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Queens Council Member Joins Call for Study of a Pedestrian-Friendly Austin Street

11:59 AM EDT on May 4, 2023

Council Member Lynn Schulman has asked the city to improve Austin Street, where double-parked trucks are common. File photo: Dave Colon

Hit the books.

The City Council member who represents Forest Hills asked the city to take a look at what it could do to make life more livable on Austin Street, a notoriously busy and congested commercial strip that local residents have suggested is perfect for a pedestrian-friendly redesign.

The goal, Council Member Lynn Schulman wrote to DOT on Tuesday is for the agency "to identify ways to improve traffic congestion, pedestrian experience, and mobility concerns along the corridor."

With the letter, Schulman joins a growing campaign that began in September, when Forest Hills resident Pedro Rodriguez started a petition asking for people-first changes to the strip. That campaign got a boost in March when Queens Community Board 6 asked the city to study Austin Street with an eye towards:

    • Widening the sidewalks
    • Reducing pedestrian hazards by eliminating car congestion and honking
    • Creating outdoor seating areas
    • Allowing more space to be used for outdoor dining.
    • Creating more safe crossings for pedestrians
    • Analyzing the pedestrian safety benefit of a one-way conversion (westbound) of Austin Street
    • Possibly pedestrianizing segments of Austin Street between Yellowstone Boulevard and Ascan Avenue.

Rodriguez tweeted his thanks to Schulman and said that he was excited to see her support the push for a study.

Schulman's letter mentioned "conversations and suggestions from community members and local small businesses on making Austin Street a less congested experience for shoppers and visitors," a clear recognition of the campaign to pedestrianize some if not all of Austin.

The Forest Hills strip is a thriving commercial corridor that fellow organizer Daniel Solow previously said was "a victim of its own success," due to the fact that it draws so many pedestrians that they spill out from the sidewalk onto the street during the busiest moments, and that the density of businesses on the block makes for a chaotic streetscape full of double-parked cars and trucks unloading goods.

Beyond calming the congestion and chaos, a people-first redesign is ideal because Austin Street is also a transit hub. The Forest Hills Long Island Rail Road stop and the E, F, M and R trains are nearby, which allows people from outside the neighborhood to easily get to the strip.

The city previously added loading zones to Austin to give businesses some curbside space to get deliveries, but the amount of traffic on the block still forces truck drivers to double-park, leading to congestion that grinds the local Q23 bus to a halt and puts pedestrians in danger. Between January 2018 and November 2022, 48 pedestrians and cyclists were injured in 356 reported crashes on Austin Street between Yellowstone Boulevard and Ascan Avenue according to city statistics.

"We need this study and action as soon as possible. Austin Street is a hazard...businesses are suffering and more and more transit users decide to switch to cars because the Q23 is impossible to use," Rodriguez said earlier this year.

The DOT said it is reviewing the letter.

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