Tuesday, November 9, 2010

Bid for a Boulevard of Life by Paul H.B. Shin - NY Daily News

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THE BOULEVARD of Death could get a major face-lift to make it safer and greener, thanks to a group of volunteer planners with a vision.
A sweeping redesign proposal for Queens Blvd., notorious for its pedestrian and cyclist casualties, is to be unveiled to members of the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives this week, Queens News has learned.
After the proposal is refined by year's end, the group plans to use it as the cornerstone of a major lobbying effort next year of all 29 elected officials whose districts intersect the boulevard, said Caroline Samponaro, the group's director of bicycle advocacy.
"It creates an opportunity for there to be broad support on Queens Blvd.," Samponaro said, noting it takes the burden off any one individual to shoulder the lead on the issue.
The proposal includes features such as bike lanes and bus-only lanes to create a "complete street," similar to the changes recently made on First and Second Aves. in Manhattan.
"We have this enormous opportunity with a canvas this wide," Samponaro said of Queens Blvd., which is 12 lanes wide in some spots.
The city has so far been reluctant to consider bike lanes on the boulevard. In a letter to elected officials in 2009, Queens Transportation Commissioner Maura McCarthy said the roadway is not part of the city's bicycle master plan for various reasons, "and we do not envision including it in the near future."
However, advocates noted that if the city wants to promote cycling, as it has been doing, then Queens Blvd. must be an essential part of a bike lane network.
"It's actually one of the few east-west through routes in Queens," said Shin-pei Tsay, an urban planner and a former Transportation Alternatives deputy director who is spearheading the volunteer redesign. "It goes through so many neighborhoods."
"There's definitely some problems in that it also serves as an arterial for vehicular traffic," Tsay added. "But in a vision for the boulevard, there has to be some kind of balance."
The proposal has the wholehearted support of Ken Coughlin, a close friend of James Langergaard, 38, who was killed in August 2009 at Queens Blvd. and 69th St. in Woodside.
If a bike lane "had been in place a year ago when he was crossing Queens Blvd., then his life could have been saved," said Coughlin, a legal editor.
"It should not only be a major artery for cars, but it should also be a major artery for other road users," he added. "It only makes sense to carve out some space for those who choose not to drive."
Samponaro conceded there will be resistance and a "huge learning curve" if Queens Blvd. is redesigned. But similar projects in other parts of the city have shown that locals soon acknowledge the benefits, she said.
Coughlin said he has become an avid cyclist himself, mostly due to the growth of bike lanes.
"There's an incredible latent demand for cycling among thousands who would bike, except for the perception that it's unsafe," he said.