BY JAMES FARRELL
After more than a year of work, the $7.8 million expansion of Main Street’s sidewalks is finally complete, officials announced last Thursday.
The project, completed by the city’s Department of Transportation and Department of Design and Construction, began in July 2016 and was meant to alleviate crowding issues along the congested downtown Flushing Main Street corridor. Sidewalks were widened—in some places, by up to nine feet—between 38th Avenue and 41st Avenue. Additionally, the project added new catch basins and fire hydrants, upgraded existing water mains and sewers, and brought a new northbound Select Bus Service (SBS) lane between 40th Road and Roosevelt Avenue.
The project was billed as the first major reconstruction done on Main Street in more than 20 years and a Vision Zero initiative that would improve pedestrian safety.
“After more than a year of construction in the busiest transportation hub in Queens, we are extremely excited to announce that the Main Street reconstruction and sidewalk widening is finally finished,” said Councilman Peter Koo (D-Flushing). “Now, with as much as nine feet of new sidewalk space in some places, walking down Main Street is a new and improved experience.”
The ongoing work along the sidewalks led to some inconveniences, such as limited access on the roadways. Additional construction work, such as an unannounced emergency sewer repair project in July, added to confusion for commuters. But officials hope that the project will ultimately lead to an improved Main Street—currently, the second–most-congested pedestrian corridor, behind only Times Square.
David Lin, 27, a Flushing resident of 16 years, said that the construction caused headaches for pedestrians trying to walk along Main Street, but the results were paying off.
“When it was under construction, people couldn’t get through,” Lin said. “[The sidewalk’s] wider, so the street’s not as overcrowded as before.”
But more than a year of construction also impacted some of the businesses along the corridor, according to Dian Yu, executive director of the Downtown Flushing Transit Hub Business Improvement District (BID). The work, at times, created chaotic traffic conditions and made it difficult for the BID’s sanitation crews to navigate construction barriers to clean up the streets.
“Quite a few businesses experienced a loss of business due to the traffic congestion and the hardship of getting to downtown Flushing,” Yu said. “They finished at the best time because we just kicked off the holiday shopping season, so we’re hoping that the holiday shopping season will help the local businesses.”
Vony Enc, owner of the Silver World jewelry stand on Main Street, said the construction made the sidewalk feel even narrower than it was. But just days after the project’s completion was announced, he believes business is improving. He reported seeing more people visiting the area—and sidewalks that can appropriately accommodate them.
“For us, we have a stand outside right on the sidewalk, so we saw people bump into my customers,” he said, adding that those crowded conditions often discouraged visitors. “With the sidewalk wider, it does bring in a lot more people.”
Yu added that he was “thrilled” with the finished project, calling it a “good project for pedestrians” that would alleviate excessive foot traffic. However, he wondered how wider sidewalks, narrow roadways and a new SBS lane might affect vehicular traffic.
“It might lead to more traffic on the side streets,” Yu said.
For now, the mood in Flushing is relief, accompanied with a sense that life would soon return to normal.
“We’re pleased that the sidewalks have been widened and we can get back to what we were doing best, which is to create the most dynamic business community in New York,” said John Choe, executive director of the Greater Flushing Chamber of Commerce, at a ribbon-cutting celebrating the sidewalks.