Queens Leaders Fight Safety Fixes for Fatal School Crossing


DOT plans to simplify a dangerous Queens intersection where a school teacher was killed last December.

Here we go again. As we recently saw on 9th Street in Park Slope and 91st Street on the Upper East Side, yet another "complete streets" project is coming under fire from community leaders, this time in Queens.

This morning a bevy of elected officials and Community Board members gathered at the corner of 164th St. and Jewel Ave. in Fresh Meadows to protest the Dept. of Transportation’s plan to "confiscate two of Jewel Avenue’s four lanes — one lane in each direction — between Parsons Boulevard and 164th Street to create bicycle lanes," according to a press release from Council member James Gennaro (pictured below).

gennaro.jpgThe DOT plan (download the PDF) was initiated in November 2006 after Assembly member Nettie Mayersohn submitted a 140+ signature petition to improve pedestrian safety conditions at 164th and Jewel, where P.S. 200 is located. The call for safety improvements gained urgency after a P.S. 200 teacher was struck and killed while crossing the intersection on December 15, 2006. At the time of the fatal crash, DOT was already studying the location and gathering input from school leaders. The redesign plan was finalized in April 2007 and presented to Queens Community Board 8 on June 25.

In its study, DOT noted that Jewel and 164th both have a problem with speeding. Poor lane alignment, multiple "conflict points," lengthy crosswalks and short crossing times make the intersection in front of P.S. 200 exceptionally dangerous and crash-prone. Between 1998 and 2006 there were 82 crashes at the intersection and 8 pedestrians injured or killed.

To make the intersection safer, DOT plans to put Jewel Ave. on a "road diet," converting it to one-way and narrowing it from four lanes to two with a striped median. At the intersection, conflicts will be eliminated, pedestrian crossing times increased, and signage improved. Bike lanes will be added to both streets, both of which have long been part of the city’s Bicycle Master Plan.

jewel_bike.jpg
Jewel Ave. and 164th St. both provide important links to Queens’ growing bicycle network.

DOT aims to begin implementing the changes on August 30.

But not if Gennaro, Mayersohn and Assembly member Rory Lancman, State Senator Toby Stavisky and Community Board 8 Chair Alvin Warshaviak have anything to do with it. In a release sent out ahead of this morning’s press conference, community leaders demanded a halt to alterations at the fatal intersection calling DOT’s plan "pointless and counterproductive."

"Parents of students at the Fresh Meadows school signed a petition asking DOT for critical traffic safety improvements, which included adding more crossing guards," Gennaro said. "Instead of responding to the parents’ requests, DOT decided to implement two of its own proposals, which parents never asked for and the community vocally opposed."

  • queen bee

    Waaah. We like to speed. We want to speed. Why does the DOT want to take away our divine right to drive as fast as we want?

  • James

    This looks like a pretty outstanding intersection safety plan.

    What do these Queens community people want exactly?

    Do they really think that just throwing a traffic agent out there for a few hours a day is going to solve the problem here?

    Do they really think that bike lanes leading to a school are somehow going to hurt their community?

    Have NYC neighborhood groups become so addled and angry that they just protest everything now?

  • momos

    It’s amazing how backwards Queens is on transportation issues. The truly incredible thing about the community protests is their determination to preserve a dangerous, high-speed car-biased design in front of a SCHOOL.

  • psycholist

    Just shows you that when someone is presented with a clear and rational plan backed with studies and statistics that they will believe whatever they want.

  • Charlie D.

    I’m pretty sure most neighborhood associations are against everything. The key may be for the DOT to present a plan to do nothing, to which the community group could oppose, thereby giving the DOT the go-ahead to make the improvements that are needed.

  • word

    Community boards are part of what makes rents and property values so sky-high in New York–they’re against pretty much any change coming to their neighborhoods–even new housing stock or jobs.

  • For the first time ever, I’ve been emailing my elected representatives about transportation-related issues (I want to be safe as a pedestrian). I live in Manhattan, not Queens, so I don’t have any influence over this sorry set of “community leaders.” But if I lived in that neighborhood, they’d hear from me. Remaining silent does us no good.

  • Spud Spudly

    I’ve driven through that intersection a few times before and yes, it is friggin’ dangerous. Wide open lanes without a lot of traffic or traffic control system means that everyone flies through there. And Jewel Avenue shrinks from four very wide lanes on one side of 164th street down to two narrow lanes on the other side, causing all kinds of confusion. I don’t think the two lane side of Jewel even has a line down the middle.

  • Mitch

    If I read the proposal correctly, it will protect pedestrians, simplify the intersection for motorists, and maybe even add a few parking spots.

    But these politicians are agin’ it because it will also help bicyclists.

    Has the political climate really deteriorated that far?

  • Brooklyn

    Gennaro et al’s opposition is unfathomable unless you look at the world exclusively through a windshield. The photos of Jewel Avenue and 164th Street in the DOT presentation show grotesquely wide boulevards in a residential area that practically beg to be drag-raced.

    Somebody died at that intersection not even a year ago — a letter from the victim’s family to each of these know-nothings ought to shut them the hell up.

  • JF

    Having observed several of these fights over the past few years, I’ll point out one common element – and this is also present in the congestion pricing fight and the Park Slope one-way avenue fight (in which Streetblog folks were on the same side as the community board and the NIMBYs).

    That common element is power, and it enters this fight in a host of slightly different ways. People who see themselves as “community leaders” hate the idea of a project that they don’t control or at least have a say in. They get absolutely foaming-at-the-mouth furious at the idea of “those bureaucrats downtown” pushing a solution on them. They also hate not getting credit for anything that people like, whether they’ve done anything to deserve the credit or not.

    The result is that even when you’ve got a plan that’s mostly good and will probably save some lives and make the intersection much more pleasant and welcoming for the people (including kids) who have to walk through it every day, the Community Leaders will find reasons to oppose it just because they didn’t get a say and won’t get credit. Even when it’s requested by someone like Mayersohn, if the wrong people are pissed off she’ll turn around and denounce the plan.

    I’m not saying that windshield perspective doesn’t play a role; I’m sure it does. And there are plenty of other underlying issues. But I think that the power issues can make the difference between a handful of motorist “community leaders” who quietly try to undermine a plan like this and the kind of boiling rage that mobilizes people to rant at community meetings, hold rallies and issue press releases.

  • Absolutely JF. I feel the same way. Community based planning needs to be better managed. The community boards don’t have any resources or strong expertise on a wide range of matters. Nor do they have any final say over decisions.

    A new process needs to be organized to make local leaders more involved earlier in the process and gains input from them at each step in the process.

  • Al Smith

    Agreed.
    And the funds for this new, time-consuming and resource-consuming process will come from where exactly?

  • I lived in Fresh Meadows for 30 years (in fact on Jewel Ave but at Utopia Pkwy which is 20 blocks to the east), and I know this crazy intersection well. As “spud spudly” pointed out, there is no demarcation on the 2 lane side of Jewel and it is very narrow.
    (check out – http://maps.google.com/maps?f=q&hl=en&geocode=&q=jewel+ave&sll=37.0625,-95.677068&sspn=47.033113,92.8125&ie=UTF8&ll=40.731694,-73.805058&spn=0.001382,0.002832&t=k&z=19&om=1 )

    My experience with Jim Gennaro when I lived in Fresh Meadows was positive, and generally he’s very responsive to community concerns. So if he’s against this, it’s probably because community groups opposed to this plan have been very vocal in their opposition to the plan.

    Having read the actual plan, I think its great, and my only complaint is that the direction DOT has the one way pointing kind of breaks up the continuity of Jewel Ave, as further down Jewel the one way is pointing in the opposite direction.

    Overall, i have to say that there seem to be two reasons people seem opposed to safe streets/bike lanes. 1 – a perception that less road space = more traffic, even though the opposite is true, and 2 – a negative perception of bicyclists themselves.

    Regarding the first perception, this is the sort of thing that people have to see to understand, because it is really counterintuitive. In regards to the second perception Bicyclists are just like any other group of people, most are cool, but there are always a few not-so-nice people. If we want the changes that we want (AND NEED), then that perception is going to have to change.

  • JF

    I agree with your suggestions, Glenn, but there’s another side to this, which you probably know: there’s the official planning process and the unofficial one. The official one involves people petitioning the community board and writing letters to the DOT commissioner, getting politicions involved, etc.

    The unofficial way involves going to the meetings and parties where these community leaders hang out, getting an influential (but not necessarily elected) person to back the plan, and building consensus for it through a series of conversations and emails. That’s what people like Gennaro mean by “we weren’t involved”: we didn’t hear about this from people we know and respect at the Wildebeest Club ice cream social.

    Of course, the DOT borough commissioner isn’t likely to be at the ice cream social, and neither are T.A. staffers. Other people missing: new arrivals, immigrants, twentysomethings, people without much free time, people without political aspirations. It’s not the most democratic way to do things by a long shot. But I think that going this route can avoid having this fight again and again.

    There are basically three headlines that you can have on this: “Community Leaders Protest Traffic Safety Plan,” “Community Leaders Welcome Traffic Safety Plan,” or “Community Leaders Split on Traffic Safety Plan.” The old guard doesn’t like the “split” headline any more than you do, so if you can get enough of them that the rest know that the choice is “split” or “welcome,” they’ll go with “welcome.”

  • JF

    Thanks for your perspective, Joby. I agree with you about Perception 1 – it is hard for some people to grasp. So many things about liveable streets are: for example, parking causes traffic, and the cheaper the parking the more traffic it causes.

    I think it’s not so much about intuitiveness as about what people are used to. The rules they’re used to (adding parking and road capacity ease traffic) work fine when there’s plenty of space and money to expand car facilities, but they’re absolutely off-base when these reacourses are scarce.

    The clashing one-ways was probably intentional: if a street is one-way in the same direction for its entire length, it tends to be used as a through street, but if it’s eastbound for part of the way and westbound for the rest, it tends to only attract local traffic.

  • Steve

    Is it a negative perception of bicycles that is driving opposition? I wouldn’t be surprised, but did not see that in the post. I assumed that opponents were unhappy about losing a lane in either direction and a place to double park.

  • Steve:
    you’re right that the post didn’t mention bike lanes. However, i was referring to the opposition to safe-streets/bike-lanes across the city which Aaron led off with. In the case of 164th and Jewel the issue has more to do with taking away lanes.

    JF:
    I guess counter-intuitive might not have been the best choice of words, but I agree with your analysis.
    I never thought about the clashing one ways the way you did, but that makes sense.

    A-Sad-But-True Historical note
    164th street is so wide because it was once the ROW for the New York and Queens County Railway a trolley line that ran IIRC roughly from main street in Flushing (IRT) to Jamaica (IND)

  • psycholist

    I’m going to vent off a little steam here but it just saddens me that the good intentions of wanting to fix a hazardous intersection that took the life of a local teacher has degraded into a turf war. They asked for token crossing guards but what they got was a redesigned and much more effective intersection. Instead of being thankful or at least listening to the proposal there’s petty bickering. It’s a hell of a memorial to the person who’s life was lost. Again, I’m just venting here, but I actually clicked through that presentation and there wasn’t a thing in there that was difficult to comprehend. Fewer intersecting paths of traffic means less potential for collisions. What’s the problem? Pathetic that cars and a few minutes less time traveling trumps a human life.

  • JF

    A-Sad-But-True Historical note
    164th street is so wide because it was once the ROW for the New York and Queens County Railway a trolley line that ran IIRC roughly from main street in Flushing (IRT) to Jamaica (IND)

    Looks like your memory is correct:

    http://www.forgotten-ny.com/NEIGHBORHOODS/freshmeadows/freshmeadows.html

    I know the perfect way to traffic calm that road: bring back the trolley.

  • JF, that would be really cool.
    Since AirTrain is Light Rail, they could probably just extend AirTrain north along the old ROW without too much effort. This would link E Queens two downtowns (Downtown Flushing & Downtown Jamaica)
    It would probably markedly increase AirTrain ridership as well.

  • Eric

    New York City politicians love to pay lip service to how important teachers and the education of our children are, and yet our schools are mostly still awful, and when a teacher or a schoolkid gets run over, the news quickly fades. Wanna bet the outcry would be different from Gennaro et al if a City Councilmember had been run over at that intersection?

  • Larry Littlefield

    Time for Transportation Alternatives to get Bruce Schaller back on the job.

    I suggest a Public Use Microdata Sample (run) to check means of transportation to work and vehicle availability by the following two demographic characteristics:

    Age

    How long at current address.

    My assumption — older and long time residents who abandoned the transit system (and in many cases the city) in 1970s and 1980s are more likely to own and us motor vehicles. Younger residents and those who have been moving to NYC as NYC are less likely to use both.

    Elected officials are more likely to be in, and represent, the former group, who are also more likely to vote and show up to public meetings. The size of this group, however, diminishes each year.

  • Chris

    Joby,

    The Airtrain is not Light Rail. It is a form of rapid transit like the subways. Its branded Advanced Rapid Transit by the manufacturer. The main difference is that it utilizes a linear induction motor.

  • Chris,
    point taken,
    However, I still think putting a LRT system on 164th would be great, in addition, it would probably be cheaper to implement than the Vision42 scheme, (although i have to say i think that the V42 plan is great).

    I think I remember reading that the MTA is not into LRT for whatever reason, but i happen to think an LRT would probably be a better choice to implement first in the outer boroughs than for Manhattan if for no other reason than implementation will be cheaper in Q/K/B/R than in Manhattan

    Larry,
    I grew up in NYC, i have a NYC accent, and am 32 years old, so i guess I’m a gen-X-er. And when I worked in Manhattan i took MTA Subways & Buses. However, my mother rides the subway to work every day. So don’t hate on us native NYers. Not all of us are agin’ necessary changes for sustainability.

    -joby

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