In a few decades, that vision may not be so far off. Last Friday, the Regional Plan Association (RPA) released preliminary recommendations for the future of Flushing’s transportation systems.
The presentation followed a community panel examining how the neighborhood’s past and present will affect its future.
The recommendations are part of RPA’s Fourth Regional Plan, a vision plan for the entire tri-state area focusing on climate change, transportation, affordability and institutions.
According to Sarah Serpas, a senior planner with RPA, the study of Flushing’s future was initiated by the City Council’s Queens delegation. Launched in the spring, the group will release its full findings by the end of the year.
“I think it’s important to think long-term,” Serpas said. “We’re thinking past 2040, we’re thinking 2050 and beyond.”
ARPA’s recommendations aim to redesign Downtown Flushing to be more pedestrian friendly, to create a better rail system, and to address the area’s affordable housing needs. To achieve this, the group proposes enhancing the connection between Downtown Flushing and the neighborhood of Broadway-Flushing.
In Downtown Flushing, the group wants to make pedestrian improvements along Main Street by adding raised crosswalks, more trees, and possibly even a pedestrian plaza. In the long term, they could see Main Street becoming a pedestrian mall without cars .
They also want to expand and improve the Main Street station by expanding the platform and mezzanine areas. Enhancements would include creating more stairs and elevators to improve accessibility.
At the Flushing LIRR station, RPA wants to not only improve entrances, but possibly create new ones. They recommend using paths through the Bland Houses and College Point Boulevard as a potential route to the station.
Finally, their vision for Downtown Flushing culminates with rerouting buses and creating a brand new multi-level bus facility at the Main Street station. The facility would serve as a bus depot, connecting 7 train passengers to their respective buses and possibly even the LIRR.
“It’s important to put an idea out there and ask, how do we get there?” Serpas said. “If people agree that’s the idea we should go for, we can start thinking about the steps we need to take to get there.”
In their study, RPA also envisions the Broadway-Flushing area as a potential secondary hub to Downtown Flushing. Other ideas for the Broadway area include improving the LIRR station, turning 162nd Street into a pedestrian plaza, and enhancing the crossings around the station.
To connect the two hubs, RPA proposes a new Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system along Northern Boulevard. The rail, running down the middle of the street, would stop at the Broadway station. The city could also add separate bike lanes along Northern Boulevard.
Serpas said when looking at a map of jobs in the region, commercial jobs are scattered along Northern Boulevard next to low-rise residential buildings. That’s why they see potential for the Broadway area as a secondary “downtown.”
“How can we increase density, not in terms of towers, but a vibrant place with people?” she said. “There’s a lot of businesses, but not a lot of people.”
While RPA brings in the technical knowledge and regional perspective, Serpas said it’s ultimately up to people on the ground to decide what they want in their future.
“Our goal here is to have sound planning ideas,” she said, “but how it plays out on the ground is up to the community, what their priorities are, what they want to see.”
Queens historian Jack Eichenbaum said there have been two previous attempts to plan Flushing’s future. The first, the city’s Flushing West development plan, collapsed. The second attempt, which included a similar community workshop, “didn’t present anything new,” he said.
“First, all their ideas were solid,” he said about the RPA plan. “This is good, I like it.”
He especially liked RPA’s proposals to make Flushing more pedestrian friendly, noting that Flushing used to have trolleys and a bus terminal that was eventually torn down in favor of parking lots and vehicle-friendly streets.
“There were so many years of wrong planning and thinking,” Eichenbaum said. “This town got really wounded and overrun by cars.”
Prior to the RPA plan’s unveiling, community group Asian Americans for Equality (AAFE) hosted a community panel featuring Eichenbaum, executive director Sudha Archarya of South Asian Council for Social Services, and Flora Ferng, assistant director at AAFE.
Eichenbaum broke down the history of Flushing going as far back as 1657, when residents signed the Flushing Remonstrance, the world’s first religious freedom doctrine.
The panel also addressed current-day issues, such as high residential and commercial rents, struggling small businesses, and lack of open space. Archarya said she sees underemployment and poverty, language access, and threats to health care as other important issues.
“We have to take care of them here and now,” she said.
When asked how they imagine the neighborhood could look like in the coming decades, Ferng said she hopes the city will change its “very old” zoning laws to tackle overdevelopment.
Eichenbaum said he wants the city to take the problem of cars, which are “asleep” most of the time.
“My dream is to have Main Street have no cars at all,” he said. “I want a pedestrian zone and to breathe clean air.”