Bike Lane Fix on Pulaski Br.

CB 2 Learns About DOT Project

Walking or biking to Brooklyn over the Pulaski Bridge could become easier if the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) proposal to alter the span is adopted, DOT officials told Community Board 2 during its meeting last Thursday, Apr. 3, at Sunnyside Community Services.

City Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer (at right) introduced City Comptroller Scott Stringer (at left) during Community Board 2’s meeting last Thursday night, Apr. 3, at Sunnyside Community Services.

Concerned residents and board members heard a presentation by Nick Carey, project manager for DOT NYC bicycle program, who explained the plan to alter the bridge’s joint walkway and bike path is due to increased pedestrian and bicycle traffic between the boroughs.

At Thursday’s meeting, the board agreed to draft a letter in support of the pedestrian and bicycle safety improvements. Officials at the DOT are still “determining the timetable for construction,” and “anticipate it will begin later this year.”

The proposal would eliminate one lane for vehicles towards Brooklyn which would be replaced with bikeonly traffic in both directions. The existing shared pedestrian and bike path would then be reserved for pedestrians. All three vehicle traffic lanes towards Queens will remain unaltered.

The DOT has proposed to keep the existing shared walkway at 8’5″ and install a 9′ dedicated bicycle lane for two-wheelers.

Carey pointed out that residents of adjacent neighborhoods use the bridge as a link to connect with transit or bus lines.

To Carey, the project changes will provide “a critical link in NYC’s bike network. And also, “a critical link in the transit network.”.

Forcing the changes, according to DOT, are increasing numbers of bicycle riders and pedestrians using the existing, one lane, combined pathway.

The numbers of people walking and biking over the Newtown Creek span have necessitated the changes according to the DOT.

Numbers from a DOT study in April 2013 report that 1,845 pedestrians and 1,194 bicyclists used the existing shared path on an average weekday from 7 am to 7 pm.

In the presentation Carey pointed to DOT studies that noted a 106 percent increase in bicyclists using the bridge during rush hours from 7- 11 a.m. and 2-7 p.m. on weekdays from April 2009 to April 2013.

Pedestrians walking the bridge have increased significantly as well, jumping 47 percent in the same period.

The Pulaski Bridge, designed by Frederick Zarmuhlen, was named after Polish-born American revolutionary fighter Casimir Pulaski. It is a bascule-type drawbridge and was opened in 1954.

It currently carries six lanes of traffic over Newtown Creek and the entrance to the Queens-Midtown Tunnel. In October 2013, the DOT announced plans to begin the process of designing a dedicated biking lane.

Many at the meeting had questions and concerns over the changes, but were reminded by board members that this is only a proposed plan that has not been finalized.

The project is estimated to cost $3.46 million.

Access-a-ride issues

Another major topic at the meeting was problems with the city’s Access-A-Ride paratransit system.

To address complaints about long wait-times and indirect routes that, according to many, seem to take winding back ways to destinations, Ken Stuart, MTA director of customer relations for paratransit attended Thursday’s meeting.

He was asked to come to the meeting to hear concerns directly from users of the service by several community board members and City Council Member Elizabeth Crowley.

Community Board 2 Chairman Joseph Conley said he became concerned “last month when we started to hear the crescendo of complaints.”

Inconvenient service and long wait-times were the chief complaints of several residents at the meeting who use the service.

A concise comment from one annoyed Access-a-ride user crystalized the criticisms. She asked Stuart why she is forced to endure inconvenient trips towards her destination that make “a trip an hour and a half when it’s 20 minutes away.”

This comment was typical of those annoyed by the service which many seniors rely upon to make doctor visits and travel throughout the city.

In response, Stuart said, “we don’t try to send vehicles out of the way.” He added, “for any one individual, the trip may not seem optimal.”

He then told the group most delays and inconvenient trips are caused by “breakdowns, that’s what causes many of these rides that seem tortuous,” and assured that vehicles are equiped with global positioning systems so they can be tracked throughout the city.

“We don’t try to send vehicles out of the way,” Stuart said.

Stuart then told the crowd that drivers are trained to follow “established routes and a client manifest,” instead of listening to an individual, back-seat driving instructions which could help them arrive faster at their specific ends.

This explanation did not satisfy many however, and Stuart was then peppered by other questions that continued to ask why drivers seem to drive out of the way of a destination, which were followed by suggestions on optimal routes to and from desired destinations.

Another resident that attended the meeting, John Meaney of Woodside relayed that several times he waited over an hour for pickup. Ultimately, he claimed, he had to take a bus back to Queens because he was not able to hail a street taxi.

He told Stuart, “I’ve been listening since you started and my blood is boiling. He then asked Stuart, “When you’re stranded and you’re as old as I am, what are you supposed to do?”

Several residents also complained that many drivers don’t speak perfect English.

Stuart told the group he realizes the private taxi drivers are less sensitive to the needs of seniors and are not specialists at dealing with people with disabilities or special needs.

Of the private companies, he said, the drivers “do not receive the same training in that regard, and that has been a problem.”

On this issue, Stuart said “we are aware of the problem. It’s been a problem for months, and added, “if it doesn’t change then they will no longer be with us. We hear you and we’re real sensitive to that.”

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Community Board 2 generally meets on the first Thursday every month (except July and August) at 7 p.m. at Sunnyside Community Services, located at 43-31 39th St.

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