By Bill Parry
Nearly a hundred residents of Corona and Jackson Heights joined Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-East Elmhurst) Tuesday on the steps of City Hall as she demanded that a safety plan for 111th Street be implemented immediately. Mothers and their children delivered 1,600 petitions to the Mayor’s Office asking for the long-sought-after improvements on the broad roadway along Flushing Meadows Corona Park that would provide safe space for people walking, biking and driving.
According to the city’s Department of Transportation there were 93 motor vehicle crashes, 22 bicycle incidents and 17 pedestrian accident on 111th Street between Corona Avenue and 43rd Avenue between 2009 and 2013. Park goers must walk 94 feet to the only pedestrian entrance to the park on corners that do not have crosswalks or under traffic lights that do not allow them an adequate amount of time to get across safely. In addition, 884 cyclists travel 111th Street each day, many of whom presently compete for the right of way with speeding cars and delivery trucks.
“It’s time to make 111th Street safer,” Ferreras-Copeland said. “We have developed a plan in consultation with New Yorkers who use the street every day, which would calm traffic, create safer crossings and add a protected bike lane. The street should be a gateway, not a barrier, for the thousands of people in Corona, Jackson Heights, Elmhurst and East Elmhurst who use Flushing Meadows Corona Park.”
The plan, fully funded at $2.7 million by Ferreras-Copeland in 2013, was presented over a year ago and has since stalled, she said. The DOT’s plan would reduce vehicle lanes while adding a two-way protected bike lane, pedestrian crossings and curbside parking, but Community Board 4 has yet to receive a formalized presentation that its full board can vote on, according to District Manager Christian Cassagnol.
State Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) shed some light on the delay. Last year he offered three alternatives, which would create a bike lane without obstructing traffic and removing parking space. The DOT is still studying the proposals.
“For anyone living in the area, the heavy traffic congestion … and lack of parking along 111th is already infamous, and a bike lane that cuts on those vital traffic lanes and parking spaces will worsen an already bad situation,” Moya said. “The most frustrating aspect of this controversy is that solutions have already been provided to the administration that would be a win-win for cyclists and the community alike. Attempts to paint the community’s objections as NIMBY or anti-bike lane are tone-deaf at best and disingenuous at worst. I cannot understand the rationale of shoehorning an overwhelmingly opposed project over the community board and over the people living in the area’s heads when that same community has already offered better alternatives.”
The de Blasio administration took note of Tuesday’s City Hall rally. Mayoral spokesman Austin Finan said, “We are encouraged by continued community support for safety enhancements on 111th Street and we continue discussions with stakeholders on this important proposal.”
In May, de Blasio told officials at the DOT to ignore CB4’s objection to bike lanes and proceed with phase two of the $100 million reconstruction of Queens Boulevard. The bike lanes are expected to be finished from 74th Street to Eliot Avenue in Elmhurst, weather permitting, according to a DOT spokesman.Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr