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Queens CB 6 Eager for Safety Fixes (Just Don’t Touch Their Parking)

regopark__1_.jpgThe Rego Park senior focus area, which includes several blocks of Queens Boulevard, is slated for pedestrian improvements. Click here to enlarge. Image: NYCDOT.

As we've recently seen in Astoria, DOT doesn't always bring innovative traffic calming tools to streets that need them. What happens when they do? At a community board meeting in Rego Park last week, the agency rolled out a broad selection of ideas including neckdowns, road diets, and pedestrian refuges. The Queens CB 6 transportation committee seemed ready to listen -- except when discussion briefly turned to the possibility of eliminating parking spaces.

DOT presented two plans to improve safety in Forest Hills and Rego Park, including a preliminary Safe Streets for Seniors proposal which encompasses a significant stretch of the traffic nightmare that is Queens Boulevard. Although the committee didn't vote on either one, members by and large reacted favorably.

Rego Park is home to one of 25 "Senior Pedestrian Focus Areas" that DOT has targeted for safety improvements due to a high density of crashes involving older pedestrians. Throughout the focus area, said DOT's Hillary Poole, signals will be recalibrated to give pedestrians more time to cross the street, and deteriorating pedestrian infrastructure will be replaced or refurbished. The project might also include some combination of high-visibility crosswalks,
neckdowns, pedestrian refuge islands, road narrowing, or leading
pedestrian intervals, pending results of a DOT study. The agency hasn't yet decided whether Queens Boulevard itself would receive a much-needed expansion of pedestrian space, but a wide variety of safety improvements are on the table for the whole area.

These ideas went over well with the committee, which seemed eager for some immediate action. One member asked whether the focus area could be expanded to a few intersections he felt were missing. Committee chair John Dereszewski told the DOT presenters that "if there's anything that doesn't have any cost, like signs or paint, you shouldn't wait for the final report."

The committee also heard a presentation from Queens DOT Commissioner Maura McCarthy proposing a street redesign for 67th Drive between Austin Street and Queens Boulevard. Motorists drive down that stretch too quickly, residents say, especially since their vision is limited by a hill along the street.

67th_Drive.png67th Drive at Queens Boulevard. Image: Google Street View.

DOT recommended giving 67th a road diet by converting it from a two-way to a one-way street and using that space to turn one lane of parallel parking into angled parking. According to McCarthy, the narrower street would reduce traffic speeds and add 20 new parking spaces.

A telling moment came when McCarthy mentioned an alternative traffic calming solution -- daylighting 67th Drive, which would make pedestrians more visible to motorists by removing parking spaces near intersections. The entire room groaned audibly. (Similarly, when Poole noted that the Safe Streets for Seniors redesign in Brighton Beach included a bike lane, she quickly caught herself: "Not to say we're installing any bike lanes here!") So, while the committee appeared ready to embrace the prospect of relatively major street redesigns for the Safe Streets for Seniors projects,
the loss of a few on-street spaces to improve safety on 67th seemed too much to bear.

As for the one-way-plus-angled parking proposal, Dereszewski said that if the recommendation "were a stop sign, we'd vote on this today without objection." The committee informally decided, without objection, to consider DOT's recommendations and talk with the residents of 67th Drive before making any decisions.

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