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DOT Shows No Traffic Calming Ingenuity for Astoria’s Deadly 21st Ave

Astoria_Rally.jpgAstoria residents demanding a safer 21st Avenue. Image:

Over the last six weeks, Astoria residents have made a strong push for a safer 21st Avenue, a street plagued by speeding cut-through traffic. In response to requests for traffic calming, NYCDOT recently sent what one resident called a "cryptic letter" explaining only that the street would not be receiving speed humps. Although DOT is now studying additional measures, residents would like to see a stronger response from the agency.

Last December, Astorians held a rally asking the city to calm traffic on 21st Avenue. The seven blocks from 21st Street to 28th Street saw 36 car crashes and four deaths in just the last two
years, according to the Queens Chronicle.

Rally organizer Helen Ho, the former vice-chair of Transportation Alternatives' Queens Committee, identified the problem with the avenue: "A lot of folks use 21st Avenue as a speedy bypass for Ditmars Boulevard. It's a stretch of road that for six blocks has nothing. No stop lights. No stop signs. No traffic calming measures of any sort. Some of the intersections don't even have crosswalks."

The call for traffic calming was widespread, motivated by concern for the safety of senior citizens, one of whom was killed on 21st Avenue last year, and for students at the two schools in the area. According to rally organizers, more than 50 people showed up in the December rain to ask for safer streets. The effort also has the backing of local politicians -- including Council Member Peter Vallone, Assembly Member Michael Gianaris, and Democratic District Leader Costa Constantinides -- as well as Queens Community Board 1, which requested traffic calming measures from DOT.

In a letter back to the community board, DOT stated only that it could not install speed humps on 21st Avenue, because it's a bus route. No other solution was proposed.

"Speed bumps were never specifically requested," says Ho. Both the rally participants and the community board asked for whatever form of traffic calming the DOT found to be most effective and appropriate. In the words of Constantinides, "We're not saying what tool they need to pull out, but we know they need to pull something out of their toolbox."

Speed humps are far from the only option at DOT's disposal. The Traffic Calming section of the DOT's website shows that a wide array of techniques have already been employed, from narrowing the roadway to installing pedestrian bulb-outs. The Street Design Manual, released last spring, offers an entire section on traffic calming techniques, most of which do not require "raised speed reducers."

Noah Budnick, the senior policy advisor at Transportation Alternatives, identified traffic calming along DeKalb Avenue in Brooklyn as a potential model for 21st Avenue. On DeKalb, the street was narrowed by installing a bike lane and bus bulbs. "'Because it's a bus route' isn't a substantial or legitimate reason to tell a community that it can't have a safer street," said Budnick.

Both the rally organizers and the community board are sending more letters to DOT reminding the department that there are plenty of non-speed hump traffic calming techniques. Says Constantinides, "I feel confident that they'll do the right thing soon and we'll save lives."

The word from DOT as of this afternoon is that the agency is studying installing traffic control devices where 21st Avenue intersects with 23rd Street and 27th Street. 

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