DOT Debuts Plans for Protected Bike Lanes on Crescent and 31st Streets in Astoria
After a long campaign by activists, the city aims to protect cyclists from chaotic traffic between the Triborough and Queensboro bridges.
Safety finally took a front seat in Astoria as the Department of Transportation on Tuesday night unveiled its “conceptual framework” for a pair of north-south, protected bike lanes in the north-west Queens neighborhood — one on Crescent Street and another on 31st Street.
The proposed street-safety infrastructure, which the agency said would be presented to Queens Community Board 1 in the spring and could be installed as early as the summer, was welcomed with open arms by the 100-plus person crowd at a bike-network-planning meeting at the P.S. 166 cafeteria.
“I feel thrilled, and like our voices are finally starting to be heard,” Shannon Rudd, a 14-year Astoria resident who’s advocated for a Crescent Street lane since 2017, said. “There’s a need for this, and it sounds like the powers-that-be are listening.”
The proposed lanes would provide important connections and safe bike routes within Astoria and from Astoria to Long Island City.
The Crescent Street lane, the culmination of a three-year campaign by activists, would give cyclists a protected route between (and easier access to) the Triborough and the Queensboro bridges. Crescent — which lacks any bike infrastructure — now is chaotic and dangerous, with 16 cyclists, 36 pedestrians and 93 motorists suffering injuries and one pedestrian killed in 615 total crashes from January 2017 through December 2019. Some of the dangers stems from the fact that Crescent Street attracts drivers who are toll-shopping between the tolled Triborough and the free Queensboro, a scenario that may change when every East River Bridge gains a toll with the advent of congestion pricing in 2021.
The proposed 31st Street lane, running from 20th Avenue to 39th Avenue, would provide a north-south route up the spine of Astoria. There have been 842 total crashes, including 239 that have injured 29 cyclists, 64 pedestrians and 203 motorists, on that stretch of 31st Street from January 2017 through December 2019, making it ripe for safety improvements.
DOT Deputy Director for Projects and Planning Alice Friedman stressed to the crowd that the department’s proposed routes weren’t final designs, and that the agency hoped to get feedback that would enable it to build the best possible protected bike lanes for the neighborhood. The DOT’s Crescent Street planning reflected proposals from activists, she said.
The agency is also looking at a host of pedestrian, bus and bike improvements on 31st Street, another north-south corridor, which has the elevated tracks of the N and W trains running above it. A protected lane under the elevated tracks would be a new tactic for the DOT, Friedman said, pointing to similar lanes in Chicago as an example. The design envisions putting a bike lane between the sidewalk and a row of parked cars on both sides of the street from 20th Avenue to 39th Avenue, according to Friedman.
Attendees at the workshop encouraged the DOT’s plans, with one, Nas Magoutas, imploring the agency to “make it protected or nothing, please.” Another workshop attendee noted that it would enhance Queens pride if the borough would be the first to host a protected bike lanes underneath elevated train tracks.
“We want to be the future,” activist C.J.Bretillon said at a workshop table. “You brought Chicago up? Erase it; Queens is the future,” she said.
The DOT effort to put in the north-south lanes on both streets was welcomed by City Council Member (and Queens Borough President candidate) Costa Constantinides, who cast the proposed routes as a piece of what he hoped would be a borough-wide protected network that would become as much a point of pride to Queens as its beloved Mets.
“When I talk about a borough-wide transportation plan, that includes a borough-wide protected bike-lane plan,” Constantinides said. “It’s not just one street but every street. I think the mandate is building out an entire network so people can get all around the borough and live the life they want to live here in the borough of Queens.”
Commenting on the rarity of a public meeting at which a room full of people welcomed, and even demanded, protected bike lanes, Transportation Alternatives organizer Juan Restrepo said that he was heartened by the large turnout for a rainy Tuesday night.
“I think the energy here was very good, and we’re going to try to build off of it,” Restrepo said, but noted that the process was hardly finished because the lanes must still face scrutiny from the community board, a process that an activist once described as relying “on volunteers to pour months/years of their lives into convincing old guard community boards and council members that we don’t deserve to die.”
My feelings on DOT's model of rolling out pieces of the bike network by relying on volunteers to pour months/years of their lives into convincing old guard community boards & councilmembers that we don't deserve to die is that I absolutely resent the living fuck out of it.
— Brian Hedden (@BriHedden) February 4, 2020
“We’re going to need this overwhelmingly young crowd to find value from their social lives and busy time to say ‘this is worth it,'” Restrepo said, praising the “vision” of a crowd that also asked the DOT to consider adding protected crosstown bike lanes and bike parking in Astoria, and to reopen the Queensboro Bridge’s South Outer Roadway to cyclists.
Constantinides said that his office had been receiving many calls and emails in favor of more protected bike lanes in the neighborhood, and said that he would continue to support the protected bike-lane proposal as a matter of both safety and community values.
“I think that we take every stakeholder’s opinion into account but we do things that will make streets safer and promote our values,” Constantinides said.