Thursday, September 3, 2009

Woodhaven Blvd Safety Study Continues

Due for Release by Mid 2010, Public Meeting This Fall

By Conor Greene

City Department of Transportation officials met with community leaders last week to discuss the ongoing study of Woodhaven Boulevard, which is intended to prevent traffic backups and accidents along a 3.2 mile stretch of the congested roadway.

The meeting, held last Tuesday, was not open to the media or public. However, a DOT spokesman said a public session will be announced for later this fall, at which point specific details and proposals will be unveiled. Long term improvements being considered by the city include reconfiguring intersections, connecting discontinuous service roads and dedicating lanes exclusively for rapid bus service.

Several local officials who attended the meeting are urging the DOT to move ahead with immediate steps to increase safety along the study area, which stretches from Queens Boulevard to Liberty Avenue. According to the DOT, the study has been delayed because the department needed to obtain approval to expand the scope of the study to include additional intersections at the southern end in Ozone Park.

“The people living and working around Woodhaven Boulevard have waited too long,” said Councilman Eric Ulrich (R-Ozone Park). “Traffic along this corridor is an absolute nightmare. The DOT needs to take immediate action to implement some of the recommendations we discussed.”

Frank Gulluscio, district manager of Community Board 6, agreed that it is “taking too long” for the city to implement at least some of the safety measures. “There are things that can be done immediately and don’t have to wait for another capital plan. I’m talking about simple things such as looking at the bottlenecks, the traffic islands, signage that doesn’t cost too much.”

One thing Gulluscio would like to see added to the study is an increased emphasis on making the area “greener” to help offset the increases in pollution. “If there is going to be more traffic, what about the emissions?” he said. “There should be something in that plan regarding the environmental impact and the medians should be looked at.”

In a statement, Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), who was represented at the meeting by her chief of staff, also called on the DOT to enact immediate reforms along Woodhaven Boulevard. “I understand the need to conduct the proper investigation and now that the study is complete, it’s time to start implementing the changes to alleviate traffic delays, especially around rush hour, and to protect people,” she said.

A DOT spokesman said that other “preliminary ideas being discussed” include signal timing modification, turn restrictions, refuge islands and high-visibility crosswalks. The DOT’s final report is expected to be released in mid-2010 with implementation of safety measures to follow.

One aspect of the plan that is likely going to be a hot topic of debate is the idea of replacing a parking lane along the boulevard with a lane dedicated for Bus Rapid Transit service. “Some people might be up for that, but to take out a lane on Woodhaven Boulevard concerns me,” said Gulluscio.

According to the DOT, there were a total of 495 accidents along the 3.2 mile stretch from 2004 to 2006, the latest figures the city used in the study. Still, despite the delays in implementing safety measures, and the increase in traffic, Gulluscio maintains that making the boulevard safer for motorists and pedestrians is achievable. “I don’t believe it is a lost cause by any means. We have a goal to make it better and we have to improve the quality of life,” he said. “I’m by no means giving this up.”

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