Envisioning a Greenway in South Queens

Queens falls far behind Manhattan and Brooklyn in cycling infrastructure. In the snapshots below of the NYC Bike Map of 2015, you’ll see that the greatest concentration of bike lanes and trails are in Manhattan and Northwest Brooklyn. As for Queens, most bike lanes and trails are bordering Brooklyn in the Northwest and by the waterfront. But Southern Queens is left out; the bike network is fragmented and absent in many parts.

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Here are some of the ways Southern Queens could benefit from the Greenway:

  • A safe place to run, walk and bike
  • Expansion of alternative transportation
  • Traffic calming
  • Flood resiliency
  • Addresses public health

Connecting the green dots: A safe place to run, walk and bike

When completed, the Southern Queens Greenway would connect East Brooklyn to Highland Park, South Ozone Park, South Jamaica, Jamaica, Cambria Heights, Queens Village, Bellaire, Oakland Gardens, and Bayside, where the trail would end at the Long Island Sound. New Yorkers far and near would then be able to access a hitherto separated part of their city and build a deeper appreciation for Queens’ rich history and green spaces. School children will have a safe way to get to school, and adults will have a safer con mute to work as an alternative to the usual cars, buses, and trains. Greenways offer a transportation alternative for those whose independence is compromised in our car-dependent culture, especially for those with disabilities, the growing elderly population, and people who do not own a car.

The Southern Queens Greenway can also provide access to the Gateway National Recreation Area. The historical and cultural jewel offers unparalleled exposure into the past and a living classroom to discover Jamaica Bay’s diverse ecology. But despite the nearly completed Jamaica Bay Greenway and the available public transportation, the park is still difficult to access. Conduit Avenue, the route of the former aqueduct and, today, a major road linking East Brooklyn and Southwest Queens and the Belt Parkway, has the potential to bridge the neighboring communities and open the door to Gateway. At this time, the former aqueduct is not pedestrian nor cycle friendly. Reforming the conduit would increase open-space opportunities as well as reduce traffic fatalities.

A transportation alternative for all New Yorkers

The 2013 United States Census estimated 8.4 million people live in New York City. By 2020, models forecast the population to reach 8.5 million. Clearly, the city is growing. Elected officials and city agencies fear the growth rate will outpace the aging transportation infrastructure.

Greenways compliment the existing transportation network in a myriad of ways. Multi-modal transportation, such as biking to bus stops and train stations help lessen commute times and make our transit more efficient. Those who opt to ride bikes will alleviate overcrowded buses, trains, and the parkways for cars.

Traffic calming

Greenways make streets safe for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. Current street designs favor automobile traffic, with the goal of moving many cars through as fast as possible. Often too wide or poorly studied, these large roads promote reckless driving. With little or no incentive to slow down, hundreds of pedestrians and cyclists are killed by cars and trucks each year; several thousand more are seriously injured. In 2011, Transportation Alternatives published a report showing traffic deaths by community board. Second place for the most pedestrian deaths was Community Board 12 in Queens.

The DOT’s 2000 greenway proposal features several street redesigns. On-street bike paths are placed on relatively calm streets with already low vehicle use, while protected bike lanes are set up in places with higher traffic volume. Other measures including sidewalk expansions, painted protected bike lanes, and the provision of more signage can have a lasting impact on pedestrian and cycling safety, as they accommodate a diverse road using population.

A public health solution

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The following maps are taken directly from the Department of Health and Mental Hygene website. According to the 2013 DOH Community Health Survey (CHS), 30% of Brooklyn and 35% of Queens is overweight and (27% and 19% is obese respectively). The distribution of overweight and obese adults isn’t distributed equally. Southern Queens has a large concentration of overweight adults while Eastern Brooklyn has a high incidence of obesity. Incidentally the same study also asked survey participants if they had exercised at all during a seven day week period. East Brooklyn and Southwest Queens did not exercise enough despite being next to the Jamaica Bay Greenway and Highland Park. The community may not have adequate facilities or may discouraged by a range of factors, real or perceived, in the environment. Education about the benefits of regular physical exercise and neighboring park spaces will help to address prevailing health issues.

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Flood resiliency

In October 2012, Hurricane Sandy, a devastating category two hurricane, ravaged the Atlantic coastline. In much of New York City, many coastal communities were hit hard; Queens was no exception. For many, the superstorm was a wake-up call to Queens’ vulnerability to extreme flooding by its neighboring water systems at Jamaica Bay and the Atlantic Ocean. Many Queens’ residents remember financial, emotional and physical hardships left in the aftermath of the storm.

Finishing the Southern Queens Greenway network would give a “soft” layer of protection to the Eastern Brooklyn and Southern Queens communities. The green infrastructure serves multiple purposes:

  1. It would act as a natural defense to keeping storm water away from overwhelming the drainage system. Additionally, bioswales can be installed on parkland along the greenway and on available sidewalk space to collect storm water and beautify the local community.
  2. If another hurricane does come to New York City’s shoreline, residents will have a traffic-free evacuation route to access storm shelters and points of higher elevation outside the flood zone.