By Patrick Donachie
Jamaica residents railed against Department of Transportation representatives at a public meeting Monday evening, saying community members had offered city officials input on how to improve transit conditions in downtown Jamaica for years to no avail.
“There have been meetings after meetings,” Community Board 12 District Manager Yvonne Reddick said during the session, held at the Harvest Room at 90-40 160th St. “You have studied us to death, and nothing has happened.”
The event was the second scheduled public meeting for the Downtown Jamaica Transportation Study, a process that began in November of 2015. The study’s goal is to improve traffic conditions in the downtown area, as well as enhancing safety and quality-of-life for residents and pedestrians.
Michael Griffith, a deputy director for traffic analysis, said the DOT wanted to check with the community to ensure the results for the area’s current conditions matched the experiences of residents.
Attendees like southeast Queens resident Vanessa Sparks said they were frustrated with the monotony of meetings that rarely seemed to offer results. Sparks said she was frustrated with a part of the DOT presentation that labeled 4:45 p.m. to 5:45 p.m. as the “peak hour” for commuting, saying those times were not realistic for people like her with long commutes..
“What my concern is, I’m worried about the people on 114-33, 114-35, 114-36, who pay taxes,” she said, referring to several residential blocks in southeastern Queens. “I don’t see where for me, as a resident, it’s going to be beneficial.”
Griffith stressed the study included data for 24 hours, not merely the peak hour cited in the presentation. The study’s primary study area stretched from Hillside Avenue to Liberty Avenue and from the Van Wyck Expressway to 183rd Street, and the data the DOT collected included pedestrian and bus usage, congestion patterns and the speed of cars in the downtown center. The DOT suggested several preliminary recommendations, including turning 150th Street between Jamaica and Hillside avenues from a one-way to two-way street to increase traffic flow.
Criticisms from attendees also included the preponderance of trucks in use by Royal Waste Services, located at 173rd Street and Liberty Avenue. Community Board 12 Chairwoman Adrienne Adams said she was frustrated by the MTA’s continued absence from public discussions with the community, despite the fact that much of the congestion in the downtown area was due to the number of buses.
“We’ve been having sessions for year after year,” she said. “We need something that will change our minds and make us have confidence in what the city agencies are planning.”
Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-Jamaica) joined the meeting halfway through and urged audience members to keep making their voices heard despite the frustration, saying the city needed to understand and properly invest in the transportation needs of southeastern Queens. Despite the constant setbacks and lethargic process, Miller said he was starting to see progress.
“They’re spending $3 billion on trolley cars for emerging communities that don’t exist yet and they’re spending another billion dollars on ferries and infrastructure,” he said. “And our transportation alternatives are dollar vans. It’s unacceptable, and we’re getting there.”
Reach reporter Patrick Donachie by e-mail at pdona