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New Vision Zero Details Emerge at Astoria Town Hall

Last night, more than 100 people gathered in Astoria for the latest in a series of Vision Zero town halls bringing together residents,  city officials, elected representatives, and advocates to talk about street safety. New information regarding City Hall’s current thinking about the safety of trucks and large vehicle fleets came to light, and officials also hinted at opening more street safety data to the public.

NYPD and DOT will hand out this flyer at high-crash intersections.

NYPD and DOT will soon start handing out this flyer at high-crash intersections.

While the city continues to flesh out policies, Queens residents affected by traffic violence came to last night’s meeting seeking answers and highlighting areas where the NYPD still needs to improve.

“We haven’t heard from the police yet. It would be nice to find out as much information as possible,” said Satie Ragunath, whose father-in-law Kumar was killed in a hit-and-run while crossing Northern Boulevard earlier this month. “We’d like to know, what can you guys do about accidents that have already happened?”

Deputy Inspector Kevin Maloney, commanding officer of the 114th Precinct, told Streetsblog that the Collision Investigation Squad was unable to find surveillance video of the crash and was broadening its search area, using cameras on nearby blocks in an attempt to identify the hit-and-run driver. “I’ll talk with the detective in charge of that investigation and I’ll be sure he speaks to you,” Maloney told Ragunath.

Chris Vanterpool said he and his 3-year-old son were struck by a turning driver two weeks ago while they were in a crosswalk near their Astoria home. Vanterpool said it was difficult to get information from the precinct after the crash. “I had to make 10 phone calls to get the report number,” he said, and when he wanted to get a copy of the crash report, the precinct required a $10 money order. “It costs $15 at the bank to get a $10 money order,” Vanterpool said.

Maloney, who spoke with Vanterpool about the crash after the forum, told Streetsblog that the precinct tries to focus on speeding, cell phone use, and red light summonses. The five officers in its traffic enforcement division, as well as a handful of patrol officers, are trained to use the three LIDAR speed guns available at the precinct.

“When I was a cop, precinct cops didn’t even shoot radar,” Maloney said. “Since then, the department’s evolved, so it’s something that on the precinct level we take seriously.”

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Van Bramer: Deadly Northern Boulevard Should Be a Vision Zero Priority

Advocates and fellow electeds with City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer on Northern Boulevard, in front of a bus stop where five people were injured by a curb-jumping driver this month. Photo: Brad Aaron

Advocates and fellow electeds with City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer on Northern Boulevard, in front of a bus stop where five people were injured by a curb-jumping driver this month. Photo: Brad Aaron

City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, state electeds, and advocates gathered in Queens this morning to call on Mayor Bill de Blasio to make Northern Boulevard a Vision Zero priority by making hazardous intersections safer for pedestrians.

Standing next to a recently repaired bus shelter at Northern and 48th Street, which was nearly destroyed by a curb-jumping hit-and-run driver who seriously injured five people on February 1, Van Bramer also singled out dangerous crossings at Northern and 42nd Street, 43rd Street, 52nd Street, and 62nd Street, where 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed by an unlicensed truck driver.

“We’re asking the administration today to include this series of intersections on Northern Boulevard so that no child is ever killed trying to cross the street to go to school, that no 7-year-old girl is ever sent to Elmhurst Hospital waiting for a bus, or excited to have just come out of Old Navy with some new clothes,” said Van Bramer, referring to Nahian and one of the victims struck last weekend.

De Blasio has said he wants to revamp at least 50 corridors and intersections a year, but has not yet announced where the first round of improvements will take place. Van Bramer said the administration has asked for recommendations from council members. De Blasio has also directed the city’s police, transportation, taxi, and health commissioners to produce a pedestrian safety plan by February 15. De Blasio’s Vision Zero launch event was held at PS 152, where Nahian attended school.

Northern Boulevard is a hostile, wide street lined with retail and grocery stores. Throughout today’s street safety presser, speakers were drowned out or interrupted by loud trucks and honking motorists, who whipped by just a few feet away. Van Bramer cited a report from the Tri-State Transportation Campaign that found that five pedestrians were killed on the boulevard from 2010 to 2012. That number does not include Nahian or Olvin Jahir Figueroa, age 3, who was hit by an alleged drunk driver while crossing with his mother at Northern and Junction Boulevard in 2013. Since 2011, NYPD data reports put the number of pedestrians injured by drivers on Northern Boulevard in the hundreds.

“As we often say, ‘It is too late to wait,’” said Van Bramer. “The time to act is now.” Van Bramer said he has a ”pretty extensive list” of streets targeted for improvement in his district, and would make it available to the public soon. ”There are far more than 50 [intersections] that deserve this recognition,” he said.

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Eyes on the Street: Vernon Boulevard Bikeway Upgrade

DOT crews at work on Vernon Boulevard near Hallet's Cove this morning. Photo: Gil Lopez/Instagram

Buffered bike lanes on Vernon Boulevard in western Queens are getting upgraded to a buffered two-way bikeway. Gil Lopez was near Hallet’s Cove this morning when he snapped a photo of DOT crews installing the bike lane, which when complete will include flexible posts to keep out car traffic.

The two-way lane will run from 46th Avenue in Long Island City to 30th Drive in Astoria, though it will give way to shared lane markings on opposite sides of the street near Queensbridge Park and Rainey Park. The disruptions to the bike lane will add back some parking spaces removed when the Vernon Boulevard bike lane was installed in 2008. Cyclists looking for a protected route on those sections are directed to more circuitous waterfront bike paths in the parks.

This isn’t the only bike route upgrade on track for western Queens: On November 7, Community Board 2 is scheduled to take up a proposal to expand bike lanes in Long Island City and Sunnyside. These plans, developed by DOT after a series of workshops with the community board, will improve connections to the Pulaski Bridge, Queens Plaza, Hunters Point, and Sunnyside.

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Progress for Safer Streets From Queens and Manhattan Community Boards

Last night, the full board of Manhattan Community Board 6 passed a resolution in support of a DOT plan that would fill in a gap between two sections of Second Avenue’s protected bike lane by replacing a car travel lane with parking from 23rd Street to 14th Street. Across the East River, Queens CB 1′s transportation committee was receptive to community requests for traffic calming on 21st Street in Astoria and Long Island City, asking advocates to come back with more specific requests.

If CB 1 requests a study from DOT, 21st Street in Astoria, seen above at 37th Avenue, could become safer for pedestrians. Photo: Google Maps

The CB 6 vote was surprisingly close. Although official numbers from the board will not be available until next week, reports from last night’s meeting indicate that the tally was 15-10, with two abstentions, meaning the plan was just three votes away from deadlock.

Although the plan adds parking and would not significantly affect traffic flow, according to DOT, a source said that there was resistance among some board members to a bike-related proposal or anything that might slow down travel times on the avenue. In the end, the resolution passed, and the buffered bike lane will be converted to a protected lane. Streetsblog has asked DOT when the project will be implemented; we’ll let you know if we hear anything back. Update: DOT says “implementation is scheduled to begin at the end of this month.”

In Astoria, Queens CB 1′s transportation committee was very receptive to a presentation by volunteers from Transportation Alternatives, Variety Boys and Girls Club of Queens, Mount Carmel Church, Ravenswood Senior Center and Queensview Co-Op. The groups are asking for shared lane markings for bicyclists and better crosswalks and intersections for pedestrians.

“We got really strong support,” volunteer Juliana Roberts-Dubovsky said. “They recognize that it’s a dangerous street.” Although the committee did not pass any resolutions last night, it asked the TA volunteers and their neighborhood partners to come back with more specific proposals and requests before the board approaches DOT.

“Transportation Alternatives is going to come back, and then the motion will be presented to the full board,” district manager Lucille Hartmann said, adding that while the volunteers will meet again with the committee, the resolution will only go before the full board. “The consensus was that this area requires some changes,” Hartmann said. “The board will support the work that Transportation Alternatives is doing.”

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Tonight: Kips Bay and Astoria Community Boards Consider Complete Streets

There are two community board meetings tonight on complete streets plans in Manhattan and Queens.

21st Street in Astoria and Long Island City could become friendlier to cyclists and pedestrians if CB 1 takes action. Photo: DNA

The full board of Manhattan CB 6 is considering a resolution, passed by its transportation committee on Monday, to support a DOT plan to fill in a gap on the Second Avenue protected bike lane. Currently, the avenue from 23rd Street to 14th Street has a buffered bike lane, while sections to the north and south are protected by a lane of parked cars. DOT’s plan would remove a car travel lane and replace it with parking.

The public is invited to give brief comments to the full board tonight before it takes up the resolution. CB 6 has a history of slow progress on livable streets, so encouragement from users of the Second Avenue bike lane could help make the difference tonight. The meeting starts at 7:00 p.m. at 550 First Avenue.

In Astoria and Long Island City, Transportation Alternatives volunteers have been gathering signatures for a petition to Queens CB 1 asking the board to request a redesign of 21st Street to include shared lane markings for cyclists and safety improvements for pedestrians. If the board requests a redesign, DOT says it will consider it.

CB 1 has been downright hostile to livable streets in the past, so demonstrating local support for a complete streets design on 21st Street is important. The meeting is scheduled for 6:30 p.m. at 45-02 Ditmars Boulevard (the entrance is on the 46th Street side). If a resolution passes committee, it will go to the full board, which is scheduled to meet on October 15.

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City Council Candidates on the Issues: John Ciafone, District 22

We have an update to our series on City Council candidates with questionnaire responses from two additional candidates in District 22, which covers Astoria, Ditmars-Steinway, and northern Jackson Heights. In April, we ran responses from Democratic District Leader Costa Constantinides and former New York Young Republican Club President Daniel Peterson.

City Council District 22 candidate John Ciafone. Photo courtesy the candidate.

This week, we add responses from candidates who announced after we sent the initial questionnaire this spring: Green Party candidate Lynne Serpe and Democrat John Ciafone. Antonio Meloni, who responded to Streetsblog’s questionnaire but did not provide answers for publication, has since dropped out of the race. Danielle De Stefano did not respond.

Streetsblog: A proposal for a pedestrian plaza at 30th Avenue, 33rd Street and Newtown Avenue was defeated by opposition from Community Board 1 and Council Member Vallone. Do you think public plazas, like the ones installed in other neighborhoods throughout the city, provide a benefit to the community?

John Ciafone: I am a strong advocate of pedestrian plazas. Although I would have supported pedestrian plaza at 30th Avenue and Newtown Avenue, the argument about traffic and parking is tenuous at best. Traffic is already unmanageable and impossible to park and with a pedestrian plaza, I truly believe businesses will flourish.

SB: Astoria Boulevard is slated to receive Select Bus Service improvements to speed bus travel. Could other parts of the neighborhood benefit from things like dedicated bus lanes?

JC: We need dedicated bus lanes on every major avenue in Astoria, for instance: Ditmars Boulevard, 30th Avenue, and Broadway. We also need a dedicated bus lane on 21st Street and Crescent Street. It would increase the time efficiency of the buses and better accommodate the commuters.

SB: How can the council best use its powers to reduce vehicular deaths and ensure traffic justice citywide?

JC: I will advocate for pedestrian havens and zones where tables and chairs can be set up for enjoyment. I will advocate for bike lanes on both directions of 21st Street. I will advocate for more crossing guards near the schools. I will advocate for cameras to be installed at traffic lights to avoid intersection accidents. I will also advocate for digitizing speed cameras which tell drivers the rate of movement of their vehicles. I will advocate for the delay time of traffic signals from red to green. I will also advocate for speed bumps and speed humps throughout 21st Street.

SB: The MTA is a state agency, but what actions would you like to see the City Council take to fund and expand transit service?

JC: The City Council needs to have a predominant voice in the MTA budget meetings. The City Council members know better as to the individual needs of their locales and the trials and tribulations of commuting issues in their neighborhoods.

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City Council Candidates on the Issues: Lynne Serpe, District 22

We have an update to our series on City Council candidates with questionnaire responses from two additional candidates in District 22, which covers Astoria, Ditmars-Steinway, and northern Jackson Heights. In April, we ran responses from Democratic District Leader Costa Constantinides and former New York Young Republican Club President Daniel Peterson.

City Council District 22 candidate Lynne Serpe. Photo courtesy the candidate.

This week, we add responses from candidates who announced after we sent the initial questionnaire this spring: Green Party candidate Lynne Serpe and Democrat John Ciafone. Antonio Meloni, who responded to Streetsblog’s questionnaire but did not provide answers for publication, has since dropped out of the race. Danielle De Stefano did not respond.

Streetsblog: A proposal for a pedestrian plaza at 30th Avenue, 33rd Street and Newtown Avenue was defeated by opposition from Community Board 1 and Council Member Vallone. Do you think public plazas, like the ones installed in other neighborhoods throughout the city, provide a benefit to the community?

Lynne Serpe: When I ran for City Council four years ago, I proposed turning that intersection into a pedestrian plaza. I was active in the recent attempt to convince the community board to support the proposal, and was disappointed by the position of many of the other candidates in District 22. I am a big advocate of using our public spaces for non-traditional use, to create shared and safe places for our community to gather, play and relax. I have a long history on this issue: I volunteer with the Astoria Park Alliance on Shore Fest, the street closure of Shore Boulevard for three Sundays in August, and host Ping Pong in the Park. I volunteered with Transportation Alternatives to improve the pedestrian crossings at Astoria Boulevard and 31st, and have led street cleanups of that area and the sidewalks surrounding Two Coves Community Garden near Astoria Houses. I’ve hosted Make Music New York and have participated in Park(ing) Day numerous times. As councilwoman, I would push for more street furniture along our commercial corridors and work with local businesses and residents to create a “Greenest Block” contest similar to those of the Brooklyn and Manhattan borough president’s offices.

SB: Astoria Boulevard is slated to receive Select Bus Service improvements to speed bus travel. Could other parts of the neighborhood benefit from things like dedicated bus lanes?

LS: I support upgrading the M60 to Select Bus Service, which will improve travel times and mean fewer people driving to the airport. Traffic congestion is an economic, environmental and public health problem. Rates of asthma and other respiratory ailments are on the rise, especially in neighborhoods with heavy truck traffic. Bus Rapid Transit works and is crucial in areas where there is limited access to mass transit, such as many under-served areas in Queens. Dedicated bus lanes for the Q69 and Q100 are needed on 21st Street, along with a range of traffic calming measures and bike lanes. But one of the most significant issues in our district is frequency of bus service! The Q101 and Q104 are far too infrequent, the Q18 is standing room only after three stops during rush hour, while the Q103 along Vernon Boulevard is practically nonexistent during the week and doesn’t run at all on weekends. At a time when New York City is finally recognizing the need to improve waterfront access, this is ridiculous. I also support bike racks on buses, and would advocate for the City and MTA to develop a pilot project for the Q19 along Astoria Boulevard to Flushing.

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Gianaris: Astoria Added to Bike-Share Expansion Plans

State Senator Michael Gianaris announced today that DOT has added Astoria to the map for Citi Bike expansion, with planning for station locations set to begin later this year.

State Senator Michael Gianaris says DOT now plans to include Astoria in phase two of bike-share expansion. Photo: NY Senate

Gianaris and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer are among the city’s most vocal boosters for expanding bike-share to their districts, located in western Queens. New stations in Long Island City would still count as part of system’s promised first phase — 7,000 bikes and 420 stations by the end of the year.

To bring the system up to 10,000 bikes in a second phase — the size originally announced two years ago – DOT has said it will be looking at the Upper East Side, Upper West Side, Park Slope, Prospect Heights, Crown Heights, Cobble Hill, and Sunnyside — all of which were included in the initial round of station planning in 2011 and 2012. Today, Gianaris said in a press release that DOT will be expanding the phase two map to include Astoria as well.

DOT hasn’t responded to a request for confirmation, but Gianaris said the agency told him “they will confirm that Astoria will be included in the next phase.”

Update: ”DOT will begin the planning process for Astoria’s future inclusion in the bike share system. No timetable has been set for this neighborhood or the others in Queens,” DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel said in an e-mail.

Gianaris didn’t know how much of Astoria might be covered by the expansion. “I don’t want to speak out of turn here; that’s a decision DOT will make with the community,” he said, but added that his discussions with the agency have included a broad swath of the neighborhood, including Steinway. “In fact, I could argue it’s more important in the northern parts of the neighborhood,” Gianaris said, stressing the benefits of bike-share to areas beyond the reach of the subway.

Gianaris also said that DOT’s planning for station locations would begin later this year. “They were very big on stressing to us that they want to do everything collaboratively with the community,” he said. “I imagine it would be along the lines of what they did in phase one.” The initial planning process included more than 150 public meetings across the bike-share service area.

The schedule for funding and installing any bike-share expansion remains unclear. “The timeline on that is a little bit vague because they need to get phase one fully running,” Gianaris said. So far, DOT has said that Sandy recovery money and additional sponsorships are being considered as funding sources for system expansion. The MTA indicated that it might cover some costs of bike-share expansion in North Brooklyn and Long Island City to help make up for weekend G train outages, but those weekend repairs have already started. We’re awaiting word from the MTA about whether this is still a possibility.

Update: “Nothing new to report at this point,” MTA spokesperson Kevin Ortiz said via e-mail. “Talks are ongoing with both DOT and elected officials.”

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Queens Residents, Elected Officials Ask DOT for Traffic Calming in Dutch Kills

The Dutch Kills neighborhood sits on the northern edge of Long Island City, hemmed in by Northern Boulevard and Queens Plaza, with the East River to the west and Astoria to the north. Dangerous traffic is an everyday presence — and not just on the main arteries nearby. After a number of car-on-car crashes, neighborhood advocates joined with elected officials yesterday, calling on DOT to implement traffic-calming measures.

The aftermath of a May 2012 crash at 39th Avenue and 29th Street in Dutch Kils. Photo: Jean Cawley

Until recently, the area was heavily industrial, but it is seeing a surge in new development. “Now, the neighborhood’s full of hotels, residences, and new businesses,” said State Senator Michael Gianaris. “We see the problems coming. Now is the time to do something before somebody gets killed.”

On Tuesday, Gianaris and Dutch Kills Civic Association president Dominic Stiller walked the problem intersections with WPIX’s Greg Mocker. Just hours after the interviews wrapped, Stiller said, there was a crash. “A car ran the stop sign,” he said. “They just don’t stop at stop signs. We want curb extensions. We want stop signs, and we want speed humps.”

The 114th Precinct has issued 26 speeding tickets, 77 citations for failure to stop at a signal and 25 tickets for failure to yield to pedestrians in May, the latest month for which data is available. “We’ve been in touch with the precinct, but right now what we’re focusing on is mostly traffic safety measures,” Gianaris said.

This week Gianaris sent a letter to Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan [PDF], and he says he’s been in regular contact with DOT’s Queens borough office. “They’ve been responsive. They’re taking it seriously, but we’re just trying to get through the bureaucratic inertia,” Gianaris said, adding that DOT told his office that continued new development in the neighborhood makes it difficult to complete a comprehensive study. “If you wait,” Gianaris said, “It’s going to be too late.”

DOT says it is examining the Queensboro Plaza area and the intersection of 39th Avenue and 29th Street for potential safety upgrades, and has deployed street safety managers near Dutch Kills Park.

Residents had discussed applying to DOT’s Slow Zone program with Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, but decided against it. “We ran into some political opposition to removing parking spots,” Jean Cawley, Stiller’s wife, told Streetsblog. Dutch Kills is included in Community Board 1, which has a history of opposing livable streets projects. Cawley said she hopes to build support for the Slow Zone and apply in the future.

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New Astoria Mega-Developments: In the Floodplain, Far From the Train

A waterfront residential development proposed for Astoria (in red) is 1.5 miles from the nearest subway and would overburden existing bus routes, but unless Council Member Vallone acts, it's full steam ahead. Image: Halletts Point Rezoning DEIS

Development plans for a stretch of the Queens waterfront would add new retail and more than 4,300 new residences a mile and a half from the nearest subway station. So far, the only transportation plan for these new residents consists of more than 2,300 parking spaces and suggestions for expanded bus and ferry service.

Unless the city can come up with a better transportation plan, Council Member Peter F. Vallone, Jr. says he won’t guarantee his support for the first of the developments as it moves along the city’s land use approval track toward the City Council.

There are two projects under consideration in the area. Halletts Point, which has been under discussion for years and is already on its way to receiving land use approvals, would bring 2,644 residential units, a new supermarket, and approximately 1,400 parking spaces to what is now industrial land and the adjacent grounds of NYCHA’s Astoria Houses. A second project, the recently announced Astoria Cove, is slated for industrial land immediately to the northeast and consists of 1,701 residences, retail space, and 940 parking spaces.

According to the draft environmental impact statement for the project, Halletts Point is expected to generate about 1,000 new car trips, 1,200 subway trips, and 200 bus trips each rush hour. Because most subway riders are expected to use the bus to access the nearest train stations, the project would lead to overcrowding on the Q18, Q102, and Q103 buses, which are the only lines serving the area.

While existing bus service would be overwhelmed, the projected split between cars and transit still tilts far more heavily toward cars than the rest of the 11102 zip code, where only 19 percent of commuters drive or carpool, and almost 70 percent take transit, according to 2011 five-year estimates from the Census.

Solutions to make the developments less auto-dependent are threadbare. Astoria Cove developer Alma Realty, which helped defeat a pedestrian plaza on Newtown Avenue last year, has said it would provide private van service to the subway for its residents. Another proposal, favored by the Economic Development Corporation, is expanding East River Ferry service, which has a $4 fare and receives high per-passenger city subsidies that come to about $3 million annually. The EDC is searching for ways to fund ferry service to Halletts Point, but so far, no money has materialized.

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