finally pay full cost tolls on the Bridges They clog ? When are drivers going to Finally Pay for the decrease in property values Their stink and Noise cause ? When are drivers going to Pay for the Early deaths Their pollution cause ? When Are drivers going to Pay the Familien of dead soliders who needlessly died for Cheap gasoline ?

    When will the small minority of drivers Finally stop leeching off the rest of us New Yorkers ? When will the small minority of drivers Finally stop killing us ?

  • jas5555

    It has been a year and I am still waiting for the DOT to make improvements for pedestrians at 51st Ave and Queens Blvd. They were so desperate to get the bike lanes in they forgot or ignored what CB4 wanted done on Queens Blvd…..pedestrian safety.