The redesign of Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills is slated to move forward this summer, and a 23-11 vote agains the project at Queens CB 6 last night isn’t going to change that.
DOT informed the CB 6 transportation committee last month that the project is a mayoral priority and would proceed with or without the board’s endorsement. It’s an intriguing example of what the de Blasio administration can accomplish when it decides that its public safety mandate should override the unpredictable and often obstructionist outcomes of the community board process.
On Queens Boulevard, the safety argument for the redesign is overwhelming: Pedestrian injuries fell 55 percent after implementation of the first two phases of the redesign in Woodside and Elmhurst, while cycling increased 127 percent on the Rego Park section this spring, DOT reports [PDF]. (It’s too soon to have meaningful crash data from the Rego Park phase, which was implemented less than a year ago.)
Meanwhile, Jay Parker, the owner of Ben’s Best Kosher Deli, has embarked on a media tour blaming the impending closure of his business on the Queens Boulevard redesign. Despite all evidence that Ben’s Best was simply a victim of the same market forces that have claimed other kosher delis in NYC, Parker has fixated on the bike lane, and community board members believe him.
The main feature of the redesign — expanded pedestrian space and a bike lane along the median separating the Queens Boulevard service streets from the central roadway — replaces what is now a parking lane. Ironically, that parking lane was added as a measure of protection back in 2001, replacing a moving lane to slow down speeding traffic.
Since 2015, DOT has been putting down protected bike lanes, expanding pedestrian space, and calming traffic on Queens Boulevard. This year’s phase will extend the redesign east from to Union Turnpike the current terminus at Yellowstone Boulevard [PDF]. It’s the fourth and final segment planned for the project, which started in Woodside in 2015.
Ex Transportation chair from Queens CB6 is saying to remove the “totally worthless” pedestrian space but keep the bike lanes – I am In Community Board bizarro world Re: CB4 pic.twitter.com/8aDIptSzee
— Juan Restrepo ? (@juaninQNS) June 14, 2018
Transportation Alternatives Queens organizer Juan Restrepo attended the meeting last night and says many board members appeared torn. They value the safety impact of the first three phases of the redesign but also don’t want to reduce on-street parking.
The vote was preceded by an extended speech by Chair Joseph Hennessy, who ticked off a list of complaints about the project while acknowledging that pedestrian safety on Queens Boulevard is a major concern and that the DOT project had addressed it.
“They hear about Ben’s Best closing, they hear about safety and the statistics,” Restrepo said. “It seems like the chair is very conflicted about it, and that’s the attitude a lot of people have about this plan.”
With the support of City Hall, DOT is going to move forward with this project. That’s going to prevent a lot of life-altering crashes in Forest Hills. It also raises the question: Why doesn’t the mayor treat every street redesign with this level of urgency?