Queens lawmaker’s plan to add parking spaces in Woodhaven sparks heated debate

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar meets with Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Queens Commissioner Nicole Garcia to discuss additional parking in Woodhaven. (Photo courtesy of Rajkumar’s office)

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar walked through Woodhaven with the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) Queens Commissioner Nicole Garcia last week to discuss adding parking spots to the area, sparking a heated debate about the proposal. 

Rajkumar said that a lack of parking has been a long-standing issue in Woodhaven, claiming some of her constituents even sleep in their cars waiting for a spot.

The proposed initiative would add angled parking on 98th Street between Woodhaven Boulevard and Park Lane South, turn the median striping on the Woodhaven Boulevard Service Road into parking spots and slim down the bus lane on Woodhaven Boulevard to add more spots. Rajkumar also proposed turning a private vacant lot outside of the Forest Park Co-Operative on 98th Street into a parking space.

There has been contention over the proposed parking on 98th Street near the co-op, which is right next to Forest Park. 

The confusion erupted after Rajkumar released a statement saying she would advocate to “convert” the “vacant park space” on the “corner of 98th Street and Park Lane South” into a parking lot. However, the assemblywoman has walked back on that statement, saying she never intended to take away any green space for parking.

That proposal to convert a “vacant park space” is for a gravel lot across the street from Forest Park on 98th Street.

Assemblywoman Jenifer Rajkumar is proposing to convert a space next to Forest Park Co-op into a parking lot. (Screenshot via Google Maps)

Before the assemblywoman clarified her mistake, people took to Twitter angrily responding to her plan.

“Leave 98th Street and Park Lane South alone,” a Twitter user wrote. “I’m a Woodhaven resident, and I will never support converting public space to parking.”

All of the confusion stemming from the original statement even resulted in a protest outside of Rajkumar’s Woodhaven office on Sunday, Sept. 5. 

Rajkumar’s chief of staff clarified that statement and said none of her proposals include taking over any green spaces. 

“To be abundantly clear, Rajkumar never at any time proposed a parking lot inside Forest Park,” said Rajkumar’s chief of staff Vjola Isufaj. “Facts matter. That kind of outrageous sensationalism based on wrong facts and lies may be fun on Twitter, but it’s not truthful and isn’t helping anyone in our district.”

Though most of the negative response came from the misleading original statement regarding the plan, Rajkumar said she does understand some criticism she might receive due to promoting cars on the road instead of the use of public transportation. 

“I agree we do have to address long-term issues created by carbon emissions from vehicles,” Rajkumar said. “That is why legislatively I have focused on creating environmental protections, sustainable infrastructure and resiliency.”

The first-term assemblywoman said she’s proposed parking solutions that won’t interfere with green spaces, bike lanes or public transportation — but recognized the parking scarcity in the area and is acting on it. 

Walter Chaluisant, a Woodhaven resident of 25 years and president of Works Little League, said he fully supported the proposals. 

“Driving around for an hour or more without being able to secure parking makes daily life difficult,” Chaluisant said. “It makes us late for work, school and medical care. I deeply appreciate [Rajkumar’s] leadership standing up for the needs of her constituents.”

A DOT spokesperson said they will be working with Rajkumar in the future to discuss these parking initiatives further.

We are always happy to talk to elected officials and walk through their communities and hear about their ideas or concerns raised by constituents,” said the DOT statement.

Kenneth Mankowitz, the president of Forest Park Co-Operative in Woodhaven, said that the lack of parking has been a continuous problem facing residents and thanked the assemblywoman for her work. 

“We fully support Assemblywoman Rajkumar’s efforts working with the DOT commissioner and hope she is successful,” Mankowitz said. “A lot of the areas the assemblywoman proposed used to actually be parking spaces before they were removed, so her proposals make perfect sense.”