FAR ROCKAWAY — The dangerous stretch of Rockaway Freeway that sits beneath an elevated subway could be transformed into a safer place for biking and walking if a group of local teens get their way.
Students from an after-school program run by the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance, an organization that works on environmental issues in Rockaway, drafted a petition to create a bike path on portions of the Rockaway Freeway, which stretches underneath the A train from Beach 108th Street to Mott Avenue.
They hope to make the road already used by pedestrians and bikers safer — especially since the boardwalk has been mostly out of commission since Hurricane Sandy.
Part of the two-lane street does not have sidewalks in some places. Instead, pedestrians and cyclists take to a buffer area in the middle of the road.
Speeding and crashes are common on the stretch, which has pillars on the middle and sides of the road. Several people have died there recently, including two teens killed in August, according to a published report.
“With a lack of ADA-accessible sidewalks, pedestrians and bikers often choose to use the striped buffers in the middle of the freeway as a safer option to walk and bike...because sidewalks are so hazardous to use,” the petition says, which includes a video proposal of their plan.
The idea, according to RWA director Jeanne DuPont, originated a few years ago while they were envisioning improvements for the peninsula.
"People were really focused at that point on making the boardwalk the spine of the community," she said.
After the hurricane decimated much of the boardwalk, the direction changed, she said.
"After the storm, I think there was a lot of attention focused on the underpass because I noticed it was being used much more on the account of the fact that there wasn't a boardwalk," DuPont added.
She started speaking with people she saw using the freeway, and said most users wished there was a safer way to walk, or even a buffer between cars and pedestrians.
“I was thinking maybe there's enough room here for everything — cars, bike and walking,” DuPont said.
Many of the 15 students in her Shore Corps after-school program travel on the peninsula to get to high school, and they would benefit from a safer way to travel.
"If they could walk or bike to school, it could dramatically decrease the time it takes to get to school, and they'd get exercise along the way," she said.
The students presented their bike lane plan at the Youth Bike Summit in Manhattan in February and received a great response, she said.
It inspired them to create the petition, and they are looking to get 10,000 signatures in support of their plan to turn the striped buffers into a more formal space to walk and ride bikes.
They also hope to beautify the space with plants.
Dupont said they’d like to do a trial from Beach 67th Street to Mott Avenue or along other portions of the freeway.
The proposal would need approval from the community and the city, and Dupont hopes the petition — which had received more than 500 online signatures as of Wednesday and an additional 1,000 hand-written John Hancocks from students canvassing the neighborhood — can boost that support.
A spokesman for the Department of Transportation said the agency has "received this request and met with the organization" and said ideas like this one may also tie into their larger Jamaica Bay Greenway Project.
"We welcome input from all parties and invite them to contribute to these ongoing workshops," he said.
“The underpass does support initiative in creating safer streets and roads for people,” Dupont said. “It’s a good example of something we can try to push forward.”