Members of Transportation Alternatives, the Making A Better and Safer Queens Boulevard Facebook group, and the Queens Boulevard Restoration Group took to the streets of Forest Hills on Sunday, July 28, to circulate a petition advocating for a safer Queens Boulevard.
Steps away from the intersection of Continental Avenue and Queens Boulevard, ten handed out fliers explaining their goals. Advocates will continue petitioning at least once month, hoping to influence residents and elected officials.
The 7.2-mile Queens Boulevard is a far cry from more stately thoroughfares such as Brooklyn’s Eastern Parkway or the Bronx’s Grand Concourse, but a rather risky and banal 12-lane superhighway from the Queensboro Bridge to Jamaica Avenue, which becomes 16 lanes at its peak at the Yellowstone Boulevard intersection.
From 2002-2011, Queens Boulevard had 17 pedestrian fatalities, 890 pedestrian injuries, two cyclist deaths, and another 205 cyclist injuries. Three of the top five intersections with the highest concentration of collisions are in Forest Hills and Rego Park.
In recent years, the Department of Transportation (DOT) installed pedestrian countdown timers, upgraded signage, decreased the speed limit from 35 to 30 mph, and installed fencing to curb jaywalking, but more improvements are needed.
Advocates Peter and Rachel Beadle have raised a family in Rego Park for the last 14 years, and have focused on the overhaul of Queens Boulevard, which they say is possible through short and long-term projects.
Their goals are to address safety issues by introducing “livable space” and “complete streets” along the thoroughfare to create more than just a space for commuting, which would benefit the surrounding residential and commercial developments.
“We see Queens Boulevard as having a north side and a south side, and that is because the boulevard divides us, unlike other neighborhoods,” said Mrs. Beadle.
Mr. Beadle explained a major shortcoming.
“Many cross streets don’t have regular intersections that run through Queens Boulevard, but terminate at local lanes,” he said. “Crossovers between local and express lanes are analogous to entrance and exit ramps of a highway, which really encourage drivers to speed.”
The couple had some preliminary dialogue with representatives from DOT and the City Planning Commission, and partnered with Planning Corps, a group of volunteer urban planners that address community concerns, in 2010.
Planning Corps conducted a Queens Boulevard study and published its findings to foster dialogue between planners, elected officials and residents.
“Planning Corps determined that in comparison to boulevards around the world, Queens Boulevard dramatically allocated much more space to cars than any other use,” said Mr. Beadle. “Even on smaller boulevards, the allocation of a landscaped space for pedestrians and bicycles was possible, alongside mass transit and cars.”
This poses a question of priorities, “does Queens Boulevard have the right balance?” According to Mrs. Beadle, the Queens Boulevard model is outdated.
“We live in an era where people want transportation choices,” she said. “There are younger and older people that don’t drive, so this thoroughfare should be for everyone.”
They point to Eastern Parkway as a model. The brooklyn thoroughfare has a 200-foot width, express and local lanes, and accommodates buses and subways.
“Similar to Eastern Parkway, wider medians can be created between express and local lanes along Queens Boulevard, enabling space for trees, grass, flowers, benches, a bikeway, and a pedestrian walkway,” said Mr. Beadle.
The issue of congestion is sometimes raised as a con concerning a Queens Boulevard redesign.
“I heard people say that if you narrow lanes you will add to congestion, but the opposite is true,” said Mr. Beadle, referring to a popular traffic-calming measure.
He envisions an increase in commuters taking mass transit and bikes, as well as an increase in buses commuting in a dedicated bus lane, emphasizing that the majority of commuters are traveling locally rather than to Manhattan.
“DOT studies show the majority of trips made by New Yorkers are less than 2.5 miles, so that is an easy biking distance, which wouldn’t take much longer than by car,” Mr. Beadle said. “Many patrons of the Forest Hills Greenmarket are commuting by bike, and there are actually more bicyclists in Queens than the city thinks.”
Woodside resident Stafford Gregoire regularly commutes by bike, and signed the Queens Boulevard petition.
“Let’s have the police enforce pedestrian and bike right-of-way all along Queens Boulevard,” he said. “Failure to yield to pedestrians and bikes is never enforced.”
“I have seen many pedestrians trying to walk completely across the boulevard after the walk signal is off,” said Daniel Thom of Middle Village. “Maybe give them jaywalking tickets? For drivers who are in a hurry, I suggest cameras on all traffic lights in congested areas.”
Carlos Pesantes of the Forest-Rego Compost Collective psuggested installing lengthier ambient lights and countdown signals, and stationing a traffic agent and crossing guard at key points during peak hours.
“My mother is a senior who formerly lived in Forest Hills, and always found crossing Queens Boulevard intimidating,” he said. “She would enter the subway to cross over, since she found the lights to be too quick and enforcement low.”
Marie Trope-Podell of Forest Hills recalled the death of 14-year-old Sofia Leviyev, who was killed by a speeding minivan at the intersection of 67th Avenue and Queens Boulevard during the busy commute one morning in November of 2000.
“Frankly, there's not much time to cross,” she said. “Perhaps retain only one local lane and turn the others into a garden space, which might be the least expensive and the most profitable for the community. We should create Queens’ Champs-Elysées!”