BY JON CRONIN
The third phase of Queens Boulevard’s Vision Zero redesign is only six months into its construction, but advocates are already trying to figure out how to educate the public on the benefits of the fourth phase of the street’s redesign.
Citing congestion and poor patronage, Queens Boulevard business owners and residents have long complained that the city went a step too far in the street’s redesign to slow traffic and make it friendlier to bicyclists and pedestrians. However, the city can now boast of more than two years of no pedestrian deaths.
Last week, Transportation Alternatives, a pedestrian and bike advocacy group, held a kick-off campaign for phase four on Queens Boulevard, which would redesign the street between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike.
Juan Restrepo, the Queens organizer for Transportation Alternatives, said that this portion of the corridor will be the most important of the four phases since it is the most pedestrian-heavy commercial and residential area. The street’s busiest corner of the boulevard, 71st Avenue, is a Vision Zero priority for the city due to its intersection with the most congested parts of Austin Street and subway entrance for the R, F, M and E trains. He also noted that the 71st Avenue crossing is also used by numerous schools and senior centers.
“Queens Boulevard has acted as a barrier in that part of the neighborhood. Oftentimes, that trek [to cross it] is very dangerous,” Restrepo said.
Restrepo pointed out that 63rd Drive in Rego Park is much safer to cross now that pedestrians have more space.
At a recent campaign kick-off meeting, Restrepo said that Transportation Alternatives has sought out local residents and community leaders to get involved in the process.
“A lot of folks who came were not familiar with the political process,” he said. “They just want to see something done and want to be a part of it.”
Regarding business owners who complain about lost sales due to loss or parking, Restrepo said that he and the city’s Department of Transportation believe that those businesses will benefit once it is easier for pedestrians to get to their stores safely.
Peter Beadle, vice chairman of Community Board 6 and a member of Transportation Alternatives, said that businesses along the boulevard do not rely on parking. He added that most customers are among the 20,000 people coming on and off the four different subway lines in the area. He noted that the management of the Queens Center Mall told the DOT that less than 25 percent of the mall’s customers arrive by car.
“This is one of the biggest malls in the city,” Beadle said.
Restrepo believes that after people become more educated on alternatives—such as biking and walking—their commute times will be shortened.
“You can’t keep pushing car centric policy when it’s not working,” Restrepo said. “Everyone needs to air their grievances. The DOT is adjusting in little ways to solve their problems.”
He acknowledged that changes to the region will be difficult, but cautioned local residents to keep an open mind.
“Be helpful, please don’t just be antagonistic,” he said. “Don’t be interested in trashing a project, instead of being part of the discourse.”
At a recent Transportation Alternatives meeting, Beadle said that there were a few people who voiced concerns regarding the removal of parking. He noted that one resident said that she was uncomfortable when she realized most of the attendees were advocates, but the group invited her to stay.
“It was great having her there,” Beadle said. “By the end, she volunteered to speak to neighbors to make more informed decisions.”
A spokesman for the DOT said that the agency intends to hold another meeting in the community regarding phase four of the project in the upcoming months.
“We are at the beginning stages of our outreach for the next phase of the Queens Boulevard safety redesign from Yellowstone Boulevard to Union Turnpike,” he said. “We are planning a community workshop for early next year, and we look forward to returning to Community Board 6 in the future to discuss a proposal.”
Reach Jon Cronin at 718-357-7400 x125, firstname.lastname@example.org or @JonathanSCronin.