Crankiness About Car Storage Can’t Stop the Queens Boulevard Redesign

Queens Community Board 6 voted 23-11 against the next phase of the redesign, but DOT has said the project is a mayoral priority and will proceed.

The new bike lane on Queens Boulevard.
Cycling has doubled while pedestrian and cyclist injuries have dropped where NYC DOT redesigned the Queens Boulevard service roads. Photo: NYC DOT

The redesign of Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills is slated to move forward this summer, and a 23-11 vote agains the project at Queens CB 6 last night isn’t going to change that.

DOT informed the CB 6 transportation committee last month that the project is a mayoral priority and would proceed with or without the board’s endorsement. It’s an intriguing example of what the de Blasio administration can accomplish when it decides that its public safety mandate should override the unpredictable and often obstructionist outcomes of the community board process.

On Queens Boulevard, the safety argument for the redesign is overwhelming: Pedestrian injuries fell 55 percent after implementation of the first two phases of the redesign in Woodside and Elmhurst, while cycling increased 127 percent on the Rego Park section this spring, DOT reports [PDF]. (It’s too soon to have meaningful crash data from the Rego Park phase, which was implemented less than a year ago.)

Meanwhile, Jay Parker, the owner of Ben’s Best Kosher Deli, has embarked on a media tour blaming the impending closure of his business on the Queens Boulevard redesign. Despite all evidence that Ben’s Best was simply a victim of the same market forces that have claimed other kosher delis in NYC, Parker has fixated on the bike lane, and community board members believe him.

The main feature of the redesign — expanded pedestrian space and a bike lane along the median separating the Queens Boulevard service streets from the central roadway — replaces what is now a parking lane. Ironically, that parking lane was added as a measure of protection back in 2001, replacing a moving lane to slow down speeding traffic.

Since 2015, DOT has been putting down protected bike lanes, expanding pedestrian space, and calming traffic on Queens Boulevard. This year’s phase will extend the redesign east from to Union Turnpike the current terminus at Yellowstone Boulevard [PDF]. It’s the fourth and final segment planned for the project, which started in Woodside in 2015.

Transportation Alternatives Queens organizer Juan Restrepo attended the meeting last night and says many board members appeared torn. They value the safety impact of the first three phases of the redesign but also don’t want to reduce on-street parking.

The vote was preceded by an extended speech by Chair Joseph Hennessy, who ticked off a list of complaints about the project while acknowledging that pedestrian safety on Queens Boulevard is a major concern and that the DOT project had addressed it.

“They hear about Ben’s Best closing, they hear about safety and the statistics,” Restrepo said. “It seems like the chair is very conflicted about it, and that’s the attitude a lot of people have about this plan.”

With the support of City Hall, DOT is going to move forward with this project. That’s going to prevent a lot of life-altering crashes in Forest Hills. It also raises the question: Why doesn’t the mayor treat every street redesign with this level of urgency?

  • BrandonWC

    I would not be opposed to getting rid of ped space (there are sidewalks on both sides already) and doubling width of bike lanes.

  • r

    “Why doesn’t the mayor treat every street redesign with this level of urgency?”

    It’s the nickname: The Boulevard of Death. Gives de Blasio a nice cover and an easy political talking point. “They called it the Boulevard of Death. Now it’s the Boulevard of Life.” Otherwise, he doesn’t care or have any empathy with people who walk and bike.

    Gotta find morbid nicknames for other streets to get him to empower DOT, I suppose.

  • Jeff

    Same. I go running along Queens Blvd in a redesigned section at least once per week, and after the project went in, I thought, “Hey, running is a perfect use-case for the new pedestrian space! I’ll be out of the way of _real_ pedestrians!” Nope. It’s completely worthless. It’s discontinuous, narrow, and navigating the intersections is much more harrowing compared to running along the normal sidewalks.

  • Reader

    Agreed. They should build bike lanes for projected bike volumes 10 to 20 years out. Not for the single-file kind of riding these bike lanes force based on current counts.

  • Joe R.

    I wish once and for all we would address the idea that people should be able to store their private property on public streets. Car owners act as if this is a God-given right. It isn’t, and it shouldn’t be. Private property, including cars, should not be allowed to be stored on public streets, period. If you want to own a car, you should be required to have an off-street place to store it. If businesses want to cater to customers who come by car, they should have parking lots of their premises. The only exception might be allowing curbside space for delivery trucks to unload. I can’t think of anything which makes the streets more ugly or disorderly than allowing parking.

  • Joe R.

    I never understood the purpose of the pedestrian space to begin with. There’s a parallel sidewalk where walking is much more pleasant. You’re further away from speeding vehicles and their exhaust fumes. The space between the main and service roads isn’t wide enough to transform into a linear park of sorts. Not really seeing any reason why someone would choose to walk there instead of on the sidewalk. It makes more sense to just use that pedestrian space for a wider bike lane.

  • BrandonWC

    I’ve always assumed it was lack of imagination–is there a one-way bike lane wider than 6′ anywhere in the city?–pre-emptive defensiveness to bikelash, and a desire to have prettier renderings for the capital build out from the get go.

  • Joe R.

    You may be right but I think it’s ridiculous whenever we propose new bike infrastructure that we have to tiptoe so as not to upset anyone. They may have been thinking of making it like Ocean Parkway but the space just isn’t there. Ocean Parkway doesn’t have slip lanes, either.

  • Fool

    Joggers… In theory

  • Geck

    I recall another place called Pastrami King on Queens Blvd. Funny, it seems to have packed up and moved to Long Island long before the bike lane went in.

  • Scroller

    “Private property, including cars, should not be allowed to be stored on public streets, period.”

    Does that mean you’re against public bike racks too?

  • Joe R.

    Apples and oranges. Bike racks generally are only used for short-term parking. And bike storage takes up far less space than car storage. It’s hard to envision any scenario where every inch of curbside space is taken over by bike racks. On the other hand, we’ve devoted most curbside space to car storage, including allowing parked cars to block sight lines at intersections.

  • Scroller

    It is apples and oranges, but your initial statement didn’t make that differentiation.

  • Dave

    I favor less free on-street parking (okay, I got my virtue signaling out of the way). However, in some situations, on-street parking of private property can have safety benefits by narrowing perceived road widths thereby slowing motor vehicle speeds. I suppose the situation would depend on pavement width, design speed, prevailing speeds, and other factors. I wonder if there are studies that identify appropriate situations.

    I would favor on-street storage of private property if owners paid a sticker fee of some sort for the privilege, starting at, say, $500 per year. Probably higher in NYC.

  • Joe R.

    Using the curbside space for a bike lane or bus lane can have a similar calming effect, especially if we have physical barriers to keep cars from intruding.

    I would favor on-street storage of private property if owners paid a sticker fee of some sort for the privilege, starting at, say, $500 per year. Probably higher in NYC.

    I might favor that so long as cars weren’t the only type of private property which could be stored by the curb. If a person wants to put a container their for there other personal items, that should be allowed. My guess is with many people having small apartments curbside containers would eventually take over most curbside space.