By Bill Parry
Steinway Street in Astoria needs an extreme makeover to improve the shopping experience and make it safer for pedestrians, neighborhood leaders and merchants say.
Elected officials, community leaders and business owners announced their support last Friday for a proposal by City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D–Astoria) for a package of upgrades that includes traffic-slowing measures, such as mid-block crossings, to make the street more pedestrian-friendly for shoppers, as well as creating a designated public gathering place where shoppers could relax.
“Steinway is the beating commercial heart of our community. It’s always changed over time and business has been in transition in the last few years,” Constantinides said. “Many great shopping areas around our city have measures to mitigate traffic and dedicated spaces for public gatherings. We have the opportunity to turn Steinway Street into something similar.”
State Sen. Michael Gianaris (D–Astoria) called Steinway Street “one of New York’s greatest shopping strips, central to the Astoria community.”
State Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D–Astoria) grew up nearby and remembers when the corridor offered a better shopping experience.
“I remember how cool it was to come to Steinway Street and shop with my mother, but along the way that feeling went away,” she said. “This thoroughfare has not kept up with the times.”
Community Board 1 members complained that Internet shopping, traffic, double-parked delivery trucks and the lack of parking have combined to drive customers away from the thoroughfare’s 300 stores and restaurants, leading to an increase in empty storefronts.
“The businesses are really diminishing here, look how many empty spots there are,” said CB1 district manager Florence Koulouris. “And the modification of the Queens Center Mall has hurt business even more.”
CB1 Transportation Chairman Bob Piazza has lived in the area since 1961 and recalls when the strip was a magnet for shoppers.
“People used to come here from all over — from Elmhurst, Corona, and Jackson Heights,” Piazza said. “People don’t come here anymore. I don’t come here anymore. It has to be more accessible to automobiles in addition to pedestrians and cyclists. Without them, I don’t know how successful Steinway Street will remain.”
Constantinides wants to brainstorm with the public beginning in the spring with a community working group to discuss the public gathering place and the officials announced that the public can submit their ideas by emailing Stein
“A collaborative effort will ensure that plans will benefit our entire neighborhood,” Constantinides said. “That’s why we’re soliciting input from community residents and will continue to work with city agencies and other stakeholders as these proposals come to fruition. Together, we will make Steinway Street safer and benefit our small business owners.”
Since 2009, there have been 249 traffic-related incidents and 95 pedestrian injuries along Steinway Street between Astoria Boulevard and 34th Avenue, according to Constantinides, so he is proposing additional safety measures such as curb extensions and Leading Pedestrian Intervals for walk signals so shoppers can cross more easily.
Street safety activists agreed that the shopping strip was ripe for pedestrian improvements.
“Steinway Street has been broken for far too long, and Costa’s proposed changes are good steps forward that will improve conditions for pedestrians,” said Macartney Morris, an Astoria resident and chairman of Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Committee. “Now is the time to think outside the box and realize streets like Steinway don’t have to remain broken just because that’s how they’ve always been.”
Tony Barsamian, the chairman of the Steinway Astoria Partnership, said business owners along the corridor also support the proposal.
“The merchants are united behind the action of trying to improve Steinway Street,” he said. “We’re open-minded to developments that will bring more people to the street, that will bring shoppers back. We’ve got to get that feeling back so people want to be here.”
He added that the public gathering space would create an anchor that would bring increased economic activity, and then more businesses would come back to Steinway Street.
“It’s the longest outdoor shopping center in the city and possibly in the country,” Koulouris said. “We’re going to make sure this area isn’t bypassed by the future, it’s going to be the future. Now it’s time to bring this strip up into the 21st century.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr