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Austin Street in Forest Hills, Queens.

A pair of lawmakers representing Forest Hills are speaking out against the Department of Transportation’s (DOT) plan to add truck loading zones to the area’s most popular commercial strip.

In a joint press release on Aug. 21, Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz and Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi announced their opposition to the DOT’s effort to introduce designated truck loading zones on Austin Street as part of a larger plan to reduce congestion in the area. Among the proposed changes, numerous 60-foot loading zones would be added to provide 36 spaces for trucks for a 30-minute limit.

Koslowitz and Hevesi stand by their local business owners who say the loading zones would hurt their operations, and the Queens Chamber of Commerce is “unequivocally” opposed to the loading zones, according to the press release.

“While I can appreciate DOT’s concern with traffic flow on Austin Street, the remedy cannot be at the expense of our local stores,” Koslowitz said. “We need only to witness the turnover in storefronts on Austin Street to realize that even a small dent in commercial activity could be fatal to many businesses.”

According to a presentation delivered by the DOT to Community Board 6 in February, the agency’s recommendations came after conducting traffic studies in the area. The DOT found that of the 12,760 feet of “parkable” space amounting to 638 metered spaces along Austin Street, only 100 feet is dedicated to truck access, or four spaces.

When the DOT surveyed the general public and the businesses in the area, congestion and double parking emerged as the biggest problems. The DOT observed that trucks often double park when making deliveries because the curb is already full, and truck activity is higher during the morning and midday, according to the presentation.

“While I can appreciate DOT’s concern with traffic flow on Austin Street, the remedy cannot be at the expense of our local stores.” — City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz

They also observed that many vehicles are staying parked on the curb for longer than the two-hour limit, and pedestrians are crossing the street wherever they get a chance because of the long blocks on Austin Street.

As a result of the findings, the DOT proposed the loading zones and plans to reduce their availability throughout the day. From 7 a.m. to 11 a.m., all 36 spaces will be available to trucks only for 30 minutes. From 11 a.m. to 1 p.m., 24 spaces will be set aside for trucks, and from 1 to 4 p.m., nine spaces will remain designated for trucks.

The truck spaces will all return to normal parking outside of those restricted hours, but Koslowitz and Hevesi believe that the new signage will be much too confusing for drivers and will greatly reduce the amount of spaces for customers.

“If the businesses that these loading zones are intended to help are against them, then what is the point of this proposal?” Hevesi said. “Unless the DOT provides some reasonable explanation, then this remains an unnecessary solution in search of a problem. Therefore I stand in opposition to these loading zones.”

The lawmakers plan to facilitate the dialogue between the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, local businesses and the DOT as the agency considers community feedback before implementing the changes.

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