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Posts from the Astoria Category


Simotas Calls on DOT to Make Astoria Park’s Shore Boulevard Car-Free

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas wants Astoria Park to be New York’s next car-free park.

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas

In a letter sent to DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg this week [PDF], Simotas urged the agency to make Shore Boulevard between Astoria Park South and Ditmars Boulevard a car-free space. Shore Boulevard runs along the East River within Astoria Park, and it’s one of the streets park advocates and Council Member Costa Constantinides have prioritized for traffic calming in the wake of the hit-and-run death of 21-year-old Betty Jean DiBiaso.

With her declaration of support for a fully car-free Shore Boulevard, Simotas is taking the next step.

The boulevard is often busy with families enjoying the waterfront, especially on weekends. It’s also a gathering spot for motorcyclists and can attract drag racers.

“One of the great things about Astoria Park is the access it provides to the waterfront,” Simotas said in a press release. “With cars racing up and down Shore Boulevard, families are forced to cross a hazardous barrier in order to fully enjoy this green space.”

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After Hit-and-Run Death, Neighbors Press DOT to Tame Traffic in Astoria Park

Outside of the occasional special event, Shore Boulevard in Astoria Park is dedicated to cars. Photo: Green Shores NYC

Only during the occasional special event do people have priority on Shore Boulevard in Astoria Park. Photo: Green Shores NYC

Park advocates, a local civic association, and Council Member Costa Constantinides are calling on DOT to implement traffic calming around Astoria Park after a hit-and-run driver killed a woman just outside the park last month. The effort could grow much larger than changes to the intersection where the crash occurred: Pressure is mounting for DOT to reimagine the way motorists drive around — and through — the popular Queens park.

Betty Jean DiBiaso, 21, was leaving Astoria Park at about 12:30 a.m. on June 27 when she crossed Ditmars Boulevard at 19th Street. Then Nicholas Colleran, 24, struck her with his Chevrolet Impala and kept going. He later turned himself in to police, but only after filing a report that his car had been stolen, according to WNBC. He now faces charges for falsely reporting an incident, failing to stop at a stop sign, leaving the scene of a crash, and unlicensed driving.

Two days after DiBiaso’s death, reports the Queens Chronicle, the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association passed a resolution asking DOT to install traffic calming on Ditmars Boulevard between Shore Boulevard and 21st Street, an area including the intersection where DiBiaso was killed.

Council Member Costa Constantinides also launched a petition gathering support for traffic calming in the area. “This isn’t about one traffic light or one speed bump,” Constantinides said. “This is about coming up with a real comprehensive plan for the streets that surround Astoria Park.”

One street of particular concern: Shore Boulevard, which runs along the water’s edge through the western side of the park. “Astoria Park was founded in order to give people access to the waterfront, so having barriers to the waterfront, especially something that has the potential for danger like a street, it’s a challenge to the original concept of the park itself,” said Martha Lopez-Gilpin, co-chair of the Astoria Park Alliance.

“Crossing the street, it’s a little bit like playing frogger. It’s not relaxing,” said Katie Ellman, president of waterfront advocacy group Green Shores NYC. “It’s a city street that goes through the park and disconnects the park from its waterfront.”

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Queens Residents Launch Campaign for Bike Lanes Connecting Parks

Getting to nearby parks from Jackson Heights is much faster by bike than it is by transit. Now, a group of local residents wants safer ways to make the journey. Map: Queens Bike Initiative

Getting to nearby parks from Jackson Heights is much faster by bike than it is by transit. Local residents are mobilizing for street redesigns to help them safely bike to green spaces. Map: Queens Bike Initiative

Northern Queens residents who want to safely bicycle to nearby parks are trying to convince the city to install new bike lanes in neighborhoods from Astoria to Corona.

It all started with a post by Sergio Peçanha to a Jackson Heights neighborhood forum about two weeks ago. With Travers Park and the adjacent 78th Street play street set for reconstruction soon, Peçanha wanted to bicycle with his kids to other parks instead.

He found there weren’t many options nearby. In fact, advocacy group New Yorkers for Parks says Jackson Heights fails to meet virtually every metric the city sets for park access [PDF]. So Peçanha turned to his neighbors on the forum. “If we had bike paths connecting our neighborhood to parks in Northern Queens,” he wrote, “it could be a huge improvement for the neighborhood.”

Soon, other local residents joined and began calling their campaign the Queens Bike Initiative. “We’ve been doing everything through email. We’re excited to get on the ground,” said Alexia Tate, a Jackson Heights mom who began bicycling a year ago and teaches music classes throughout Queens. She heard about the effort through a parents’ forum.

“It’s growing by the minute,” said James McIntyre, a bike commuter who is moving to Jackson Heights from Brooklyn and works in affordable housing financing. “We want to make it as inclusive as possible.”

The advocates would like to see new greenways and protected bike lanes running as far west as the waterfront in Astoria and Long Island City and as far east as Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The paths could connect residents in Steinway, East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights and other neighborhoods to nearby parks and provide a safe way to make trips that take a long time by subway or bus.

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Eyes on the Street: Vernon Boulevard Gets Bike Lane Barriers

New concrete barriers are being added to Vernon Boulevard in Queens. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

New concrete barriers are being added to Vernon Boulevard in Queens. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Biking in western Queens is getting a welcome upgrade.

The two-way bike lane on Vernon Boulevard has not had any type of protection from traffic since it was installed in 2013. The lane was frequently obstructed by drivers who used it as a parking spot.

Now, DOT is installing barriers along the bikeway to keep cars out. The project received the most votes on Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer’s participatory budgeting ballot.

Concrete Jersey barriers are going in along much of Vernon Boulevard, while some sections are getting flexible plastic bollards. There will also be short sections without barriers to accommodate turning trucks or to make room for passengers boarding buses.

The barriers, which are in the process of being installed this week, aim to fix problems like this. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

The barriers, which are in the process of being installed this week, aim to fix problems like this. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Two other sections of Vernon Boulevard that won’t receive barriers are the gaps in the bikeway at Queensbridge Park and Rainey Park. With curbside parking along the park edges, cyclists either have to shift to sharrows on Vernon Boulevard or use more circuitous waterfront paths in the parks.

Installation of the barriers is currently underway and expected to wrap soon.


DOT’s Safety Plan for 21st Street in Astoria Leaves Everyone Wanting More

A street safety plan for 21st Street in western Queens has left elected officials asking for more from DOT.

Since 2009, five people have died on 21st Street in Astoria. Map: DOT

Since 2009, five people have been killed on 21st Street in Astoria. Map: DOT

The plan covers approximately two miles of 21st Street between the Queensboro Bridge and Triboro Bridge. In terms of safety, the street ranks in the bottom third of Queens’ roads. There were five fatalities on 21st Street from 2009 to 2015, including two pedestrians and one cyclist, according to DOT [PDF]. From 2009 to 2013, there were 14 serious injuries, including five pedestrians and one cyclist.

DOT’s plan doesn’t measure up to the danger on 21st Street.

The agency is proposing adding LED lights, which are already in the process of being phased in citywide, to improve nighttime visibility. It will also refresh the street’s paint, adding high-visibility zebra markings to existing crosswalks and installing a new stripe along the curbside parking lane to reduce speeding.

Earlier this month, DOT added leading pedestrian intervals, which give pedestrians a seven-second head start, to 10 intersections. An LPI was already in place at 21st Street and Broadway.

A total of 12 painted curb extensions will be added to nine intersections to shorten crossing distances. Council Member Costa Constantinides says his office will pay the Doe Fund to maintain the painted neckdowns, which could be candidates for capital upgrades funded through the council district’s participatory budgeting process. DOT also says it is seeking funds for capital upgrades to the neckdowns.

One spot that isn’t getting much attention from DOT is the complex intersection of Astoria Boulevard, 27th Avenue, and 21st Street. The Department of City Planning’s western Queens transportation study recommended neckdowns and pedestrian islands for the intersection, but they do not appear in DOT’s plan.

21st Street has long stretches without traffic signals or marked crosswalks, and DOT plans to install a new traffic signal at 29th Avenue. The intersections at 28th Avenue, 30th Road, 33rd Avenue, and 39th Avenue, however, did not meet DOT’s requirements for new signals.

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and State Senator Michael Gianaris all had the same fundamental message: The plan is a good start, but they want more. “It wasn’t everything we were looking to get,” Constantinides said. “There is definitely more that can be done on 21st Street.”

While the elected officials seem most focused on securing additional traffic lights, signals don’t necessarily make a street safer. Steve Scofield, a Transportation Alternatives volunteer who grew up on 21st Street in the 1950s, said bike lanes and pedestrian islands could be included as part of a road diet. “There’s frequently just one lane of moving traffic,” he said, “and you’re just weaving back and forth between double parkers and left turners.”

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Two Pedestrians Killed in 24 Hours, Including Seventh MTA Victim of 2014

MTA bus drivers have killed two pedestrians since 2013 while making turns at the intersection of Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, and Palmetto Street, but bus route modifications were not included in a DOT safety proposal. Image: DOT

MTA bus drivers have killed two pedestrians since 2013 while making turns at the intersection of Myrtle Avenue, Wyckoff Avenue, and Palmetto Street, but bus route modifications were not included in a DOT safety proposal. Image: DOT

Update: The victim in the MTA crash was identified as Edgar Torres. WNYC reports that, according to a witness, Torres was in a crosswalk and crossing with the signal when he was hit.

Drivers have killed two New York City pedestrians since Wednesday. One of the victims was the fourth pedestrian to be fatally struck by an MTA bus driver in the last two months, and the crash occurred at the same intersection on the Brooklyn-Queens border where a city bus driver killed pedestrian Ella Bandes in 2013.

At around 5:10 a.m. today, a man believed to be in his 40s was crossing Palmetto Street when he was struck by the rear wheel of a Q58 as the bus driver turned right onto Palmetto from Wyckoff Avenue, according to NYPD and published reports. An NYPD spokesperson said the victim was pronounced dead on arrival at Wyckoff Heights Medical Center. As of this afternoon his identity was being withheld pending family notification.

On January 31, 2013, a B52 driver making a right turn from Myrtle Avenue onto Palmetto Street struck and killed 23-year-old Ella Bandes. Last April DOT announced plans to improve visibility and shorten crossing distances at the perilous six-legged intersection where Wyckoff, Myrtle, and Palmetto meet. Rush hour turn bans, for two hours a day, were included in the revamp, but MTA bus routes were not affected. Bandes’s mother Judy Kottick noted that the turn restrictions would not have prevented the crash that killed her daughter.

Anonymous police sources told the Daily News that the victim in today’s crash “appeared to be walking in the street, outside the crosswalk” at the time of the collision. The NYPD spokesperson we talked with had no such details, and said it was unclear who had the right of way. Police are still investigating the crash, the spokesperson said. The Post reported that “no criminality is suspected.”

MTA bus drivers have killed at least six pedestrians and one cyclist this year, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog, with four fatal crashes since the beginning of September. Caroline Samponaro, deputy director of Transportation Alternatives, released a statement earlier today:

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Quorum or No, Astoria’s CB 1 Votes Against Three Livable Streets Projects

Astoria’s Community Board 1 rejected three livable streets projects Tuesday night, despite questions about whether the board even had enough members in attendance to take votes on the proposals.

Queens CB 1 would rather have one parking space for cars than eight spots for bikes. Image: DOT [PDF]

Queens CB 1 would rather have one parking space for cars than eight spots for bikes. Image: DOT [PDF]

The three projects — a short bus lane on Astoria Boulevard, concrete barriers to protect cyclists on Vernon Boulevard, and a bike corral in front of a restaurant — fell victim to what appears to be leadership biased against projects that improve conditions for bus riders and cyclists.

“It was just a big disappointment for us. I just don’t understand this mentality that cars and their owners are the only rightful users of street space,” said Jean Cawley, whose husband, Dominic Stiller, was seeking the board’s support for a bike corral to take the place of a car parking spot in front of his restaurant, Dutch Kills Centraal [PDF]. “They seem to me to vote down anything having to do with bicycle safety and infrastructure.”

“I was shocked at the negativity that many on the board displayed toward bikes,” said Macartney Morris, an Astoria resident who attended the meeting. “It seemed crazy that people would get upset about one parking spot.”

When Cawley spoke in favor of the bike corral on Tuesday night, CB 1 chair Vinicio Donato asked her questions about cyclists riding against traffic and running red lights. One board member compared Donato’s line of questioning to asking a liquor license applicant about alcoholism. “I don’t know why that had anything to do with me and the bike corral,” Cawley said. “They’re supposed to have some decorum but they don’t. I think it’s an abuse of process and an abuse of power.”

There were petitions both in support of the corral and against it, but Cawley and other meeting attendees said the board threw out supportive signatures from people who did not live within CB 1, including those from residents of nearby neighborhoods like Woodside or Jackson Heights.

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DCP Sketches Out Waterfront Transit and Safer Streets for Western Queens

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the one of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

DCP is recommending expanded pedestrian space and redesigned streets at complex intersections like the crossing of Vernon Boulevard, Main Avenue, and 8th Street.

A new transitway from LaGuardia Airport to Downtown Brooklyn is the most ambitious recommendation in a draft report [PDF] from the Department of City Planning on transportation in Western Queens, which also includes a raft of smaller changes that would make the streets of Astoria and Long Island City safer and more livable.

While the transitway is the report’s leading recommendation, DCP doesn’t go into much detail other than recommending future study of curbside bus lanes or center-running light rail that would hug the East River between Downtown Brooklyn and the Grand Central Parkway before jumping onto the highway to LaGuardia Airport. The report is more specific about changes to existing transit service, recommending a realignment of bus service and bringing back express subway service to Astoria.

The report is mostly devoted to the potential for traffic calming, recommending curb extensions and crosswalks for both Crescent Street and 21st Street, which has been a priority of Transportation Alternatives. At the complex multi-leg intersection of 21st Street and Astoria Boulevard, the authors recommend curb extensions and pedestrian islands, and the intersection of Astoria Boulevard, Main Avenue, and Vernon Boulevard would also get a major redesign with large sidewalk extensions and plazas.

“None of the streets there carry a lot of traffic, but the traffic movements there are just insane,” said Steve Scofield, a TA volunteer who attended a meeting DCP hosted on Monday to present its draft findings. “Clarifying that [intersection] could help everybody.”

In a bit of a surprise, the report suggests installing a pedestrian plaza at Newtown and 30th Avenues in Astoria, a plan that Community Board 1 rejected two years ago in favor of curb extensions. Scofield said one CB 1 member at Monday’s meeting was not happy to see the plaza concept revived by DCP.

The plan also recommends pedestrian-activated flashing traffic signals on Vernon Boulevard, where crosswalks are currently up to 2,000 feet apart. At the southern end of Vernon Boulevard near Jackson Avenue, DCP suggests expanding the existing “greenstreet” to add more pedestrian space and crosswalks. A second option for that location would create a large plaza and protected bike lane.

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Sooner or Later, the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront Needs Better Transit

New condos in Long Island City are part of the first wave of changes sweeping the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. Photo: Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

The Brooklyn and Queens waterfront is in the midst of a grand transformation that’s only just begun. Newly built Brooklyn Bridge Park is already firmly established as one of the city’s most stunning public spaces. The Brooklyn Navy Yard now hosts glitzy fashion shows by international designers like Alexander Wang and Dior. Long Island City’s waterfront is a wall of glassy new condos. Many more changes are coming.

As this transformation takes place, new travel patterns are emerging, and for the better part of the last ten years, planners have floated the prospect of a new transit line along the waterfront to accommodate residential development and job growth. Most recently, architecture critic Michael Kimmelman suggested in the New York Times that the city build a streetcar along the waterfront, prompting Alicia Glen, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development, to Tweet: “Love big ideas.”

Others were critical, noting that a streetcar represents a huge investment that could be better spent on other transportation priorities: using buses to connect residents with the subway, or beefing up service on the city’s busiest bus routes. Writing for Next City, Stephen Smith noted: “You cannot effectively connect waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens to both each other and the subway.” Smith also pointed out that the waterfront neighborhoods, for all their development, have relatively low population and job densities.

To plan for the future of the waterfront, however, we have to give some thought to transit. I agree that the cost of a light rail line is unnecessary (and streetcars make little sense regardless of the expense), but the city will need to forge stronger transportation links to meet the area’s full potential. The rationale for transit improvements is about the waterfront’s ultimate potential for new housing and jobs, rather than the existing conditions.

The city should begin by strengthening bicycle connections and by improving bus service with the goal of a one-seat ride from Astoria to Downtown Brooklyn. Both modes could certainly connect new residents and workers with the subway: The F train at Jay Street and the 7 train at Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue are both within reach.

But a subway connection is not the main point. A successful vision for the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront is necessarily oriented away from Manhattan and instead looks to stitch the waterfront communities together. Otherwise, new residential developments will be effectively cut off from each other and from new job centers in DUMBO, the Navy Yard, Williamsburg, and Long Island City.

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New Vision Zero Details Emerge at Astoria Town Hall

Last night, more than 100 people gathered in Astoria for the latest in a series of Vision Zero town halls bringing together residents,  city officials, elected representatives, and advocates to talk about street safety. New information regarding City Hall’s current thinking about the safety of trucks and large vehicle fleets came to light, and officials also hinted at opening more street safety data to the public.

NYPD and DOT will hand out this flyer at high-crash intersections.

NYPD and DOT will soon start handing out this flyer at high-crash intersections.

While the city continues to flesh out policies, Queens residents affected by traffic violence came to last night’s meeting seeking answers and highlighting areas where the NYPD still needs to improve.

“We haven’t heard from the police yet. It would be nice to find out as much information as possible,” said Satie Ragunath, whose father-in-law Kumar was killed in a hit-and-run while crossing Northern Boulevard earlier this month. “We’d like to know, what can you guys do about accidents that have already happened?”

Deputy Inspector Kevin Maloney, commanding officer of the 114th Precinct, told Streetsblog that the Collision Investigation Squad was unable to find surveillance video of the crash and was broadening its search area, using cameras on nearby blocks in an attempt to identify the hit-and-run driver. “I’ll talk with the detective in charge of that investigation and I’ll be sure he speaks to you,” Maloney told Ragunath.

Chris Vanterpool said he and his 3-year-old son were struck by a turning driver two weeks ago while they were in a crosswalk near their Astoria home. Vanterpool said it was difficult to get information from the precinct after the crash. “I had to make 10 phone calls to get the report number,” he said, and when he wanted to get a copy of the crash report, the precinct required a $10 money order. “It costs $15 at the bank to get a $10 money order,” Vanterpool said.

Maloney, who spoke with Vanterpool about the crash after the forum, told Streetsblog that the precinct tries to focus on speeding, cell phone use, and red light summonses. The five officers in its traffic enforcement division, as well as a handful of patrol officers, are trained to use the three LIDAR speed guns available at the precinct.

“When I was a cop, precinct cops didn’t even shoot radar,” Maloney said. “Since then, the department’s evolved, so it’s something that on the precinct level we take seriously.”

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