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DOT Presents Full Menu of Street Improvements for Jackson Heights

1:44 PM EST on February 14, 2011

When large numbers of pedestrians, trucks and cars battle for limited space, you get a traffic mess. When that traffic mess is in one of the nation’s first high-density garden communities, which now is also one of the nation’s most diverse communities, you get Jackson Heights.

City transportation planners are taking another shot at untangling congestion in the commercial core of this Queens neighborhood, and on Saturday unveiled their recommendations to an audience of nearly 200. Afterward, local Council Member Dan Dromm voiced support for the plan.

Among the proposals topping the list:

    • Converting one block of 37th Road and a small stretch of 73rd Street to pedestrian ways, which may accommodate vendors and bike parking for the neighborhood’s nearby transit hub.
    • Create truck-unloading zones on commercial streets for several hours each morning, and metered parking fees that vary according to demand.
    • Reverse traffic on 75th Street to allow southbound Q47 and Q49 bus service to shift to that street, providing quicker trips to a major transit hub.

The full set of recommendations, which you can browse through on the DOT site, includes many of the city's sustainable transportation priorities: encouraging pedestrian, transit and bicycle use and creating open space where possible. And for motorists, planners say, traffic will move faster by reducing truck double-parking and trimming the number of left and right turns allowed.

“I don’t think I need to tell you that congestion is a really big problem,” said David Stein, director of community initiatives for planning and sustainability at DOT, during his presentation at P.S. 69.

No one argued with that, but Stein met with skepticism from several participants steeped in the belief that City Hall often ignores views from non-Manhattan neighborhoods.

“These are not set in stone,” Stein assured them. “We want to hear from you -- if there are things that you like, or don’t like.”

The $1.4 million DOT study has been 18 months in the making. The agency held three earlier sessions for the public and conducted surveys of 1,445 pedestrians, 1,843 drivers, and 75 local businesses. The project covers the area from 69th Street to 82nd Street, and 35th Avenue to 41st Avenue, which includes the northern edge of Elmhurst.

Joe Sciberras, a 61-year-old executive, said he’s tired of bus delays between the transit hub and his home, north of the study area.

“Sometimes you sit there 15 to 20 minutes,” said Sciberras, who was skeptical that planners had come up with winning solutions.

Mary Rooney, 77, who lives in senior housing north of the study area, liked the focus on pedestrian safety, especially after a neighbor was struck by a car several months ago.

“I like longer traffic lights because sometimes you can’t get across the street before the light changes,” she said.

Council Member Daniel Dromm, who represents the area, said he liked the plan and hoped it wouldn’t meet the fate of two previous studies that were never implemented. “Let’s do it and see how it goes,” he said. “If it needs tweaking, we’ll do it.”

DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy said the department would sort through the public’s suggestions and hoped to make the changes in about six months.

The initial work would be done using inexpensive, temporary fixes -- for instance, using large planters to close streets to traffic -- before the changes become permanent.

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