By Mark Hallum
Queens elected officials and community advocates celebrated the near completion of improvements to a section of Oceania Street spanning the length of Middle School 74 in Oakland Gardens Tuesday. The upgrades include long-awaited protected bike lanes as well as better signage and traffic calming features.
City Councilman Barry Grodenchik (D-Oakland Gardens) said the community had long advocated for improvements to the corridor for the benefit of children crossing during certain hours and contending with often erratic traffic patterns.
Queens Deputy DOT Commissioner Albert Silvestri said crosswalks will soon be added, along with finishing touches to the parking, which has been pulled way from the curb to slow traffic.
According to state Assemblywoman Nily Rozic (D-Fresh Meadows), the changes will take some getting used to, but are worth it.
“My office has continued working closely with MS 74Q, CB 11Q, and our local bike advocates to ensure appropriate measures would be taken to improve safety in the area. While local residents will have to adjust to DOT’s proposed changes, they are a necessary step forward to prioritize everyone’s safety by greatly reducing the number of collisions we have seen in the area,” Rozic said.
Congresswoman Grace Meng (D-Flushing) explained how the parking situation had been the same when she attended the school herself in the late 1980sand improvements were long overdue.
“Nothing is more important than protecting our children, and it’s essential that we do all we can to keep them safe,” Meng said. “These critical improvements are a long time coming and they will go a long way towards keeping kids out of harm’s way, as well as improving conditions for motorists and pedestrians. As an alumna of Middle School 74Q and a founder and co-chair of the Kids’ Safety Caucus – the first bipartisan coalition in the House that promotes child-safety issues – I applaud these traffic enhancements and look forward to the improvements being completed in time for the new school year.”
Unlike a recent bike lane proposal aimed at making Northern Boulevard between Douglaston and Bayside safer, Community Board 11 Chairwoman Christine Haider said DOT’s proposal for the redesign of Oceania Street in March passed with full support.
“Community Board 11Q is very concerned for the safety of cyclists, pedestrians, and motorists,” Haider said. “This area, in front of MS 74Q, has had several accidents, including a fatal one. The DOT’s plan will narrow Oceania Street and, hopefully, maintain a safer area for all. CB 11Q voted unanimously at our March 6 public hearing, all 31 members in attendance, for DOT to implement this proposal.”
The bike lane is just part of a larger plan to link Douglaston’s bike paths with that of the Greenway, which travels through Queens and ends in Coney Island. Joby Jacob, a professor of biology at La Guardia Community College and a member of Eastern Greenway Advocates, said the effort to make Brooklyn and Queens more bike-able will link communities and connect residents to attractions between the two boroughs.
“Oceania Street and 210th Street connect numerous park facilities, including a school playground, a popular mountain biking trail, a playground for small children, and the 40-mile long Brooklyn/Queens Greenway. The Eastern Queens Greenway is dedicated to a vision of family safe connections between our parks,” Jacob said. “We believe this traffic calming as well as the two-way parking-protected bike lane will ensure the safety of many people heading to enjoy the wonderful park facilities in eastern Queens. We also can’t wait to see more of our neighborhood kids feeling safe enough to ride their bikes to school.”
Grodenchik pointed out the popularity of not only street biking in the area, but the abundant greens space used for mountain biking and visited by people across the region.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall