By Jennifer Warren
Several community leaders who live along Queens Boulevard expressed concerned with the city Department of Transportation’s plan to convert two Queens Boulevard service lanes to metered parking at a Queens Boulevard Task Force meeting at Borough Hall.
Following the unscheduled leak of an internal memo outlining the service lane changes last week, DOT officials made their plans public. For both east and westbound sides of the boulevard, the interior service lane would be used for parking, reducing the two lanes of service-road traffic to one.
The changes, which are expected to go into effect in mid-June, would be implemented along the four-mile stretch of boulevard between Kneeland Avenue and Union Turnpike that runs through Elmhurst, Rego Park and Forest Hills.
Among those who questioned the plan was Robert Holden of Elmhurst’s Community Board 5, who said the narrowing the two service lanes to one would create gridlock. He was one of 30 members of the task force, including local officials and community leaders, who met for the first time April 4 at Borough Hall.
“If you take the service roads down to a single lane, and you have people opening car doors, or cars for the disabled, it will block everything,” told the meeting.
But Joseph Cannisi, DOT commissioner for Queens, defended the plan, saying the service-lane slowdown was necessary. He pointed that while the service lanes were intended for slower, local traffic, many drivers are using them for extended travel and driving at higher speeds than their counterparts on the boulevard.
“Some vehicles make better time in the service road,” Cannisi said. “Our intention is to slow down traffic. Another is to reduce crossing lanes. Short of a complete reconstruction, these are things that can be done on a short-time basis.”
The traffic-to-parking conversion plan was devised to reduce the speed of cars along the dangerous thoroughfare, where 74 pedestrians have been killed since 1993.
Just last week a 21-year-old jogger Nicholas Sczesnik died from brain injuries sustained when he was struck by the side view mirror of a tour bus on the boulevard at Barnwell Avenue .
In the latest incident, a 21-year-old mother who was holding her 2-month-old infant in her arms was struck Monday as she crossed Queens Boulevard at 46th Street in Woodside, police said. The woman was taken to Elmhurst Hospital and treated for minor injuries to her head and leg, said Detective Valery St. Rose, a police spokeswoman. The baby was unhurt, police said, and no summonses were issued.
Heidi Chain, president of the 112th Community Precinct Council, said while the additional parking meters were intended to improve pedestrian crossing, they would also increase the number of people jaywalking outside the crosswalks.
Cannisi agreed that there were kinks to be worked out, but he said the plan had unfortunately been released without DOT approval, calling it a “premature story that shouldn’t have been out yet.”
The parking conversion is the latest of several steps taken to slow down cars and protect pedestrians along the roadway. Other measures have included reducing the speed limit to a uniform 30 mph, the addition of 20 seconds of crossing time for pedestrians, traffic-light cameras to ticket drivers who fail to stop at red lights, median fencing to prevent crossing outside crosswalks and a series of ticket blitzes in which police have cracked down on speeders, drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks and jaywalkers.
Commanding Officer Anthony Mullen of the 110th Police Precinct in Elmhurst said more than 60,000 summonses had been issued along Queens Boulevard so far this year for speeding, failure to yield and jaywalking. Officers of the 108th, 110th and 112th precincts in Long Island City, Elmhurst and Forest Hills have handed out the summonses.
Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said when her daughter learned about the Queens Boulevard slowdown, she told her mother, whom she often drove to work in the morning, “Well, you can forget about me picking you up anymore.”
Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.