City Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr. opposes a proposal to create a new pedestrian plaza in public space-starved Astoria. The plaza is one of the options on the table for a dangerous intersection that NYC DOT has targeted for safety imporovements.
The irregular intersection of 33rd Street, 30th Avenue and Newtown Avenue has long been a dangerous place to cross. In 2001, Community Board 1 sent a letter to DOT asking for major pedestrian safety fixes at the intersection. Recent data from DOT show that it is one of the most crash-prone locations in Queens, with more crashes than 89 percent of the borough’s other intersections.
On June 5, DOT hosted a meeting to present two options to the community. The first, which would install three curb extensions, grew out of a 2006 study DOT conducted as part of a citywide school safety program, which included nearby P.S. 17. The curb extensions would be installed at a cost of $400,000 and could begin to be built in spring 2013.
The second option would create a pedestrian plaza on Newtown Avenue between a driveway and 30th Avenue. The plaza would be less expensive and faster to install than the three curb extensions, costing $75,000. It would also provide 4,700 square feet of new public space to Astoria, identified by the Parks Department as one of the 10 neighborhoods with the least amount of open space in New York. DOT would work with the Central Astoria Local Development Corporation to maintain the plaza.
“Either way that this goes, it will be a win for the intersection,” said Marie Torniali, executive director of the LDC. “The intersection needs something, both for the safety of pedestrians and aesthetically.” Torniali described those in attendance at last week’s workshop as being evenly split on which alternative they preferred.
Opposition to the plaza proposal has come from a small number of vocal business owners. Some businesses are objecting to a net reduction of seven parking spaces. Flower shop owner and CB1 member Gus Prentzas told DNAinfo, “People want to be able to shop in the area and stop in front of Key Food.”
But more pedestrian space will not prevent people from shopping. The vast majority of customers already arrive on foot. DOT surveyed Key Food shoppers at four different times and found that 82 percent of customers walk to the store, while only 8 percent arrive by car.
Before last week’s meeting, Vallone’s office had heard from only 15 people on the plaza proposal, with 10 opposed and five in support. “I get complaints from those business owners weekly that we need more parking,” he told the LIC/Astoria Journal.
Vallone’s office says that the council member is opposed to the plaza but is in contact with DOT about safety improvements that don’t involve closing the street to car traffic.
At last week’s meeting, Astoria resident Tamara Reynolds said Vallone should listen to more than just a loud minority. “I never knocked down his door, he can’t be psychic,” she told the Queens Chronicle. “But for him to come into a meeting, and have 10 people who won’t shut up and assume that’s the opinion of everyone here, is a little hard.”
DOT will present the project to Community Board 1 at its monthly meeting on September 11 and may present it to the board’s transportation committee before then.
Correction: This story originally stated that Peter Vallone had not decided whether to support or oppose the plaza. Vallone’s office clarified that he opposes the plaza but has yet to select a preference between other options to improve safety at the intersection. DOT has presented only one other option. The post has been edited with the updated information.