Commentary, Queens, Traffic calming

When Broadway is too broad

This past Saturday, a young college student was killed by a hit-and-run driver while walking on Broadway at 58th Street here in Woodside. I know the danger he felt. Just two weeks before I was walking home from a dinner date in Jackson Heights. At 59th Street, a block before the corner where Luis Bravo was killed, I said to my wife, “Let’s turn here. This stretch of Broadway always feels dangerous to me.”
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The width of this stretch of Broadway is puzzling. It’s a strange gap: years ago, before I moved to Queens, I walked most of the length of Broadway, from Elmhurst to Astoria, and this area almost made me regret my trip. A few blocks east, at 63rd Street, it’s seventy feet wide. A few blocks west, at 53rd Place, it’s also seventy feet wide. Between those two streets, the road widens to ninety feet, and from two travel lanes to four.

Maybe the people digging the subway needed a ditch that wide because the local and express tracks come together at Northern Boulevard. Maybe the city engineers thought that Broadway needed to be four lanes wide to bring cars from 34th and 35th Avenues to Northern Boulevard. If so, they were wrong. There is never a traffic jam on those blocks, even in the height of rush hour. There’s lots of room for the cars, which encourages drivers to speed.

We have already looked into ways to make this area safer. My City Council Member, Jimmy Van Bramer told Streetsblog that earlier this year, at the request of my neighbor Ed Surmenian, his staff asked the City Department of Transportation to study changing the timing of the traffic signals. The DOT responded that the signals were properly timed.

Stephen Miller of Streetsblog tells us that the DOT has proposed “road diets” for similarly overbuilt streets like Morningside Avenue, to take space away from cars. The Morningside Avenue proposed configuration would certainly be an improvement over what we have, but it would just waste that space on painted medians.

The sidewalks on Broadway should be widened, giving that space to pedestrians. The sidewalks on the south side are relatively comfortable, varying from ten to fifteen feet wide, but the ones on the north side are all under ten feet wide. The sidewalks on both sides should be a minimum of twenty feet wide.

You may say that you don’t see that many people walking on that part of Broadway, so why have twenty foot sidewalks? I say that people don’t walk because they don’t feel safe, just like my wife and I turned off when we got to 59th Street. With wider sidewalks and slower cars, more people will walk. It’s a natural connection between Jackson Heights and Astoria, after all.

Another thing that would bring people to walk in that area would be interesting stores and restaurants, but the zoning doesn’t encourage it. West of 63rd Street the avenue is zoned for residential construction, and west of 57th Street it’s manufacturing, but there’s very little manufacturing on Broadway itself. A C2-5 commercial overlay would allow people to build stores along Broadway in this section that look just like the ones west of 49th Street and east of 72nd Street.

I know that Jimmy Van Bramer and his staff have been working hard to make the district safer to walk in. I know that Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy wants pedestrians to be safer in Queens. So let’s take away those extra lanes of Broadway and make the sidewalks wider. And let’s bring in the Department of City Planning and make it legal to build stores and restaurants right up to the sidewalk. Let’s make this part of Broadway a place where people can stroll in comfort.

grvsmth (Author)

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