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OPINION: Extend the Queens Boulevard Bike Lanes to Jamaica!

12:01 AM EDT on June 23, 2021

The redesigned Queens Boulevard, circa 2017, with bike lane. It doesn’t go far enough. Photo: NYC DOT

New York City’s bike network has a number of glaring gaps, especially in the borough that qualifies as our biggest car sewer: Queens. As a longtime Queens resident, I’d like to advise  the next mayor that he or she must extend the Queens Boulevard bike lanes where they logically need to go: downtown Jamaica. This one connection will open the door for further safe access across all of southeast Queens.

Samuel Santaella

Recently, Mayor de Blasio re-committed — after a three-year delay — to extending the Queens Boulevard bike lanes between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike in Kew Gardens.  But when the construction (mostly painting) supposedly wraps up in November, two months before the mayor’s administration ends, a dangerous gap will remain as bicycle users contend with highway-like conditions passing through the Borough Hall area in Kew Gardens and over the Van Wyck Expressway toward Jamaica Avenue in Jamaica — a major shopping area and transit hub that has no bike lanes and negligible bike parking.

It’s discrimination by mode pure and simple — made worse by the fact that Jamaica is a predominantly Black and brown area.

The 1.2-mile stretch spans three Queens community board districts: 8, 9, and 12. Waiting for approvals (which are only advisory, anyway) from each would take forever. A properly protected bike route is not a nice-to-have; it's a matter of life and death.

Why is extending the bike lanes to Jamaica so important? This downtown is not only a destination itself, but also a gateway to many southeast Queens neighborhoods including South Jamaica, Rochdale Village, Laurelton, St. Albans (where I live), Cambria Heights, Hollis, Queens Village. All must go through Jamaica to get to/from Queens Boulevard.

Needless to say, a safe bike network in and through downtown Jamaica must come shortly after. Since de Blasio has also committed to two busways on Jamaica and Archer Avenues and the paint hasn't arrived yet, now is the perfect time to consider bike travel alongside bus travel. Then the work would be halfway done safely connecting southeast Queens to central Queens and beyond.

When the DOT presented the first phase of the Queens Boulevard bike lanes in Woodside back in 2015, it indicated that the areas between Eliot Avenue in Rego Park and Jamaica Avenue would all be dealt with together during the third phase of the bike-lane rollout. That means that, in a better world, all of Queens Boulevard from Woodside to Jamaica could've been fully redesigned by the end of 2017 — four years ago!

The completion of the Queens Boulevard bike infrastructure would've been a huge help to me as I cycled to the Aldi supermarket in Rego Park for ultra-affordable groceries. Cycling on this stretch of Queens Boulevard is stressful; since 2018, there have been 565 reported crashes, according to data from Crash Mapper, injuring 177 people, including 24 pedestrians, 145 motorists and eight cyclists. I don’t want to be the ninth because of some ignorant driver.

As is well known, bike lanes make streets safer for everyone (including motorists). A redesign might have prevented the death of Jaipaul Persaud earlier this year in Briarwood. I'm not surprised at the quantity of crashes. I've ridden on Q44 buses through the area with bus drivers who move through at ridiculously high speeds. Traffic desperately needs to be slowed down.

Ordeals like this are why, when the City Council moved to create a position of “bike mayor” in 2019, I issued a plea that the position focus on bringing infrastructure to the under-served, outer-borough. I am grateful that many mayoral candidates are committed to furthering cycling into a usable and accessible mode of transportation for everyone. So I extend the same plea to the next mayor: Extending the Queens Boulevard bike lanes to Jamaica would be a perfect first step.

Samuel Santaella lives in southeast Queens and volunteers for Riders Alliance, Transportation Alternatives and the Bus Turnaround Coalition. Follow him on Twitter at @transitninja205.

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