Flushing Meadow Park has been called the “jewel of Queens.” Situated in the center of the borough, it is the second largest in Queens. It was the first home of the United Nations in 1948 and it was the site of the World’s Fair in 1939 and 1964. It is also the home of the Mets, the US Open, the Queens Zoo, and the Hall of Science. Each year many special events attract millions of people making it one of the most utilized parks in NYC. So, why is it suffering from neglect? Good question.
I love to ride my bike around the park. It takes about twenty minutes to get there from my home in Maspeth. Yes, the area around Shea Stadium and Arthur Ashe Stadium and the Zoo are beautiful and well cared for but when you go towards the lake, things get bad. There used to be marked paths for biking and jogging around the lake with exercise paths, all long gone.
The lake itself has no natural beauty, it is dirty and boring. When the great park designers built Central and Prospect Parks, they made you forget that you were in the middle of the city; in Flushing Meadow Park you never forget! From any spot you can see thousands of cars and trucks from the Long Island Expressway, the Grand Central Parkway and the Van Wyck Expressway. The lake water is dirty and smelly and dead fish can be seen floating on the surface. They die from lack of oxygen. A more natural lake area would improve water quality and attract wildlife and make it a more desirable destination. Sound barriers could be used to help block out the sights and sounds from all the traffic.
We have the largest lake in the city but not the best. I feel sorry for the boat and bike rental concessions. They should petition the city to make improvements. Here we have a large flat park perfect for family biking with all its paved road but it is a nightmare for cyclists.
There are no marked bike paths except for a short one by the tennis stadium that begins and ends abruptly. Bike lanes would help bikers, pedestrians and vehicles to operate safely. It can be very dangerous when the park is busy. When the Mets play or the U.S. Open and many other large events are taking place, cars are parked all over the grass and there are traffic jams. Also, since there are many highway exits near the parked cars, drivers can go a little too fast making speed bumps and more signs necessary to warn drivers that children are at play and to be cautious of wildlife.
The most dangerous part of your bicycle adventure will be when you head to the Flushing Bay Promenade which is really beautiful, a great improvement with its brick work and many benches and trees and shrubs all along the bay from the marina to the restaurants, all the way to the airport. There are plans to dredge the water and make some natural areas because the water is smelly from lack of circulation and from raw sewage. With the completion of the underground sewage tanks in Flushing Meadow Park, this should help tremendously. The Flushing Creek, which feeds the lakes, has been a smelly, dirty mess for many years and plans are in place to clean it up and encourage business to and residential development in Flushing and Corona.
As you peddle past the Arthur Ashe Tennis Stadium you will come to the entrance and exit for the Grand Central Parkway and it can be very scary at that site. You then keep bicycling until you come to a traffic circle by Shea Stadium. You will have to merge with cars and trailer trucks going at high speeds without the benefit of a traffic light. Then you will have to go under a highway where it is dark because most of the lights don’t work. There are also many potholes at this point that are barely visible and keep in mind you, the cyclist, are also barely visible to the cars.
When the promenade is in sight there is no entrance in front of you. Instead you will see shrubs across the street with no curb cuts, crosswalks or traffic lights. On the promenade, there are no signs restricting bikes so bikes and pedestrians are on their own and it can be dangerous.
As you peddle back you will encounter the same hazards. I don’t recommend it for the faint of heart.
Flushing Meadow Park has a railroad stop, a subway, a bus stop and parking lots but no bike and pedestrian paths to the promenade. Every park architect should be made to try and walk across this intersection.
Willow Lake is one of the most beautiful areas of the park. I used to love to bike on the paths and picnic there – it is very natural and tranquil even though it is near the parkway but there are many large trees. Biking there is another disaster. First of all you have to cross Jewel Avenue without an overpass, traffic light or a crosswalk. Willow Lake has been closed off for years because the pedestrian bridge over the Grand Central Parkway is dangerous and needs work. Unfortunately, there is no date for completion in sight.
Neglect destroyed the Aquacade, which was built for the 1939 World’s Fair and had public swimming, concert seating for thousands of people and was beautiful when all its flags were flying. It was a landmark that was left to decay and what do we have now? – a cement promenade with some benches that cost millions. The Parks Department wanted to tear down the New York State Pavilion because it costs too much to maintain.
The Parks Department does a great job with its limited budget and the lowest amount of employees ever and, faced with more parkland than ever, they deserve a bigger budget, we need parks.
With all the major events in the park some of the money should come back to make improvements. The planting of trees would help block out the sights and sounds of all the roads and there are many large empty spaces in the park. Sounds barriers are expensive but they are used all over and people love them. Queens has the worst air quality in the five boroughs and trees help absorb pollution and give us oxygen and with all the people playing sports and relaxing, Queens deserves a beautiful park like Central and Prospect Parks.
I’ve been writing letters to the Parks Department and local papers but it is hard to get a response, conditions remain the same. Perhaps if more people would let our elected officials know our concerns it might change for the better.
Please write to:
Queens Parks Commissioner Dorothy Lewandowski