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Locals Debate Safety Fixes for Queens Blvd. in Rego Park and Forest Hills

By Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska | January 13, 2017 4:43pm | Updated on January 16, 2017 8:39am
 Dozens of residents participated in a Department of Transportation workshop regarding the Queens Boulevard redesign Thursday night.
Dozens of residents participated in a Department of Transportation workshop regarding the Queens Boulevard redesign Thursday night.
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DNAinfo/Ewa Kern-Jedrychowska

QUEENS — Lizi Rahman, of Jamaica, has been advocating for bike lanes along Queens Boulevard ever since her son, Asif, was fatally struck by a truck while riding his bike on the busy thoroughfare in Elmhurst when he was 22.

“Ever since [Asif was killed] I have been trying to get a bike lane on Queens Boulevard so I’m glad it’s part of the redesign,” she said at a workshop in Rego Park organized by the city’s Department of Transportation Thursday night to gather input from residents on the long-awaited Queens Boulevard revamp, scheduled to begin in Central Queens sometime this summer.

“I just don’t want any other mother to go through the same thing," Rahman said.

Dozens of Rego Park and Forest Hills residents who gathered at P.S. 139 worked in small groups marking their suggestions on maps of the area.

By the end of the workshop they presented their ideas, which included the addition of protected bike lanes, narrowing some intersections while expanding pedestrian islands, installing a delayed green light for cars in order to provide pedestrians with additional time to cross, and beautifying of Queens Boulevard.

Their suggestions will now be taken into consideration during the redesign process, the DOT said. 

In 2015, the city began working on improvements to the 7-mile thoroughfare — famously nicknamed the "Boulevard of Death" after more than 70 pedestrians were killed in accidents there from 1993 to 2001 — as part of the $100 million redesign, spurred by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. 

So far, the changes, which include a number of safety fixes such as extra space for pedestrians and a number of traffic calming measures, have been implemented in Woodside as well as in Elmhurst, where protected bike lanes have been added to a portion of Queens Boulevard, even though the local community board voted that portion of the plan down

This year, changes are scheduled to be implemented in Rego Park and Forest Hills between Eliot Avenue and Yellowstone Boulevard.

Future plans will also include a portion of Queens Boulevard between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike, although the time frame for that phase of the project has not been decided yet, the DOT said.

“We need to make real fundamental physical changes to this crazy insane Boulevard of Death,” said Peter Beadle, a member of Transportation Alternatives Queens Activist Committee and the Community Board 6 Transportation Committee, at the workshop Thursday. “It’s not just a matter of enforcement and telling people how to behave themselves. You have to redesign this road so that 24/7 365 it is safe for everyone who uses it.”

Beadle, who has been pushing for the changes for many years, also said that with numerous developments coming to the area, Queens Boulevard will soon turn into a “massive parking lot,” unless it's redesigned.

DOT Queens Commissioner Nicole Garcia said that when the agency compared statistics pertaining to Queens Boulevard between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street in Woodside a year after the first phase of the revamp was implemented there, they “saw a 14 percent decrease in total crashes.”

Pedestrian injuries dropped by nearly 50 percent and cyclist injuries fell by 42 percent, Garcia said.

“We want to replicate those safety gains here,” she said.

But some participants were skeptical about the changes.

“I saw what they did down at the Queens Center Mall [in Elmhurst] and it’s awful,” said Kathleen Schatz, 67, referring to the bike lanes which she said dangerously narrowed the service road.

“In the service road, you have trucks making deliveries to stores, you have buses making their stops, ambulances, Fire Department and Sanitation have to go on the service road as well,” she said. “If you get stuck behind anyone of these vehicles, there is nowhere for you to go,” she said. "You are stuck."

Some were also concerned that the changes will eliminate a number of badly needed parking spaces along Queens Boulevard.

According to local Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz, Rego Park and Forest Hills could lose as many as 200 parking spaces due to the changes.

Garcia did not confirm that number, saying that the design, which will determine specific changes, won’t be ready until later this year.

Following the workshop, the DOT will be meeting with various institutions and stakeholders in the area. It will also dispatch its “street ambassadors" to the neighborhoods to get additional feedback from residents, the agency said.

This spring, the agency will present the proposed design to Community Board 6, before implementing the changes in the summer, Garcia said.