Can’t Agree on Safety

After Debate, CB 9 Tables DOT Road Changes

A Department of Transportation proposal to alter several intersections on the Kew Gardens/Richmond Hill border was hotly debated but ultimately tabled by Community Board 9 members at its monthly meeting last Tuesday June, 10 in Ozone Park.

Officials from the DOT sought the recommendation of Board 9 to move ahead with proposed pedestrian safety changes at three Hillside Avenue intersections–at 127th Street, Metropolitan Avenue and Kew Gardens Road.

The board voted to table a decision until the issue can be revisited at the next regular meeting in September.

Members went back and forth debating the proposal and considered scheduling a public hearing to allow more community input before taking a vote, but ultimately decided to table the issue.

Board 9 Transportation Committee Chairperson Kenichi Wilson advised members that DOT officials presented the proposal May 27.

Last Tuesday night, DOT Borough Planner Albert Silverstri and Project Manager Rich Carmona brought the proposal before the entire board.

The changes are needed to improve safety for both pedestrians and motorists, according to Carmona. From 2008 to 2012, there were 46 injuries at the intersection of Hillside and Metropolitan avenues, a DOT study reported.

“The DOT is really committed to pedestrian safety near Jamaica Hospital Center,” Carmona said.

Carmona cited “long pedestrian crossings, poor visibility and turn conflicts,” as specific reasons for the alterations.

A DOT crash analysis at the Hillside and Metropolitan avenue intersection found almost 50 accidents in the last five years, Carmona said.

According to the DOT, 24 percent of vehicle crashes involved left turning vehicles at this intersection. And 60 percent of pedestrian crashes were while crossing with the signal.

“Thats is a failure to yield issue,” Carmona said. “There are a lot of left turns taking place, it becomes a bit of a chaotic scene,” he added.

Current dangers to pedestrians at the confluence of Metropolitan and Hillside avenues and 130th Street include long crosswalks and poor visibility, making it more difficult for drivers to yield to pedestrians.

There are also turn conflicts that create congestion and unpredictable vehicle movements, a DOT study found.

The DOT proposal would improve signal timing for crossing, and install pedestrian safety islands and concrete neckdowns, raised sidewalk extensions that lessen crossing distances.

To eliminate a head-on collision condition, the DOT proposal would convert 131st Street to northbound only between Metropolitan Avenue and Kew Gardens Road, the proposal stated.

At Hillside and Metropolitan avenues and 130th Street, the DOT would implement turn restrictions at peak times, including banning left turns from Hillside Avenue onto 130th Street, from Hillside Avenue onto Metropolitan Avenue and from Metropolitan Avenue onto 130th Street.

To offset these changes, new left turn bays would be installed eastbound at 127th Street, and westbound at 129th Street, the DOT proposed.

“I dread these intersections so I think it’s a great thing,” Board 9 member Ivan Mrakovcic said. “To me it’s a no-brainer.”

The DOT proposal would install a left turn bay at Hillside Avenue to continue onto 136th Street.

The plan would also convert Kew Gardens Road to eastbound only from Hillside Avenue to the Van Wyck Expressway Service Road.

“And the safety of the people will be in jeopardy until then,” Board 9 member Maria Thomson said.

Civic Virtue news

Activist Richard Iritano made a presentation to Board 9 on the “Triumph of Civic Virtue,” a marble statue the city decided would be moved from Queens to Green-Wood Cemetery in Brooklyn for restoration and cleaning in June, 2008.

The statue previously stood at a fountain near the Queens Borough Hall in Kew Gardens. It was originally located outside City Hall, but moved to Queens in 1941 under Mayor Fiorello LaGuardia.

Iritano founded the Civic Virtue Task Force to get the statue back to Queens.

Though many Board 9 members are aware of the statues’ history and the relocation issue, including District Manager and task force member Mary Ann Carey, Iritano appealed to the full board to make his feelings known.

“The message was conveyed,” Iritano said of the presentation.

But as reported in the June 22 edition of the Times Newsweekly, current Borough President Melinda Katz does not plan to relocate the statue to Queens.

Since its debut, the statue has been a source of contention, Iritano stated.

“There was great controversy from this statue from the very beginning. It has always been a controversial issue,” he said.

Borough president pays visit

Katz came to the meeting to address Board 9 on economic development, school overcrowding and making Queens a tourist destination.

“It has been a new job for me. I think we have made some great headway in the borough of Queens,” she said. “I am very excited about the future.”

Katz wants two iconic symbols of Queens restored: the New York State Pavilion and the Unisphere. She also believes the structures, when properly maintained, can serve as symbols to promote the borough across the world.

She will continue to urge Mayor Bill de Blasio to include funding for rehabilitation of the State Pavillion in the capital budget, she told Board 9.

Katz believes the restoration of the pavillion is “a way to brand the borough. That should be branded and saved,” she said.

Her office promoted two anniversary events, the 50th and 75th celebrations of the 1964 and 1939 World’s Fairs.

Katz spoke on the need to help newly arrived immigrants that want to start businesses find resources and navigate bureaucracy.

“We need to have economic development in the borough. People come from all over the world to start small businesses in Queens,” she said. “The economic development of this borough is one of the leading things we have been dealing with.”

Katz wants to brand Queens as “The World’s Borough,” to promote its diversity of cultures and to invite people to visit.

Katz then spoke on overcrowding in Queens’ schools and said she is working with the School Construction Authority and the Department of Education to “see what we can do to get them out of the trailers.”

Katz then took some questions from Board 9 members and was asked by Joel Kuszai about the current conditions at Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.

“Its pretty disgusting, we have to do something about it. We need to get it out from under water,” she said.

“There are only 16 full-time workers at the park. I believe we get underfunded in many ways,” Katz added.

She wants the “United States Tennis Association to provide expense toward maintaining the park,” she said.

The next Community Board 9 regular meeting will be held at 7:45 p.m. on Tuesday, Sept. 9, at Villa Russo catering hall, 118-16 Lefferts Boulevard.