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Commuter van drivers protest Jamaica redevelopment

Commuter van drivers are in an uproar over the relocation of their vans from Parsons Blvd. to 153rd St. between Jamaica and Archer avenues.
Courtesy of Google Earth
By Naeisha Rose

Members of the commuter van industry are infuriated about the redevelopment plans for Jamaica, which include an apartment complex being built by Sutphin Boulevard and a pedestrian plaza on Parsons Boulevard that will force them to operate at 153rd St. between Jamaica and Archer avenues.

The van drivers who were mainstays at Parsons Boulevard believe the 153rd Street spot is already crowded by other vehicle operators, they say it floods frequently and think they are being pushed out so that the area can be gentrified for outsiders who aren’t from the community.

Vehicle operators in the commuter van industry were so incensed about the move they held a rally April 11 against City Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) outside his office at 172-12 Linden Blvd. in St. Albans for supporting the relocation, which is part of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero Plan to eliminate congestion in the area.

“They are piling the vans on 153rd where vans already occupy space and there is absolutely no infrastructure there,” said Hector Ricketts, the president and CEO of the Commuter Van Association of New York. “They want to give the space to the farmers from upstate New York who don’t live in our community and don’t spend their money in our community.”

Ricketts was referring to the pop-up Down to Earth Farmers Market that runs twice a week from June to November and operates at Parsons Boulevard between Jamaica and Archer avenues on Fridays and 160th Street off of Jamaica Avenue on Saturdays. Four of the vendors are from upstate New York and one is from Long Island.

Miller disagreed with Ricketts’ sentiments and said the changes were made because of the mayor’s safety concerns, and said that three-quarters of the vendors who work on that corner in Parsons are from the area.

“When the mayor came in and began to implement his Vision Zero program, part of it was to create street safety zones, and these public plazas are in areas that had some of the highest accident rates,” said Miller. “Parsons Boulevard between Jamaica and Archer was one of the areas with the highest accident rates in the city and in the borough as well.”

A city Department of Transportation spokesman said the changes are from months-long feedback from community stakeholders of the Jamaica Now effort and as a response to accidents on Parsons, which has 1,000 pedestrians per hour on that block.

The Parsons corridor was designated a Vision Zero Priority Area because it ranks in the top 10 percent boroughwide with 70 crashes from 2012 to 2016. In those accidents 30 of those injuries involved pedestrians.

The alterations include a sidewalk extension to create additional space to Parsons. The DOT said that the one-block move to 153rd for the van drivers will be beneficial since there are three spaces for authorized van operations.

On April 19 the signage for the commuter van stops on Parsons were removed, new signs were installed on the east side of 153rd St. and planters that were on the east side of the boulevard were moved to the west side of the sidewalk. From April 23 to April 27 there will be replacements for the old markings for the sidewalk extension. From April 20 to May 4 there will be installations of more planters, and granite blocks will make way for a pedestrian space similar to the ones in Manhattan.

Ricketts said the move was ridiculous because there are 100 van operators in the southeast Queens area and they serve around 120,000 riders a day and to put them near an area that floods would be what is truly unsafe.

Miller said the van protesters are grasping at straws with the flood zone accusation, and according to FloodHelpNY.org, a flood mapping website, that part of downtown Jamaica is not a flood zone area.

Ricketts also thinks the mayor is lumping his safety concerns on legal van drivers when the real solution should be sending enforcement agents from the Taxi and Limousine Commission to remove the illegal van drivers who sometimes park at bus stops and block traffic at 153rd St. between Jamaica and Archer avenues.

“They want to pool us all together,” said Ricketts. “They have never drawn a distinction between legal van operators and the illegal van operators.”

Miller reiterated that the main concern will always be safety in the area.

“We cannot enjoy any of the enhancements or development going on if we are not safe. This is about safety,” said the councilman.

Reach reporter Naeisha Rose by e-mail at nrose@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4573.

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