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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.

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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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Van Bramer: Deadly Northern Boulevard Should Be a Vision Zero Priority

Advocates and fellow electeds with City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer on Northern Boulevard, in front of a bus stop where five people were injured by a curb-jumping driver this month. Photo: Brad Aaron

Advocates and fellow electeds with City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer on Northern Boulevard, in front of a bus stop where five people were injured by a curb-jumping driver this month. Photo: Brad Aaron

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, state electeds, and advocates gathered in Queens this morning to call on Mayor Bill de Blasio to make Northern Boulevard a Vision Zero priority by making hazardous intersections safer for pedestrians.

Standing next to a recently repaired bus shelter at Northern and 48th Street, which was nearly destroyed by a curb-jumping hit-and-run driver who seriously injured five people on February 1, Van Bramer also singled out dangerous crossings at Northern and 42nd Street, 43rd Street, 52nd Street, and 62nd Street, where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed by an unlicensed truck driver.

“We’re asking the administration today to include this series of intersections on Northern Boulevard so that no child is ever killed trying to cross the street to go to school, that no 7-year-old girl is ever sent to Elmhurst Hospital waiting for a bus, or excited to have just come out of Old Navy with some new clothes,” said Van Bramer, referring to Nahian and one of the victims struck last weekend.

De Blasio has said he wants to revamp at least 50 corridors and intersections a year, but has not yet announced where the first round of improvements will take place. Van Bramer said the administration has asked for recommendations from council members. De Blasio has also directed the city’s police, transportation, taxi, and health commissioners to produce a pedestrian safety plan by February 15. De Blasio’s Vision Zero launch event was held at PS 152, where Nahian attended school.

Northern Boulevard is a hostile, wide street lined with retail and grocery stores. Throughout today’s street safety presser, speakers were drowned out or interrupted by loud trucks and honking motorists, who whipped by just a few feet away. Van Bramer cited a report from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign that found that five pedestrians were killed on the boulevard from 2010 to 2012. That number does not include Nahian or Olvin Jahir Figueroa, age 3, who was hit by an alleged drunk driver while crossing with his mother at Northern and Junction Boulevard in 2013. Since 2011, NYPD data reports put the number of pedestrians injured by drivers on Northern Boulevard in the hundreds.

“As we often say, ‘It is too late to wait,'” said Van Bramer. “The time to act is now.” Van Bramer said he has a “pretty extensive list” of streets targeted for improvement in his district, and would make it available to the public soon. “There are far more than 50 [intersections] that deserve this recognition,” he said.

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Eyes on the Street: Vernon Boulevard Bikeway Upgrade

DOT crews at work on Vernon Boulevard near Hallet's Cove this morning. Photo: Gil Lopez/Instagram

Buffered bike lanes on Vernon Boulevard in western Queens are getting upgraded to a buffered two-way bikeway. Gil Lopez was near Hallet’s Cove this morning when he snapped a photo of DOT crews installing the bike lane, which when complete will include flexible posts to keep out car traffic.

The two-way lane will run from 46th Avenue in Long Island City to 30th Drive in Astoria, though it will give way to shared lane markings on opposite sides of the street near Queensbridge Park and Rainey Park. The disruptions to the bike lane will add back some parking spaces removed when the Vernon Boulevard bike lane was installed in 2008. Cyclists looking for a protected route on those sections are directed to more circuitous waterfront bike paths in the parks.

This isn’t the only bike route upgrade on track for western Queens: On November 7, Community Board 2 is scheduled to take up a proposal to expand bike lanes in Long Island City and Sunnyside. These plans, developed by DOT after a series of workshops with the community board, will improve connections to the Pulaski Bridge, Queens Plaza, Hunters Point, and Sunnyside.

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Progress for Safer Streets From Queens and Manhattan Community Boards

Last night, the full board of Manhattan Community Board 6 passed a resolution in support of a DOT plan that would fill in a gap between two sections of Second Avenue’s protected bike lane by replacing a car travel lane with parking from 23rd Street to 14th Street. Across the East River, Queens CB 1’s transportation committee was receptive to community requests for traffic calming on 21st Street in Astoria and Long Island City, asking advocates to come back with more specific requests.

If CB 1 requests a study from DOT, 21st Street in Astoria, seen above at 37th Avenue, could become safer for pedestrians. Photo: Google Maps

The CB 6 vote was surprisingly close. Although official numbers from the board will not be available until next week, reports from last night’s meeting indicate that the tally was 15-10, with two abstentions, meaning the plan was just three votes away from deadlock.

Although the plan adds parking and would not significantly affect traffic flow, according to DOT, a source said that there was resistance among some board members to a bike-related proposal or anything that might slow down travel times on the avenue. In the end, the resolution passed, and the buffered bike lane will be converted to a protected lane. Streetsblog has asked DOT when the project will be implemented; we’ll let you know if we hear anything back. Update: DOT says “implementation is scheduled to begin at the end of this month.”

In Astoria, Queens CB 1’s transportation committee was very receptive to a presentation by volunteers from Transportation Alternatives, Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens, Mount Carmel Church, Ravenswood Senior Center and Queensview Co-Op. The groups are asking for shared lane markings for bicyclists and better crosswalks and intersections for pedestrians.

“We got really strong support,” volunteer Juliana Roberts-Dubovsky said. “They recognize that it’s a dangerous street.” Although the committee did not pass any resolutions last night, it asked the TA volunteers and their neighborhood partners to come back with more specific proposals and requests before the board approaches DOT.

“Transportation Alternatives is going to come back, and then the motion will be presented to the full board,” district manager Lucille Hartmann said, adding that while the volunteers will meet again with the committee, the resolution will only go before the full board. “The consensus was that this area requires some changes,” Hartmann said. “The board will support the work that Transportation Alternatives is doing.”