Change Is Afoot on Conduit Blvd, a Speedway Dividing Neighborhoods

Conduit Boulevard, a highway-like road in on the eastern Brooklyn-Queens border, has seen four pedestrian fatalities since 2008. Image: DOT
Four pedestrians have been killed since 2008 on Conduit Boulevard, a highway-like surface street that divides Brooklyn and Queens neighborhoods. Image: DOT

Conduit Boulevard, a wide and dangerous road where drivers speed to and from JFK Airport, could get much-needed safety improvements from DOT between Atlantic Avenue and Sutter Avenue this year.

The street is designed like a highway, with wide travel lanes and north- and south-bound roads separated by a huge median. Vehicle access from Atlantic Avenue is literally an on-ramp. In Nassau County it becomes the Sunrise Highway, which frequently rates atop the Tri-State Transportation Campaign’s list of the state’s most dangerous roads.

This surface speedway cuts through East New York, Cypress Hills, and Ozone Park, limiting residents’ access to transit and curtailing safe walking and biking options within their own neighborhoods. In the neighborhoods along the 2.2-mile stretch covered by DOT’s project, most households don’t own cars.

DOT plans to present safety improvements to Brooklyn Community Board 5 and Queens Community Board 10 later this spring. The department is currently gathering feedback on the project via an online portal.

With a 30 mph speed limit, Conduit Boulevard is one the few remaining surface streets in the city with a limit above 25 mph. Between Sutter and 90th Street (outside the scope of the current project), the speed limit is 40 mph.

Beaten paths, like this one at S. Conduit and Autumn Avenue, indicate significant pedestrian foot traffic on the corridor despite a lack of crosswalks. Image: Google Maps
Beaten paths, like this one at S. Conduit and Autumn Avenue, indicate significant foot traffic despite the lack of crosswalks. Image: Google Maps

Crosswalks are nearly non-existent on Conduit, but beaten paths on the median testify to the substantial foot traffic. Between 2010 and 2014, 319 people were injured and two pedestrians were killed in crashes within the project area.

“The long distance between crossings on Conduit reinforce the highway feel and encourage speeding,” one person wrote on DOT’s online portal. Commenters have called attention to the need for safer crossings and the potential to transform the large median into a linear park with a bikeway.

On DOT’s bike map, Conduit is flagged as a “future potential bike path,” and organizers pushing for a “Southern Queens Greenway” connecting the area’s many parks are pushing for that. “If Conduit was bikeable, people would go to [Jamaica Bay],” said Daniel Solow, a Nassau County resident who has been leading the greenway effort. “That road is doing absolutely nothing for people who don’t have a car.”

Conduit Boulevard would form most of the western leg of the proposed Southern Queens Greenway. Map: Southern Queens Greenway Initiative

The Southern Queens Greenway has a listserve with 170 members and a group of five organizers actively working on the project, Solow said. He’s had promising conversations with the local community boards. “People are talking, people are now paying attention to Vision Zero,” he said.

Turning Conduit Boulevard into a street where people can walk and bike safely would be a big step forward for the greenway concept and integral to creating cohesive pedestrian and bicycle networks in eastern Brooklyn and southern Queens.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    Converting this relic of 1950’s highway design into a modern complete street that accommodates all users should be a no brainer in the age of Vision Zero. This could be an easy win for safety as this is the rare time there is both ample need and ample space in which DOT could do a truly robust redesign.

  • Joe R.

    The median would be a great place for a bikeway BUT looking at Google Earth we’re going to need quite a few underpasses or overpasses to get past intersecting highways and busy cross streets. That’s not really a problem other than from a monetary perspective. It really shouldn’t even be a problem from that perspective given the huge sums we lavish on car infrastructure. If we can pull this off, then we could have a great, safe, pleasant, non-stop segment which could link up to similar routes, such as the Belt Parkway Greenway. However, let’s make sure we get this one right by doing everything on that list.

  • Please note that the street is “Conduit Boulevard” for only those few blocks in which it is in Brooklyn. For most of this street’s length, within Queens, its name is “Conduit Avenue“.

    Though, in practice, people in both boroughs refer to the road as “the Conduit” (accented on the “du”, and with the article).

  • kevd

    very reasonable place for BRT or LRT, as well. Not sure about demand on existing bus routes, though.

  • Is anyone discussing ripping up the road, selling the land, and restoring the street grid?

  • Boris

    That would be my vote. The strip looks like a remainder of a Moses-era project where the land was cleared for a highway, but then the highway never built. The entire segment should be redone with a two-lane bidirectional street, a wide greenway, and a transitway. There may even be space left over for housing or recreational facilities.

  • You misunderstand me. I’m suggesting that the right of way be disposed of north of Linden Blvd, no street at all.

  • douglasawillinger

    Cut and cover it, with a drilled tunnel continuing west, and make a linear park atop.

  • Alexander Vucelic

    agreed – Street Grid should be restored. and housing etc created instead of a motor sewer.

    Land should be returned to Original owners from Whom it was emmient domained.

    If people were able to get Their property back 70 years After the Nazis or Commies took it, why not in this Situation??

  • ahwr

    The two aren’t the slightest bit comparable.

    Also, was eminent domain used to build conduit avenue/boulevard?

    The ROW is older than the road, it was an aqueduct that fed the Ridgewood reservoir. It didn’t break up the grid so much as the broken grid was built up around it. You can’t restore a grid that never existed, but you can connect it for the first time. I don’t know if the wider median always existed, at one point it was going to be host to a leg of the never built Bushwick expressway. It may have been acquired in preparation of that, I’m not sure.

    http://www.teacharchives.org/wp-content/uploads/2014/01/water-works-map-1864.jpg

  • Alexander Vucelic

    Sounds as If it was emmient domained in 19th C.

    Return to the Estates of the Orginal Property Owners to create housing, Jobs, and life instead of a motor sewer.

    If the Russians and Germans could return property confiscated, certainly we could also.

  • ohnonononono

    Check out the old aerials here (under “map type”): http://gis.nyc.gov/doitt/nycitymap/

    1924: It looks like the street grid is starting to be extended out as development is happening, and a number of streets in the northwest section look to already cross the aqueduct ROW: Crescent, Hemlock, and Autumn. It doesn’t look like the Conduit roadway is built yet.

    1951: The roadway has now been built, but it looks very different from the one today. It looks like it’s a single roadway instead of the divided grassy median highway, and it looks as though a couple more streets now cross it.

    I would assume the road was redesigned at some point after 1951, and that’s when the street grid was removed to reduce crossing conflicts. It was likely seen as a safety measure, as I can imagine the 1951 design involving a lot of collisions from cars trying to cross Conduit.

  • Sunstar

    Speed limit has been changed to 35.

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