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Wider Sidewalks Coming to Flushing’s Crowded Main Street

Pedestrians crossing Roosevelt Avenue at Main Street, the location of the Flushing-Main Street subway station, at around noon today. Photo: David Meyer

Foot traffic on Roosevelt Avenue at Main Street, the location of the Flushing-Main Street subway station, at around noon today. Photo: David Meyer

Main Street in Flushing gets more foot traffic than anywhere else in New York after Times Square, but its sidewalks are too narrow to handle all those people. So later this month, the city will begin expanding the sidewalks on four blocks of Main Street, Council Member Peter Koo, DOT, and the Department of Design and Construction announced this afternoon.

Set to begin next Monday, the project will also add a one-block bus lane and high-visibility crosswalks, part of a bottom-up reconstruction of Main Street between 37th Avenue and 40th Road.

This section of Main Street is located at the convergence of the 7 train, the Long Island Railroad, 13 MTA bus routes, and many private bus lines. At any given point in the day, the sidewalks are overflowing with commuters and shoppers, 83 percent of whom arrive by foot or transit, according to DOT.

Council Member Peter Koo (center) spoke this afternoon alongside DDC Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora and DOT Queens Commissioner Nicole Garcia. Photo: David Meyer

Council Member Peter Koo (center) with DDC Commissioner Feniosky Peña-Mora and DOT Queens Commissioner Nicole Garcia. Photo: David Meyer

Downtown Flushing’s streets are designed primarily to move motor vehicles, however, and people walking on Main Street have to contend with heavy car traffic. In 2015 alone, 28 pedestrians were injured and two were killed along the .9-mile stretch of Main Street between Northern Boulevard and Elder Avenue, according to Vision Zero View.

The $7.8 million reconstruction project will add between two and eight feet of sidewalk space, depending on the location, building on a 2011 project that used paint and flexible bollards to narrow the roadway and expand space for pedestrians. That project led to an 11 percent decline in traffic injuries, according to DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Nicole Garcia. Casting the wider sidewalks in concrete, she said, will “deliver on Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero goals.”

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Another Person Killed by Turning Motorist in the 109th Precinct

Council Member Peter Koo, Representative Grace Meng, Deputy Inspector Thomas Conforti, Assembly Member Mike Simanowitz, and Assembly Member Ron Kim. Motorists have killed at least three people walking in the 109th Precinct since these officials held a press event last November to blame victims of traffic violence.

Council Member Peter Koo, Representative Grace Meng, Deputy Inspector Thomas Conforti, Assembly Member Mike Simanowitz, and Assembly Member Ron Kim. Motorists have killed at least three people walking in the 109th Precinct since these officials held a press event last November to blame victims of traffic violence.

An ambulette driver was charged under the Right of Way Law for striking and killing a pedestrian in Flushing.

The crash happened Tuesday at around 8:57 a.m. The victim — a 57-year-old man whose name has not been released by police, pending family notification — was crossing 35th Avenue in the crosswalk when Ramon Ortiz, 55, struck him with an SUV while turning left onto the avenue from Prince Street, according to NYPD and reports from the Daily News and QNS.com.

The victim died at New York Presbyterian Hospital. Ortiz was arrested and charged with violating the victim’s right of way, a police spokesperson told Streetsblog.

The victim was at least the third pedestrian killed by a motorist in the 109th Precinct this year, according to crash data compiled by Streetsblog. In at least one other case the victim was struck by a driver making a turn. The precinct is where a driver who failed to yield killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in 2013.

Officers in the 109th Precinct ticketed 867 drivers for failing to yield and 738 drivers for speeding in 2015, according to NYPD summons data. In response to a series of pedestrian fatalities last year, the precinct and local electeds made a show of blaming people for their own deaths.

Prince Street and 35th Avenue in Flushing, where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a driver who police say failed to yield. Image: Google Maps

Prince Street and 35th Avenue in Flushing, where a pedestrian was struck and killed by a driver who police say failed to yield. Image: Google Maps

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Bus Lanes and Faster Boarding Come to Flushing and Jamaica

Sunday marked the first day of service for Q44 Select Bus Service linking Jamaica, Flushing, and the southeast Bronx, so I headed over to Sutphin Boulevard and Main Street during the p.m. rush yesterday to check it out.

Photo: David Meyer

The new bus lane on Main Street in Flushing. Photo: David Meyer

The Q44 SBS features the standard package of improvements that DOT and the MTA have employed to cut travel times on several other routes since 2008 — off-board fare payment, dedicated bus lanes, and priority for buses at traffic signals. State legislation enacted this year will enable camera enforcement of the bus lanes. The bus lanes don’t cover the whole route, since eastern Queens pols threw a fit about them in Briarwood and Kew Gardens Hills, but they do enable riders to bypass traffic on the most congested sections in Flushing and Jamaica.

Bus riders make more than 28,000 daily trips on the Q44. It’s the first bus route in Queens to be upgraded to SBS that doesn’t serve LaGuardia.

Unsurprisingly, a lot of people were still getting used to the new fare payment system yesterday. Whereas riders on the old Q44 paid one-by-one entering the bus, the new system allows them to do so before they get on and board at any door, speeding the process significantly.

DOT and MTA reps standing by each station to guide riders through it said people are settling into the new and improved Q44. “Most of the people, after they use it a few times, they understand the system,” said DOT’s Artenio Angeles, who was assisting passengers at a stop on Main Street.

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Trucker Who Killed Woman Admits Negligence, NYPD Still Blames Victim

stopped_truck

Footage from the scene shows Floria Burton walking around a stopped truck blocking an unmarked crosswalk before the driver accelerated and ran her over. Still via Daily News

Update: The Daily News identified the Queens hit-and-run victim as Agalia Gounaris, 84, of Flushing. Police said the bus was located in Connecticut, en route to a casino, and that by that time evidence was lost due to rain. The driver was being questioned, the News reported.

Motorists took the lives of two people walking yesterday, bringing to eight the number of pedestrians killed by New York City drivers in the last week.

Floria Burton, 55, known locally as “Ms. Pat,” was pushing a laundry cart across Seneca Avenue at Bryant Avenue in Hunts Point at around 8:30 a.m. Thursday when a dump truck driver ran her over.

There are no traffic signals at Seneca and Bryant avenues. Video published by the Daily News shows Burton approach the corner and pause before walking around the front of the truck, which appears to be blocking an unmarked crosswalk. When she is directly in front of the truck, the driver accelerates into her.

Floria Burton. Photo via Daily News

Floria Burton. Photo via Daily News

Burton’s friend Maritza DeJesus, who saw what happened, spoke with the News:

“He backed up and went over her again,” she said. Burton was alive, but fading fast, DeJesus said, tears streaming down her face.

“I was talking to her. I was saying, ‘Pat, hold on! Pat, hold on! Pat, hold on!’ When she looked at me she didn’t even recognize me. She was already gone.”

Despite video evidence indicating otherwise, unnamed police sources gave the impression that an oblivious Burton stepped into the driver’s path as the truck approached. In a story with the headline “Woman talking on cell phone killed by dump truck,” the Post reported that Burton was “chatting on her cell phone when she was struck.”

“Witnesses said she was on the phone and did not see the truck coming when she was hit, according to police,” reported DNAinfo, which posted video that clearly indicates Burton was hit as she tried to walk around the stopped truck.

It is not clear from the video if Burton was talking on a phone, but she wasn’t holding one to her head. Meanwhile, NYPD filed no charges despite the driver’s admission that he wasn’t paying attention when he hit Burton. From the DNAinfo story:

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Electeds Call for Safer Flushing Streets After Hit-and-Run Killing

Just after 1 a.m. Sunday, the driver of a black SUV struck and killed Mariano Contreras, 41, on College Point Boulevard in Flushing. The driver fled the scene and has not yet been located.

State Senator Michael Gianaris

State Senator Michael Gianaris at yesterday’s event on College Point Boulevard, with State Senator Toby Ann Stavisky and Assembly Member Ron Kim. Photo: @SenGianaris

Yesterday, local residents and elected officials demanded accountability for reckless driving and called attention to dangerous street conditions in Flushing.

State Senators Michael Gianaris and Toby Ann Stavisky, Assembly Member Ron Kim, and a representative of Council Member Peter Koo joined residents of Bland Houses and members of Make Queens Safer at the event.

“Mariano Contreras could have been any of us — any elderly person or any family with young children who cross this intersection every day,” said Leola Wayne, president of the James A. Bland Resident Association.

Contreras was struck outside the Sky View Shopping Center, where people frequently cross mid-block.

“Over 100,000 pedestrians travel our streets daily and it is the final destination for over 20 bus and train routes,” said Dian Yu, executive director of the Downtown Flushing Transit Hub Business Improvement District. “Downtown Flushing traffic congestion has deteriorated, especially over the last three years.”

A 2015 survey conducted by the Flushing BID ranked traffic issues as the number one concern in the community.

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Q44 Select Bus Service: Bus Lanes for Flushing and Jamaica, Not in Between

Main Street in Flushing will receive offset bus lanes, as will downtown Jamaica, but the areas between will not. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Downtown Flushing and Jamaica will receive bus lanes, but the areas between will not. Image: DOT/MTA [PDF]

DOT and the MTA have released the plan for Select Bus Service on the Q44 linking Jamaica, Flushing, and the Bronx, which serves 44,000 passengers daily. The areas that need bus lanes most — downtown Jamaica and Flushing — are in line to get them, but not the rest of the route.

Earlier this year, nearly a dozen Queens elected officials asked DOT for Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in this part of the borough. But two pols — Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz — opposed bus lanes in Briarwood and Kew Gardens Hills. In April, DOT indicated that Lancman and Simanowitz would get their wish.

The plan released yesterday by DOT calls for bus lanes [PDF] on Sutphin Boulevard, Archer Avenue, and Hillside Avenue in Jamaica, and on Main Street in Flushing between Northern Boulevard and the Horace Harding Expressway. The rest of the 14-mile route won’t have them. DOT says bus lane segments were chosen “based on bus speeds, vehicle speeds and other factors.”

Streets in red will receive bus lanes. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF]

Streets in red will receive bus lanes. Map: DOT/MTA [PDF]

In addition to bus lanes, the project will speed up Q44 service with off-board fare collection, bus bulbs, and signal priority to keep buses from getting stuck at red lights. Bus stops will be upgraded with shelters, seating, and real-time arrival information. Traffic signals in downtown Flushing will also get computer-assisted coordination aimed at keeping traffic flowing.

Most of the bus lanes will be “offset” from the curb, running between parked cars and the general traffic lane. Other stretches will run along the curb and only be in effect during rush hours — at other times, they will be parking lanes.

By putting bus lanes in the central parts of Jamaica and Flushing, DOT will help riders bypass what is probably to worst congestion along the route. However, because of limits imposed by Albany, the bus lanes will not be camera-enforced. Until the state legislature expands NYC’s bus cam allowance, riders will by relying on local precincts to ticket drivers breaking the law.

The project includes some pedestrian safety measures in addition to bus bulbs, including median refuges at seven intersections on Main Street between 41st and Reeves avenues. The Department of Design and Construction is already planning to widen the sidewalk on Main Street between 38th Avenue and 41st Avenue. Left turn restrictions will also be added at six intersections on Main Street, which is a Vision Zero priority corridor.

The Q44 extends north across the Whitestone Bridge and along the Cross Bronx Expressway to the Bronx Zoo. No bus lanes are planned for the route in the Bronx.

DOT unveiled the proposal at a meeting last night in Flushing. A second open house is scheduled tonight from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. in Jamaica. DOT says Select Bus Service on the Q44 will be implemented later this year.

6:50 p.m.: Post updated with additional information about pedestrian safety measures on Main Street.

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Eastern Queens Electeds Want Bus Lanes. Will DOT Deliver?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in their districts. Does DOT?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support bus lanes in their districts. Does DOT?

Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz have taken up the cause of opposing bus lanes for Select Bus Service in their eastern Queens districts. While the pair has gotten a lot of attention, they are outnumbered by almost a dozen city, state, and federal elected officials along the route urging the city to be bolder with its bus service upgrades.

“As elected officials who represent communities in Eastern Queens, we write in support of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor that would improve commuter, vehicular, and pedestrian transportation in a portion of a city that is a transit desert: the Flushing-Jamaica area,” begins the letter electeds sent last month to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco [PDF].

The letter was signed by Congressmember Grace Meng; State Senators Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Leroy Comrie, and Toby Ann Stavisky; Assembly Members Vivian Cook, Ron Kim, Nily Rozic, William Scarborough, and David Weprin; and Council Members Peter Koo and Paul Vallone.

Many of these officials are from districts that overlap with neighborhoods represented by Lancman and Simanowitz.

The electeds ask specifically for bus lanes, including “protected lanes where physically feasible” and urge big changes to improve trips for tens of thousands of bus riders in their districts. “We believe there would be substantial public support for BRT,” they write. “Full-featured BRT can be successfully implemented in Eastern Queens.”

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Lancman and Simanowitz: Let’s Keep Queens Bus Riders Stuck in Traffic

Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz are out to foil faster bus service for tens of thousands of Queens residents.

Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz are out to foil faster bus service for tens of thousands of Queens residents.

Tonight, DOT and the MTA will hold an open house to solicit input for proposed Select Bus Service routes linking Flushing and Jamaica. The plan to reduce travel times for tens of thousands of Queens bus riders has broad support from advocates and local electeds, including Assembly Member Nily Rozic. But the Times Ledger reports that Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz and City Council Member Rory Lancman, who purport to be in favor of the project, oppose dedicating new street space to buses.

Bus service could be upgraded along Main Street, Kissena Boulevard, and/or 164th Street, according to a DOT map of proposed SBS routes. The Times Ledger notes that these routes were chosen for SBS after studies found current trips to be “long and slow, affecting roughly 68,000 daily raiders.”

A key component of bus rapid transit is, of course, dedicated bus lanes, but Lancman and Simanowitz would rather keep riders mired in traffic.

They met with the DOT and the MTA last Friday, where the agencies updated them on the proposal. The lawmakers expressed support for ideas such as offboard ticketing, synchronizing lights and reconfiguring left-turn signals.

“The final proposal could include a menu of strategies for improving bus service and we are only opposed to the closing of a travel or parking lane,” Lancman said.

Simanowitz said other parts of the proposal such as on-street fare collection and displays indicating bus times do not necessitate SBS.

“The rest of the aspects of a BRT proposal are all legitimate things, but things they could be doing anyway,” he said.

Lancman opposed congestion pricing and once blasted a DOT proposal to improve a deadly intersection outside a school. That he considers a dedicated transit lane “closed” says something about what Lancman thinks of people who use transit. Beyond that, it seems Lancman and Simanowitz simply don’t want to take the necessary steps to make BRT work well.

But other electeds do. “BRT is good news for drivers as well,” wrote Rozic in an op-ed for the Daily News. “Dedicated bus lanes reduce interaction between buses and other vehicles. This will reduce traffic jams and minimize the risk for traffic crashes.”

Eleven Queens lawmakers signed on to a letter this month in support of the plan, the Times Ledger reported.

“The evidence shows that these improvements make the streets safer for pedestrians, help bus riders get to their destination faster and it doesn’t have a negative impact on traffic flow for everybody else,” said John Raskin of Riders Alliance.

Tonight’s open house is scheduled for 6:30 to 8:00 at the Townsend Harris High School Library at 149-11 Melbourne Avenue.

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DMV Judge Delays Action Against License of Driver Who Killed Allison Liao

Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao speak to reporters after the New York State DMV failed to take action against the driver’s license of the man who killed their daughter Allison. Photo: Brad Aaron

Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao speak to reporters after the New York State DMV failed to take action against the driver’s license of the man who killed their daughter Allison. Photos: Brad Aaron

An administrative law judge for the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles today deferred a decision concerning the driver’s license of the motorist who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao.

In a packed hearing room at a DMV office in Jamaica, Sidney Fuchs watched video that showed an SUV driven by Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh run over Allison as she and her grandmother, Chin Hua Liao, crossed Main Street in Flushing, in a crosswalk with a walk signal. And he heard from police investigators, including the officer who summonsed Abu-Zayedeh for failure to yield and careless driving.

“My entire family has been suffering heartbreaking pain,” said Chin Hua, who stopped several times to compose herself as she described the crash via a translator. “It’s better to revoke the driver’s driver’s license.”

Fuchs twice asked Abu-Zayedeh if he wished to testify on his own behalf and, through his attorney, Abu-Zayedeh twice declined to speak. Fuchs rejected a request from Abu-Zayedeh’s attorney to dismiss the video, which Abu-Zayedeh has refused to watch, on the grounds that the person who gave it to police was not at the hearing to vouch for its authenticity.

Fuchs refused to consider documentation offered by the Liao’s attorney, Steve Vaccaro, that Abu-Zayedeh had alcohol in his system an hour after the crash. According to a civil suit filed by Allison’s family, Abu-Zayedeh told police he had consumed two glasses of wine before the collision. He tested positive for alcohol in his bloodstream, the suit says, but his BAC was below the .08 legal limit for driving. “That would be an issue for some other forum,” said Fuchs. “I prefer not to go into that.”

Fuchs also refused to allow the admission of Abu-Zayedeh’s New Jersey driving record, which Vaccaro said “demonstrates numerous violations,” and indicates that Abu-Zayedeh once surrendered his driver’s license.

“I do have my exhibits and evidence,” said Fuchs at the conclusion of the hour-long hearing. “I’ve heard the testimony. I will reserve decision.”

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NY State DMV Dismisses Tickets of Driver Who Killed Allie Liao [Updated]

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles dismissed summonses for failure to yield and careless driving issued to the driver who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in 2013. Image via ##https://twitter.com/KeeganNYC/status/530515713405231105##@KeeganNYC##

The New York State Department of Motor Vehicles dismissed summonses for failure to yield and careless driving issued to the driver who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao in 2013. Image via @KeeganNYC

Update: Streetsblog has filed a freedom of information request for documents related to the DMV’s dismissal of tickets issued by NYPD to Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh.

An administrative law judge with the New York State Department of Motor Vehicles threw out tickets issued by NYPD to the driver who ran over 3-year-old Allison Liao as she and her grandmother walked hand in hand in a Queens crosswalk.

The driver, identified by police as 44-year-old Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh, was turning left from Cherry Avenue onto Main Street in Flushing when he hit Allison on the afternoon of October 6, 2013. Though NYPD and the media initially said Allison “broke free” from her grandmother, video of the crash showed the pair walking together as Abu-Zayedeh approached from behind, striking Allison and pulling her underneath the SUV.

Abu-Zayedeh was summonsed for failure to yield and failure to exercise due care. Neither NYPD nor Queens District Attorney Richard Brown filed criminal charges against him for striking Allison. According to the Wall Street Journal, “Brown described the accident as a ‘tragedy’ and said he wouldn’t bring charges.”

On Thursday Allison’s parents, Amy Tam and Hsi-Pei Liao, learned that the DMV dismissed both tickets. The revelation came during a deposition of Abu-Zayedeh, according to attorney Steve Vaccaro, who is representing Tam and Liao in a civil suit. Allison’s family was not contacted by the DMV.

Streetsblog has reported before that, at least in some cases, the DMV adjudication process relies mainly on testimony from drivers involved in fatal crashes, not police reports or other evidence.

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