June 25, 2021 By Christian Murray
Community Board 2 voted Wednesday in support of the Department of Transportation’s plan to create a bike boulevard on 39th Avenue in Sunnyside.
The plan, which got the backing of the board by 21-11, calls for significant changes to 39th Avenue, as the DOT attempts to reduce speeding and build a comprehensive bike network that connects Jackson Heights to Sunnyside.
The plan is complex and involves converting various portions of 39th Avenue and Barnett Avenue into one-way zones that will create space for a protected bicycle lane and pedestrian safety features. The DOT says that residents will not lose parking spaces.
The avenue is one of five stretches across the city that will be transformed into a bike boulevard by the end of the year. The DOT plans to create one “bike boulevard” per borough.
“This is all about traffic calming,” said Craig Baerwald, operations manager for the bike unit at DOT, who presented the plans before CB2 via Zoom Wednesday night. “It makes it safer to bike but also makes it safer to walk and drive as well.”
The City has already converted 39th Avenue, from 45th Street to Woodside Avenue, to an “Open Street,” which is closed to through traffic from 8 a.m. to 8 p.m. on most days.
The bike boulevard concept is an outgrowth of the Open Street program.
The DOT plans to convert 39th Avenue between 45th and 47th streets (currently two-way) into a one-way street going west. It also plans to convert Barnett Avenue—between 45th and 48th streets—into a one-way street going east. Currently that section of Barnett Avenue is a narrow two-way street.
Baerwald told the board that the one-way streets would reduce the number of motorists using 39th Avenue as a through-street. Currently many drivers use 39th Avenue as a corridor, he said, and that the changes would help prevent speeding.
The conversion, he said, would also free up space for the DOT to add a protected bicycle lane and pedestrian infrastructure. It also comes at a time when Citi Bike is about to expand into Sunnyside.
The DOT also plans to convert 39th Avenue from Woodside Avenue to 52nd Street into a one-way zone—west bound. The DOT says that the change would lead to a reduction in speeding, and create additional space for a protected bicycle lane and pedestrian safety features.
The DOT plans to add a series of crosswalks along the avenue.
The plans, while having strong support, were criticized by some board members including community board chair Lisa Deller.
Deller said that the 39th Avenue Open Street, which was established during the pandemic when parks and playgrounds were closed, is seldom used by pedestrians and cyclists—and questioned the need for a bike boulevard on that stretch.
“I live on 45th Street and 39th Avenue and I know when I go down my street and take a right-hand turn there are Open Street barricades right in my face. It makes for an obstacle course on 39th Avenue and hardly anyone uses that space,” Deller said.
She also said that the DOT could put in speed bumps or traffic signals—or other measures to boost safety—something that Sunnyside Gardens residents, she noted, have long been asking for.
Meanwhile, Stephen Cooper, a long-time board member and Sunnyside Gardens resident, was also unenthused by the plan.
“I’m rather disturbed,” Cooper said. “This is going to make it very difficult for the residents of Sunnyside Gardens to be able to park their cars or unload their groceries or whatever they have in their car.”
He argued that parking spaces would be lost despite DOT assurances. He said that whenever a parking lane is pushed toward the middle of the roadway– to make room for a protected bicycle lane – spaces are lost.
The plans, however, did have strong support from most board members.
“I think this is really exciting,” said Laura Shepard, a board member and bike and safe streets advocate. “This is badly needed and is a key bike route from 34th Avenue in Jackson Heights to the Skillman Avenue protected bicycle lane.”
More than 20 people provided public comment on the plan that lasted for nearly 2 hours, with the majority in support of the plan. Many of the supporters said they were cyclists who lived on 39th Avenue and said the stretch needed to be safer.
They said the changes would benefit all road users, making it safer for children as well as drivers.
They also noted that it was important to have a safe bike network linking the neighborhoods of Jackson Heights, Woodside and Sunnyside.
The plan also has the backing of Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, whose representative told the board at the beginning of the meeting that he supported it.
Several board members, however, wanted to table the vote saying that more information was needed before they would support it.
One member was concerned about the impact the project would have on school buses, since 39th Avenue is a pick-up and drop-off point for many kids.
Another member wanted to know what impact it could have on the new middle school that is going up at 48th Street and Barnett Avenue. Another believed that the DOT had not given the public adequate time to properly vet the project.
Cooper made a motion to table the plan, which was rejected 21-10, with one abstention.
A motion to support the plan followed and the board voted in favor of the plan 21-11.
Van Bramer said that that he was pleased that the board backed the plan.
“I support the bike boulevard proposal,” he said. “The truth is that we will always be safer when there are more protected bicycle lanes and more space for pedestrians and bicyclists and when we reduce speeding and that is what this plan will do.”
For full DOT presentation, click here