Local residents and commuters who shop at the bustling Rego Center Mall often walk north from Queens Boulevard along Junction Boulevard to 62nd Drive and see much concrete, asphalt, and banal facades. In March, red markings suddenly appeared on the sidewalk along a quarter of a block on the east side of Junction Boulevard near 62nd Drive.
Behind metal railings, pedestrians began witnessing a generous section of the sidewalk and a smaller section of the road undergoing excavation and a change in configuration. Days after, two sections of the west side of Junction Boulevard faced a similar overhaul, and people scratched their heads.
Then as of last April, cement and asphalt became a Greenstreet with bioswales that is now days away from completion. The landscape with specialty soil boasts a tree-lined street consisting of budding Red Maples and Green Hawthornes, as well as native bushes and plants. The new plants add to the family of trees planted in typical size tree pits of earlier years.
“The list of vegetation that can be used in stormwater greenstreets and right-of-way bioswales is very limited, since the vegetation must be extremely hardy and tolerant of urban conditions, pollutants, and periods of drought and inundation,” explained landscape architect Jeff Martin, a project manager with the Department of Environmental Protection (DEP).
This project is a superb example of the Green Infrastructure Plan, which is being financed by DEP, and accomplished by a team including the Department of Parks and Recreation, the Department of Transportation, the Department of Design and Construction, and the Economic Development Corporation.
Row bioswales are tree pits up to 20 feet in length and 5 feet wide which allow stormwater in through a series of curb cuts, whereas stormwater greenstreets are developed in underutilized roadways and vary in size and shape. Nearly a year ago, Junction Boulevard and 62nd Drive was selected for a Greenstreet conversion, and it is now a major development for Rego Park. The Parks Department has been converting underutilized roads into greenstreets citywide since 1996, but there are not many examples in Queens. However, according to Martin, New Yorkers will witness a progression over the next two decades.
“The Green Infrastructure Plan will allocate 1.5 billion for cost-effective gray and green infrastructure,” he said. “Funding is allocated specifically for sites with stormwater capture capabilities.”
A significant advantage of green over gray infrastructure is environmental sustainability.
“Besides reducing the volume of stormwater in combined sewers, the benefits of a Greenstreet include reduced energy consumption, increased property values, improved health, increased green space, and the capability to engage the public,” said Martin.
Bioswales promote healthy trees, since root systems have increased space and oxygen for growth, rather than being compressed by traditional tree pits. Another benefit posed by the overall design is safety, since a buffer is being created between pedestrians and the traffic flow.
The major focus of the Green Infrastructure Plan is to target the city's most impaired tributaries, and achieve acceptable water quality standards.
“These impaired tributary areas are directly related to tier 1 combined sewer overflow outfalls, which discharge over 500 million gallons per year into city water bodies,” Martin said. “Our goal is to capture the first inch of rainfall on ten percent of the impervious areas in combined sewer watersheds through detention or infiltration techniques over 20 years.”
As a landscape architect, Martin feels inspired.
“Most of my time is spent analyzing and designing public space,” he said. “It is great to see the transformation of a site you designed, since not many professions have the ability to alter the urban landscape, and change how the public interacts with a space.”
A week ago, a Brooklyn kindergarten class witnessed part of the transformation of Junction Boulevard and 62nd Drive, and students had the opportunity to pose questions about this environmentally sustainable project.
And the innovations along Junction Boulevard are inspiring neighborhood residents, particularly in the case of an 18-year Rego Park resident and environmental advocate named Tara Levin.
“I immediately realized its great value,” she said. “It is not only beautiful, but good for water conservation and anti-flood protection. My dream is having these bioswales around the Long Island Expressway, by Eliot Avenue alongside the Rego Park Post Office, on the corner of 62nd Avenue and Queens Blvd, and all around.”
Levin is spearheading a movement to increase greenery throughout Rego Park and has been surveying streets. She successfully advocated for the installation of two Japanese Zelkova trees in front of her apartment building, not far from the Long Island Expressway. She filed requests with 311 and consulted with MillionTreesNYC, and encourages other residents to fulfill similar civic duties.
In addition to bioswales, Levin envisions the establishment of new tree pits and the restoration of areas that were formerly green, in order to improve aesthetics and air quality.
“The area under the trestle where the LIE crosses Queens Boulevard and Woodhaven Boulevard used to be green and grassy, but now it's covered by asphalt,” said Levin.
She speculated that tens of thousands cars commute across these major intersections daily.
“This must have the worst air quality in Queens,” Levin said. “It would be nice to plant beautiful Magnolia trees with flowers on the sunny side.” She praised the city for installing Muni-Meters on Queens Boulevard, and said, “All old parking meters could be removed, and plenty of trees should be planted instead.”
“I love my area and I want to stay,” she said. “I believe we can make a difference together.”
The public can request Greenstreets and trees by contacting the Parks Department, MillionTreesNYC, 311, or DEP.