Sept. 24, 2021 By Michael Dorgan and Christian Murray
The NYC Dept. of Transportation is currently installing a bike boulevard on 39th Avenue in Sunnyside.
The QUEENS POST visited 39th Avenue on Wednesday and spoke to several people at random about the plan. The people interviewed happened to be either walking or riding their bikes in the area at the time.
The plan is complex and many portions of 39th Avenue and Barnett Avenue have been converted into one-way zones in recent days. The change has created space for the installation of a protected bicycle lane—which had yet to be constructed at the time of the interviews.
The overall street redesign, however, had gone into effect. For instance, the stretch on 39th Avenue between 45th and 47th streets (previously two-way) is now a one-way street going west. The DOT has also converted 39th Avenue from Woodside Avenue to 52nd Street into a one-way zone—westbound.
The plan has also seen Barnett Avenue—between 45th and 48th streets—converted into a one-way street going east. That section of Barnett Avenue was previously a narrow two-way street.
Most of the people who were interviewed—whether they be motorists, cyclists or pedestrians— were confused by the workings of the plan, and some wondered whether there was a need for such a major overhaul.
We urge readers to listen to the interviews and draw their own conclusions as to how the plan has been received. However, there were several themes that residents raised.
Many residents wondered why the DOT had to produce such a complex plan. Some said the addition of stop signs, traffic signals, speed bumps or crosswalks along 39th Avenue would have been enough to reduce speeding and make the strip safer. They questioned the need for such a major change.
Some said they didn’t see a need for a bike boulevard when there are protected bicycle lanes on Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenue. Others argued that they now have to drive farther to get in and out of the area—which undermines the environmental upside to the plan.
Others were upset that parking spaces have been lost, despite the DOT saying that none would be removed when the plan was first announced.
Nevertheless, many people have praised the installation of new crosswalks for added safety along the boulevard.
The DOT acknowledged Friday that some spaces were being lost—although the agency said the number was minimal.
The agency, in a statement Friday, addressed some of the concerns and questions raised by residents. The full statement reads as follows:
“The Bike Boulevard on 39th Avenue will improve connections for cyclists traveling between Sunnyside, Woodside, and Jackson Heights — in particular from the 34th Avenue Open Street to protected bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd Avenues leading to and from the Queensboro Bridge. The design also includes pedestrian safety improvements and elements to reduce speeding and discourage cut-through traffic on this neighborhood street, without negatively affecting traffic patterns in the neighborhood. The project, which received a vote of support from the local Community Board, requires minimal parking loss (at most 3 spots per block in an 8 block area) for the safety design to proceed, while also including features to accommodate emergency vehicles. We will continue to monitor this area closely following implementation.”
The plan, which was conceptually announced by Mayor Bill de Blasio in May, has the backing of Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. The council, however, never actually voted on it.
Community Board 2 voted 21-11 in support of the plan in June.
At the June community board meeting—held via Zoom—more than 20 people provided public comment on the plan, with the vast majority in support of it. Many of the supporters said they were cyclists who lived on 39th Avenue and said the stretch needed to be safer.
The DOT, when it presented the plan to the community board, said that the one-way streets would reduce the number of motorists using 39th Avenue as a through-street. The agency said many drivers were using 39th Avenue as a corridor and that the changes would help prevent speeding.
The conversion, the agency also noted, would free up space for the DOT to add a protected bicycle lane on 39th Avenue and pedestrian infrastructure. The bike lane, the DOT noted, would also provide a link to Jackson Heights at a time when Citi Bike is about to expand into Sunnyside.
Many residents this week said that they were completely unaware that the bike boulevard was coming until construction began. Most are struggling to comprehend the changes.
But many are hopeful that it will lead to increased safety once residents get used to the change. Others were less confident.