The Redesign Of Queens Boulevard

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There are probably as many strong opinions about the ongoing redesign of Queens Boulevard, the notorious “Boulevard of Death,” as there are residents of Forest Hills, Rego Park and the surrounding neighborhoodsSome strongly oppose it, believing that the city is foisting on us a radical redesign aimed at changing our neighborhood, changing our culture. Others feel passionately that the issue revolves around safety, especially with respect to the bike lanes, and that these changes are required to save lives and to provide alternatives to growing traffic congestion. We fall into this second group and hope you will be open to understanding why we believe this redesign is vital to our community.

First, though, to dispel a myth; our support for redesigning Queens Blvd is not about trying to create some bicycle utopia. It is very much focused on two critical goals: saving lives and improving the street to better move our residents from place to place despite growing development and population. The math is inescapable and demands that we change the way we have been doing things.

Queens Boulevard earned its ghastly reputation because dozens of people — including longtime residents, recent immigrants, children walking home from school, and seniors heading home from shul — were killed over decades. An earlier street redesign  in the early 2000s, including the reduction of the speed limit, the addition of parking spaces against the medians, and the installation of fencing to prevent pedestrians from crossing in the middle of the boulevard lowered those numbers, but as the local population continued to rise and interactions between drivers, pedestrians and people using bikes increased so too did serious injuries and deaths. In 2013 there were eight deaths and 492 injuries on Queens Boulevard. It had again become the Boulevard of Death. Change was needed. In the interim, New York City had adopted new ways to design streets, to calm traffic, clearly organize different types of movement, and to better keep people safe. Since the redesign began in 2015, the improved sections of Queens Boulevard have seen zero deaths. Crashes are down 28%, total injuries are down 29% — with driver and passenger injuries down 33% and pedestrian injuries down a whopping 63%.

While most accept that Queens Boulevard is now a safer street, some are skeptical of the bike lanes contribution to these crash and injury reductions. While the bike lanes are the most visible part of the project, they are one of several key changes to make the street safer, including:

wider crosswalks that are more visible to drivers

stop signs to control entering and leaving the service roads instead of high-speed slip lanes that encouraged drivers to maintain speed instead of merging safely

a head start for pedestrians to begin crossing the street, discouraging dangerous high speed turns by drivers to get across first

curb extensions to slow down drivers making turns on and off Queens Boulevard and to reduce crossing distances, particularly important for seniors who may need more time to cross the street

closing underused slip lanes that encouraged drivers to switch back and forth between the main road and service roads depending on which they thought was moving faster, but ultimately only adding to congestion

In addition to protecting cyclists, bike lanes do several things. They make streets safer by narrowing lanes — a well-documented method to reduce speeds — and by encouraging more cyclists to ride, giving drivers more things on the street on which to focus, thus making them drive more cautiously. 

If we build safer infrastructure — protected bike lanes and off-road bikeways — using a bike to do many of the trips many now do with a car becomes much more realistic, even grocery shopping. Given the ever-increasing congestion on our streets, encouraging those who are capable of biking to do so frees up space for those who truly need their cars like the elderly, the disabled, commercial drivers, and families with young children. Making it safe and feasible to switch to a more efficient mode of transportation helps those who need to drive, while making all of us safer and being good for business.

Despite the dramatic safety improvements, some businesses in Rego Park have derided the project — of which the bike lanes are a crucial part — on the grounds that the installation of the bike lanes required the removal of parking spots. While this is true, half of the space that was formerly parking is now expanded pedestrian space along the median. While that new sidewalk may not look like much now, the next part of the project will completely rebuild Queens Boulevard. The medians, pedestrian space, and bike lanes will be raised, trees will be planted, and benches will be installed, turning a hostile no-man’s land next to a street-level highway into green space and a safe street for our community. Businesses benefit from safe, attractive neighborhoods and a steady stream of foot traffic. The removal of the parking spots (installed not twenty years ago) has coincided with a substantial drop in injuries, and we would expect that the businesses you patronize see your well-being as essential to their prosperity.

We know many in the Bukharian Community have had complaints about the bike lanes. In an article that appeared in the most recent Jewish World (Volume 47, # 09), the lead story discussed how in Israel they are “Changing Kid’s Lives Through Biking.” The article describes a program called Geerz, that offers a healthy outlet for youth, encouraging them to adopt positive behaviors and pastimes as part of their identity…” With the plans of bike lanes being extended to Union Turnpike, members of the Bukharin community can embrace the benefits of this program — and all of the upgraded infrastructure on Queens Boulevard — for our community.

By Peter Beadle; Mark Laster