Queens Civic Panel Demands Long Overdue Fixes to Union Turnpike
A Queens civic panel is trying to pressure the Department of Transportation to finally fix the horror show that is Union Turnpike, after years of ignoring the board’s requests to protect its vulnerable road users.
Queens Community Board 6’s Transportation Committee voted on Jan. 21 to ask DOT to merely study any possible improvements for the dangerous roadway, which cuts through several neighborhoods along the northern border of Forest Park, and which drivers have turned into a speedway despite its 25 miles-per-hour speed limit.
“The condition has gotten progressively worse over decades. It’s this neighborhood road that has been repaved and widened to become a highway,” said Kate Orff, a Forest Hills resident, who presented during the virtual meeting about the dangers of the roadway. “Union Turnpike has become a symbol of everything that went wrong in the last 20 years.”
Orff says the current design of Union Turnpike, which has no bike lane — not even sharrows — only encourages speeding because of its excessive width and wide shoulders that allow for drivers to pass and idle, putting those who bike on the roadway in danger. And it also suffers from poor drainage conditions that make biking even more difficult, said Orff.
Locals and the civic panel have long requested that DOT look into street-safety improvements for the turnpike between Queens and Woodhaven boulevards, requesting easy fixes such as better crosswalks and cross signals in its annual “statement of needs” report, including in its latest report for fiscal year 2021. And the recent recommendation requests that DOT look into a larger redesign that includes a protected bike lane.
“This heavily utilized thoroughfare generates significant traffic safety concerns that require DOT’s ongoing priority attention. Specifically, aggressive enforcement plus the installation of traffic barriers are needed to deter the speeding and reckless driving problems,” the report says.
But this month, the board decided to also put in a more formal request, according to board member Peter Beadle.
And the four-lane speedway, which also has a one-way service road heading west, cuts locals off from Forest Park — those who live above the park have to cross multiple lanes of traffic just to access the green space, according to Orff, who said she and her kids often get to the park by bike but are forced to get off and walk at some of the most dangerous parts.
“The park entrances are not accessible, they’re cut off by these high speed roads. Having two kids who love to bike, I make them walk their bikes the last segment of the journey,” said Orff. “Everybody living north of it has to somehow cross Union Turnpike to get to Forest Park — just all scurrying across multiple lanes of traffic.”
In 2019*, there were 168 reported crashes — roughly one every other day — on that stretch of Union Turnpike, causing 50 injuries, including one cyclist and four pedestrians, according to Crashmapper.
A spokeswoman for DOT said the agency will review the board’s request for changes to Union Turnpike.
* Streetsblog uses data from 2019 because the 2020 data is flawed due to widespread reckless driving during a period when fewer cars were on the road.