In an effort to increase safety and promote a green lifestyle, two Eastern Queens residents have started a campaign to build a super-greenway for pedestrians and bikers using the old Vanderbilt Motor Parkway.
More than 150 people have signed a petition to expand the Motor Parkway trail to 74th Avenue after its abrupt end at Winchester Avenue. Citing the necessity of a car in order to access the trail from its east side, Joby Jacob, a science professor from Hollis Hills, and Jana Suchtova, a St. John’s University student from Glen Oaks, created the petition with the hopes of increasing pedestrian accessibility to the trail.
To spread awareness about the initiative, they set up the website, motorparkwayeast.com, to provide a five-section plan that involves its extension to Nassau County by creating a pathway that cuts through various local- and state-owned properties.
“We’re not even asking for something new, we’re just asking for a facility that once belonged there, to restore it to the community,” said Jacob in a phone interview. Jogging along the winding trail, a runner is suddenly faced with a fork in the road towards Winchester Avenue. To the left, the path eventually ends at a parking lot. Taking the ramp on the right will lead the runner to a broken cement pathway, the remnants of America’s first parkway designed exclusively for automobile use.
In 1908, William K. Vanderbilt II, built the roadway exclusively for cars and to provide an opportunity for races. At its longest, it extended from Fresh Meadows to Lake Ronkonkoma in Suffolk County. Because of back taxes, Vanderbilt closed the parkway in 1938 and it later reopened to the public as a pedestrian and bike path.
Looking out from the ramp’s edge, a jogger can see a cemented block for the Q46 bus stop at the corner of Winchester Avenue and Union Turnpike. Past that stands a “No Pedestrian” sign followed by a grassy path but according to Jacob, the worn grass signals its frequent usage and he seeks a sidewalk to be constructed for the plan’s first phase.
It would potentially involve moving the basketball courts and fence of Creedmoor Psychiatic Center along Union Turnpike to create sufficient space for a viable sidewalk.
When asked about the feasibility of the project, officials from the NY State Office of Mental Health, which controls the property, said they appreciated being made aware about the petition but had no further comment.
According to the advocates, speeding cars create an unsafe path for others. On Saturday, a homeless man walking near Union Turnpike and Cross Island Parkway in Bellerose was killed by a car.
The longer-term plan, says Jacob, would involve constructing a bridge to cross Commonwealth Boulevard and paving a new bike path to the Queens County Farm Museum in Floral Park.
Wary of the potential high cost of the overall plan to taxpayers, Marc Haken, president of the Friends of Cunningham Park, who successfully pushed for the parkway to receive landmark status in 2002, said while he thinks it would be nice for the community there is not a dire necessity for it.
“It’s admirable but not practical,” Haken said.
Jacob has already met with City Councilman Mark Weprin (D-Oakland Gardens) who backed the idea and advised him to garner community support.
While aware that multiple agencies including the Office of Mental Health, the city Department of Education and city Parks & Recreation would be involved, Weprin said he feels the project would make it a more livable city for all types of users.
“We want to encourage the city to be a safe place for pedestrians and bikers,” Weprin said.