By Bill Parry
A lawmaker’s request to ban cars from Shore Boulevard in Astoria Park is meeting resistance from residents of western Queens.
Following the June 27 fatal hit-and-run of Betty Jean DiBiasio at Ditmars Boulevard and 19th Street at the northern edge of the park, City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) started a petition calling for better traffic safety measures in the neighborhoods surrounding the park.
Last week, Assemblywoman Aravella Simotas (D-Astoria) went even further when she penned a letter to the city DOT requesting that the agency close Shore Boulevard between Astoria Park South and Ditmars Boulevard to traffic, citing numerous accidents involving pedestrians and motorists. Aside from the traffic conditions, residents have long complained of drag racing, loitering in idle vehicles, and persistent noise along the scenic waterfront roadway.
“One of the great things about Astoria Park is the access it provides to the waterfront,” Simotas said. “With cars racing up and down Shore Boulevard, families are forced to cross a hazardous barrier in order to fully enjoy this green space.”
Noting the benefits that other city parks experienced after prohibiting vehicular traffic, and following another tragic accident on the streets surrounding Astoria Park, Simotas called on DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg to close the half-mile stretch to all non-emergency vehicles. Simotas does not see any downside to the proposal.
“Overnight parking is already prohibited here and there are no residences or businesses abutting the street in question,” Simotas said. “By closing this superfluous half-mile section to vehicles we can make Astoria Park safer and better with hardly any effect on congestion in the area.”
Constantinides said there is a need for a comprehensive, long-lasting plan.
“There are several safety measures that could greatly improve the area, including a car-free Shore Boulevard,” he said.
The Department of Transportation seemed receptive to the Simotas request saying, “DOT is always open to working with the community and elected officials on ideas about enhancing safety, particularly at key destinations well used by residents and visitors alike such as Astoria Park.”
There was no support, however, for the plan among visitors to Astoria Park Tuesday afternoon.
“I think this is the nicest street in all of Astoria, why would they want to close it? This is the worst idea I’ve ever heard of,” said an 85-year-old lifelong Astoria resident named Steve.
He was talking with Ilene Vozzo, a 74-year-old from Woodside. “I drive over every day during the summer to sit in the shade and look at the views,” she said. “Where would we park if there’s no Shore Boulevard?”
Long Island City resident Reyes Diaz agreed that parking is limited in the residential areas surrounding the park.
“It doesn’t make much sense. To get here you need a car because it’s so far from the subway,” he said. “Besides there’s plenty of police and security even late at night. It shouldn’t be a problem.”
Gonzolo, an 18-year-old skateboarder from East Elmhurst who came to the park because Shore Boulevard was resurfaced this week, had a simple solution.
“They should just put up more speed bumps and stop signs,” he said. “ There’s already plenty of cops here.”
Christina, a Shore Towers resident since the ’80s, believes Simotas is looking at the wrong street.
“19th Street is the dangerous one — it’s so narrow with two-way traffic and parking on both sides,” she said. “If you close Shore Boulevard, it will make 19th Street even crazier than it is now. Besides, that young woman was killed at 19th Street.”
An online petition on MoveO
Luanne Rozran, an Astoria resident and artist, signed the petition saying, “People pull up along Shore Boulevard to enjoy the view and the park. Many are not physically able to walk all the way down to the walkway from the parking lot. You would be eliminating the shore line for seniors and those with limited mobility. I understand the safety concerns with speeding at night, but a stronger police presence and doubling the fines and penalties will curb that.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr