June 22, 2016 By Michael Florio
The Department of Transportation’s plan to install a bike route connecting Astoria and Jackson Heights via 31st Avenue got conditional approval from Community Board 1 last night.
The DOT saw a need for bike lanes that run east and west in Queens, connecting the neighborhoods as well as parks throughout the community, DOT project manager Nick Carey said. The route also stretches to the East River and the Flushing Bay Promenade.
“There are parts of the neighborhood that are poorly served by the subway and park system,” Carey said. “We want to connect the neighborhoods, and connect people to the waterfront and parks in a way that won’t burden drivers.”
The proposal would implement both shared and dedicated bicycle lanes throughout Astoria along 31st Avenue.
Portions of 31st Avenue are only 40 feet wide, including from Vernon Boulevard to Crescent Street and 32nd Street to 49th Street. The DOT would paint markings to create a shared bicycle lane along these stretches.
However, portions that are 50 feet wide, including Crescent Street to 32nd Street and 49th Street to the BQE, would allow the DOT to install dedicated bicycle lanes.
Carey asserted that the bike lanes will help combat speeding by narrowing the space vehicles have on the road.
The DOT chose 31st Avenue for this bike route because it is a straight shot connecting the East River and Flushing Bay, and is already utilized by cyclists. In November, the DOT did a study of 31st Avenue between 35th and 36th Streets and found that 200 bicyclists rode daily during the week and nearly 300 rode daily on weekends.
In addition to the bike lanes, the DOT would also implement high visibility crosswalks along 31st Avenue, as well as a curb extension at Hobart Street and 51st Street. The DOT is also conducting a study to see if a traffic signal is needed at 49th Street and 55th Street.
CB 1 had tabled the proposal for a 31st Avenue bike route in March, after raising safety concerns on the stretch between 55th and 59th Street.
The Board’s transportation committee went on a walk-through of the route with DOT officials in April, and pointed out their concerns, according to committee chair Robert Piazza. One major issue was vehicles double-parking outside of Paragon Honda Service Center (57-06 31st Ave.), creating dangerous conditions for cyclists.
Tuesday’s presentation reflected some minor changes to the proposal since then.
The DOT decided to change parking meters in front of a grocery story, on the southside of 31st Avenue between 56th and 57th Streets, from two hour parking to one, to increase turnover.
“So when people are lining up to enter the service center, there is more space for them,” Carey explained.
Board members were not pleased with this solution.
“Meter parking does not get rid of double parked cars by Honda,” CB 1 member Danielle Tharrington said. “They arrive and double park before meter parking even goes into effect.”
“I don’t think this is a safe area for bikes to ride past this,” Piazza said. “Riding past the car dealership will put cyclists in danger.”
The Board discussed adding a detour to the bike route, which would go up 55th Street and then along 32nd Avenue until 60th Street, where it would return to 31st Avenue. This detour would bypass the service center.
However, Carey stated that the DOT has found that cyclists will not veer off the main road for a route that “zig zags.”
“They would continue to ride along 31st Avenue,” he said.
Multiple cyclists in attendance echoed his sentiment.
“This is a point A to point B route,” one said.
“This goes against cyclist safety if they do not have a dedicated space to ride,” another said.
Ultimately, CB 1 voted to approve the proposed bike route, but included a condition to add the detour. The Board also included conditions to not reduce the metered parking time to one hour, as well as the DOT providing bike safety workshops in the neighborhood.
The Board’s vote is purely a recommendation that gets sent to the DOT. The agency will discuss these ideas internally, before making a final decision.
However, Piazza is not convinced the recommended conditions will be taken seriously, as the City is going forward with bike lanes on Queens Boulevard after CB 4 voted against it and a bike corral was installed in Dutch Kills after CB 1 shot down that plan.
The agency had planned to install the lanes in late summer/early Fall, Carey said.
Community Board 3 approved the part of the proposal that runs through their district last week.