Grant Tied to Major Blackout in 2006 Gives Boost to Biking in Queens


Thanks to a devastating blackout six years ago, biking in Queens in 2012 might become a little bit easier.

In 2006, a major electrical power outage hit Western Queens in a damaging nine-day blackout that impacted 174,000 people in the borough.

Six years later, those neighborhoods in Queens are getting rewarded for their troubles. Through an initiative called the “Greening Western Queens Fund,” — an $8 million effort to invest in energy-efficiency and environmental projects in the affected areas — a fairly diverse group of local organizations are now pushing forward with projects aimed at greening Queens (the borough deserves some love, guys!). The funds are part of a community settlement with Con Edison and are being administered by North Star Fund, a local granting agency.

This month, the organization gave out its second round of grants through this fund, totaling $2 million, to 16 groups.

In the first round, projects included tree-planting, school and community gardens, and other environmental programs. (Interested groups can apply this summer for the next round of grants). One of the organizations funded this month that stuck out to us is Recycle-A-Bicycle, a cycling and youth development group, which plans on using the funds to launch several efforts designed to make Western Queens a bit more bike-friendly.

Neighborhoods in this region of Queens — which includes Woodside, Sunnyside, Astoria and Long Island City — have been undergoing rapid transformation and development in recent years, and as the landscape there has changed, the area has faced a range of traffic concerns. Cycling advocates have pushed to make the area safer for bikers with new lanes, and some local electeds have campaigned for traffic and parking rules that would make this part of Queens more of a destination and less of a place for commuters headed to Manhattan to dump their cars for the day.

It’s these kinds of issues that Recycle-A-Bicycle could explore through its grant, which the group will use to survey the neighborhood and eventually make recommendations to the city about how to improve traffic conditions in the area for pedestrians, cyclists, and others.

The Voice chatted with executive director Pasqualina Azzarello earlier this week to hear a bit more about the project.

As part of its Youth Ambassadors program, students at middle schools and high schools throughout the area will actually bike around the neighborhood and collect information, with the goal of eventually reaching out to the city’s Department of Transportation to provide feedback.

“The goal in Western Queens would be to explore the surrounding neighborhood by bicycle, to collect what students observe and experience…what it feels like to ride a bike in the areas around their schools, and then to conduct an assessment,” she said, adding that they would conduct interviews with neighborhood residents too and ultimately meet with city officials. “People want safer streets.”

The group is in the early stages of setting up these programs, and Azzarello said that the specific project ideas will come from the students themselves once they begin the process.

One area that could be of interest is looking toward the city’s Bike Share program, she said. The city is now in the process of researching and implementing bike stations through a program where city residents would pay a membership and have access to bikes. Currently, the city is looking at parts of Manhattan and Brooklyn, but folks in Queens are hoping it extends to their borough as well. (A Dept. of Transportation spokesperson told the Voice today that the extent of the bike share system — which will emphasize the Central Business District in Manhattan and surrounding areas — is still being finalized, i.e., it seems a bit unclear if or when Queens could be included).

Either way, Azzarello said she expects that the groups would be able to make informed recommendations about where the Bike Share stations could be located in their neighborhoods, as well as offer some insight on where bike lanes are needed.

“It’s really important to support cycling in Western Queens,” she said. “A lot of people ride their bikes here…Safety is…a very real issue when it comes to the connectivity of bicycle lanes in New York City. That’s a really important area to give attention to.”

She noted that this part of Queens is a “transportation hub,” adding that, “It’s really important to consider how far so many people have to travel from their homes and from their businesses to get to public transportation.”

The grant will also support the organization’s job training program, ride clubs, local events, and other initiatives, she said.

It’s good that something positive is coming out of the blackout, she added.

“The circumstances that led to this were so terrible,” said Azzarello. “It’s incredibly commendable that residents chose to make use of the situation…in a way that would serve to better the future of their neighborhoods.”

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