By George H. Tsai
Since the outdoor mall featuring Target and BJs opened four years ago, the 20th Avenue entrance to College Point has become a congested zone. In fact, the traffic jam at the intersection by the Whitestone Expressway overpass is perhaps worse than any other in the greater Flushing area.
The intersection also is dangerous, and authorities should take swift action to prevent accidents.
Vehicles coming from Exit 15 off the Whitestone Expressway often vie for the right of way when they make left turns onto the 20th Avenue overpass — linking Whitestone and College Point — to get to the mall, which also includes Circuit City, McDonald’s, Starbucks Coffee and Old Navy. Other motorists go straight to downtown College Point.
And many drivers from the opposite direction (coming from the Whitestone Bridge) enter the service road via Exit 20 on the other side of the Whitestone Expressway. Those vehicles often snarl traffic in front of the E-ZPass headquarters next to 20th Avenue.
It is chaotic during peak hours. I have driven through that area numerous times, but I avoid that section unless it is necessary.
The chaotic conditions there have finally drawn the attention of local politicians. City Councilman John Liu (D-Flushing) has proposed an alternate route to that avenue via Linden Place. His plan, however, depends on the sale of the Flushing Airport. It is unlikely that will happen in the near future.
So money is still the issue facing the road project. Liu is perhaps unsure whether the city will be able to implement the project even if the City Council gives its nod to his proposal.
For safety’s sake, the alternate route is essential to both motorists and College Point residents. As a concerned resident, I support it and hope Liu will be able to get funds from other pipelines for his proposed road. A few months ago he scored a big victory when the City Council passed his proposal to create a business improvement district for Flushing.
In addition to Liu’s latest proposal, I have read and heard reports during the past two years about plans to reopen the Caldor department store on Roosevelt Avenue, to build a shopping center at the long-closed RKO Keith’s Theater facing Main Street and to tear down the Sears store near the Flushing Town Hall for a swank hotel.
More recently, the city unveiled a grand plan for Flushing’s westward expansion. So far I have not seen any action, but the plan may still be on the drawing board. It is impractical to go west while Caldor and Keith’s remain vacant.
Despite traffic woes, the mall has brought good fortune to College Point and its residents — higher housing values, a dynamic economy and racial diversity.
During the past five years there have been enormous physical changes in this part of Queens. Building construction has been pulsing through the town, including several new condo complexes with river views that have attracted many middle-class families.
Apparently, both the town and developers intend to change College Point’s landscape. Of course, these would be changes for the better.
A few years ago, when talking about property values, some area residents said they thought College Point played second fiddle to Bayside, Fresh Meadows or Forest Hills. No more.
Since Flushing’s housing capacity has reached saturation, people, mostly middle-class Asians, have begun to move to College Point, a friendly, northwestern neighbor. They are bringing prosperity, diversity and noise to this once quiet town, and housing prices have more than doubled in just six years.
College Point’s elementary school is one of the better among its peers in this region. The lack of a high school, however, dulls its competitive education edge. Teen-agers have to attend Flushing High School on Northern Boulevard, a 10-minute drive. As far as population is concerned, the town is unable to support a high school, at least for now.
So families with teen-agers may balk at such a move. Asian parents care more about the quality of education for their children than anything else. Bayside may still lead the pack in terms of quality schools.
On the other hand, many Asian business people think College Point is better than Flushing’s other neighbors in many aspects. Stores with Asian signboards began to emerge in town.
It is convenient to everything, 20 minutes to JFK Airport and 15 minutes to LaGuardia. And the multiplex theater is just around the corner.
Four bus lines, Nos. 25, 65, 20A and 20B, take residents to their destinations via Main Street.
College Point is likely to outshine other communities of its size in Queens.