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DOT: Full Woodhaven Boulevard Upgrades Coming Sometime Next Decade

DOT's proposal for the 2017 launch of the new Woodhaven Boulevard SBS will feature far fewer miles of main road bus lanes than originally expected. Image: DOT

Woodhaven Boulevard SBS will launch in 2017, but several miles of center road bus lanes have been pushed to the indefinite future. Image: DOT

DOT and the MTA will roll out enhanced bus service on Woodhaven Boulevard in 2017, but several miles of the promised bus lanes won’t come until the 2020s, agency representatives said yesterday.

While DOT says the Woodhaven overhaul will be built, the city is providing no certainty as to when the Department of Design and Construction will complete the street reconstruction required to deliver the whole project. The vagueness surrounding the construction timetable casts doubt on the future of the full six miles of center road bus lanes DOT had committed to.

Yesterday, at a presentation to the project’s Community Advisory Committee [PDF], the agency said enhanced bus service would begin running on Woodhaven in 2017, including 1.3 miles of dedicated bus lanes next to medians that separate the center roadway from service lanes. Those bus lanes are superior to ones that run next to the curb or the parking lane (which will also be added in 2017), because they’re less susceptible to getting blocked by illegally parked drivers. Earlier this year, DOT said that design would apply to six miles of Woodhaven Boulevard.

Yesterday the agency had no timetable for implementing the rest of the center road bus lanes, which will accompany the reconstruction of the street by DDC. However, Riders Alliance organizers who attended yesterday’s meeting were told to expect the full project to be completed sometime in the 2020s.

Detailed design and engineering will continue next year, with Select Bus Service beginning in 2017. In addition to main road bus lanes and median stops between Park Lane South and Rockaway Boulevard, the 2017 phase will add curbside bus lanes to several other sections of the corridor, as well as off-board fare payment and signal priority for buses.

The BRT for NYC Coalition says the 2017 project will be an important step in convincing Queens residents of the merits of bus rapid transit. “We look forward to the 1.3 miles of BRT and the meaningful results in safety and commute times it’ll offer for Queens,” said Masha Burina of the Riders Alliance. “We’d like to see a timelier implementation of [main road bus lanes] throughout the corridor and anticipate a productive relationship with the DOT/MTA to ensure all of Woodhaven Boulevard receives high-quality BRT as soon as possible.”

DOT said the Woodhaven timetable is consistent with how other SBS projects have been implemented:

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Mujeres en Movimiento to Queens CB4: We Need a Safer 111th Street

Members of Mujeres en Movimiento, a Corona-based group of Latina mothers who bike, packed into Queens Community Board 4’s monthly meeting on Tuesday to have their say about DOT’s proposed redesign of 111th Street.

A group of Corona women demanded a safer 111th Street at CB 4's monthly meeting on Tuesday. Photo: Queens Bike Initiative

Members of Mujeres en Movimiento demanded a safer 111th Street at CB 4’s monthly meeting on Tuesday. Photo: Queens Bike Initiative

The only way to get to Flushing Meadows Corona Park from Corona without crossing a highway is to cross 111th Street, but with five traffic lanes, it’s dangerous for the families who use it every day. DOT’s proposal would repurpose one vehicle lane in each direction to create space for a protected two-way bike lane along the park and additional on-street parking [PDF].

The 111th redesign arose from a series of workshops hosted in 2014 by Immigrant Movement International, Transportation Alternatives, Make the Road New York and the Queens Museum. Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland has committed $2.7 million from her discretionary fund to make it happen, but Assembly Member Francisco Moya and some nearby residents have been trying to thwart the plan. Community Board 4 has not voted in favor of it.

In October, Moya hosted a “town hall” where he laid out three other options for 111th Street, none of which would narrow the excessive traffic lanes. The women from Mujeres en Movimiento felt silenced by a lack of translation services or space for public input at Moya’s town hall, so they put together an opinion piece for the Queens Latino as well as a speech they delivered in English and Spanish to CB4 on Tuesday.

“We deserve to have a voice in the development of this community, so that its development benefit[s] us and our children, not marginalize us,” they told the board.

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How Seriously Does Queens DA Richard Brown Take Hit-and-Run Killings?

The hit-and-run driver who killed Kamil Gorski faces a maximum one-year jail term after DA Richard Brown dropped felony charges in favor of a misdemeanor plea deal.

The hit-and-run driver who killed Kamil Gorski faces a maximum one-year jail term after DA Richard Brown dropped felony charges in favor of a misdemeanor plea deal.

As family members rallied for justice for Queens hit-and-run victim Ovidio Jaramillo yesterday, District Attorney Richard Brown agreed to drop felony charges against another driver who left a pedestrian to die in the street.

Raul Reyes hit Kamil Gorski with a van on Metropolitan Avenue on the evening of February 3, 2015, knocking the victim to the roadway, according a press release issued by Brown’s office days after the crash. Gorski, a 36-year-old Navy veteran, was then struck by a second driver. He died at Elmhurst Hospital.

The second driver, who remained at the scene, was not charged. Brown charged Reyes with felony leaving the scene. Reyes “face[d] up to four years in prison if convicted,” the February press release said.

“The defendant is accused of hitting a pedestrian and then attempting to evade justice by fleeing the scene,” Brown said in the press release. “As a result of his alleged actions, the defendant now faces serious criminal charges.”

Despite the tough talk, on Thursday, according to court records, Brown allowed Reyes to plead to misdemeanor leaving the scene, which carries a maximum one-year jail sentence. He’s scheduled to be sentenced in January.

Brown has a record of going easy on motorists who kill and injure people and not taking cases to trial — when he files charges at all — even when the driver leaves the crash scene. Here are three more examples.

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Tish James and Queens Pols to DOT: Finish Strong on Woodhaven BRT

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Public Advocate Tish James with City Council members Donovan Richards and Jimmy Van Bramer on the steps of City Hall this morning. Photo: David Meyer

Public Advocate Letitia James joined Council Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer, Council Member Donovan Richards, and Queens transit activists on the steps of City Hall this morning to push the de Blasio administration to follow through on its plans for better bus service along Woodhaven Boulevard.

Earlier this year, DOT presented plans for bus lanes and pedestrian safety improvements along 14 miles of Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard [PDF], from Jackson Heights to the Rockaways. The project would speed up the Q52 and Q53, which serve 30,000 passengers each weekday but currently spend just 57 percent of the time in motion. New pedestrian islands and medians are also expected to reduce injuries on one of the deadliest streets in the city.

The rally comes at an important moment. While Richards and several other council members have called for full-fledged Bus Rapid Transit on Woodhaven Boulevard, the reallocation of street space from cars to buses is encountering some resistance in the neighborhood of Woodhaven.

With capital construction not set to begin until 2017, the implementation process is going to last at least two more years. The rally was a reminder that support for overhauling Woodhaven Boulevard runs deep, sending a message that DOT and City Hall shouldn’t buckle to pressure to water down the project. The BRT for NYC Coalition has now collected 7,000 signatures in favor of it.

For sections of Woodhaven and the Rockaways where high poverty rates couple with long commute times, said Richards, the project “is a transit equity issue.”

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Queens Community Board Chairs Care About Parking More Than Housing

Give it up for Queens community board chairs. Thanks to a vote last night, we now have a crystal clear expression of their priorities. Nothing is more important than parking.

In a city without enough housing to go around, where rising rents are squeezing people in more neighborhoods every year, the community board chairs have taken a bold stand: Parking must come first, before all of this affordable housing nonsense.

City Hall’s big affordable housing plan, which broadly speaking lets developers build more housing while compelling them to set aside some units for people earning below a certain threshold, went up for a vote from the Queens Borough Board on Monday. (The borough board is composed of the chairs of all the borough’s community boards, the borough president, and its council members, though not everyone was present.) The plan went down in a 12-2 vote, which thankfully is only advisory in nature.

One piece of the plan is the reduction of mandatory parking minimums for subsidized housing near transit. This is the provision that the community board chairs could not stomach, reports Politico’s Sally Goldenberg:

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Richard Brown: Probation for Accused Unlicensed Hit-and-Run Killer

A driver charged with felony hit-and-run and unlicensed driving got probation and a few days of community service for a crash that killed a pedestrian, as a result of a plea deal with Queens District Attorney Richard Brown.

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Queens DA Richard Brown

On the evening of February 22, the unidentified victim was crossing at 76th Street and Woodside Avenue, in a crosswalk and with the right of way, when Valentine Gonzalez hit her with a box truck while turning left. NYPD told Gothamist and WPIX Gonzalez fled the scene and was apprehended a short distance away.

According to court records, the top charge against Gonzalez was leaving the scene of an accident resulting in injury, a class D felony with penalties ranging from probation to seven years in jail. He was also charged with operating a motor vehicle while unlicensed, operating an unregistered vehicle, and a violation of code Section 19-190 — the Right of Way Law — which is an unclassified misdemeanor.

In September Brown allowed Gonzalez to plead guilty to the Right of Way Law charge. The law carries a fine of up to $250 and a maximum sentence of 30 days in jail. Court records indicate Gonzalez was jailed for four months after his arrest.

Earlier this month Gonzalez was sentenced to three years probation and five days of community service, according to court records. Gonzalez was also fined $88. There is no indication that the court took action against Gonzalez’s driving privileges.

Richard Brown, whose leniency toward drivers who kill and injure people is well-documented, was recently elected to another term after running unopposed.

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Residents: Protected Bike Lanes a Must for Queens Boulevard Phase 2

Dozens of Queens residents packed into a room at an Elmhurst school Thursday night to brainstorm a design for the second phase of Queens Boulevard’s transformation from a high-speed roadway to a safer street.

By the end of the meeting, there was a resounding call for protected bike lanes and a beautification project that would indicate to drivers that Queens Boulevard is a local road, not a highway. Residents should expect concrete changes as early as 2016.

The city began construction on the first phase of the project, between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street, last summer. Phase one included protected bike lanes, more pedestrian space, and other design changes to reduce speeds on the boulevard, where 185 people have lost their lives since 1990. Now DOT is soliciting input for improvements to be implemented between Eliot Avenue and 74th Street.

“We do not have a plan yet but we want to continue progress and we want everyone to help us with their suggestions,” said Nichole Altmix, DOT deputy director of research and safety.

Two main problem areas identified by residents last night were the Queens Center Mall, which attracts high volumes of car and pedestrian traffic, and the exit and entrance ramps for the Long Island Expressway. Adding to the chaos, Woodhaven Boulevard intersects with Queens Boulevard along the expressway ramps.

“You see the ramps with all this other stuff going on and think you’re going to die,” said Bob Moleti, who commutes by bike into Manhattan for work. “While biking on Queens Boulevard you have to haul ass and really try and match the speed of cars because that’s safer. But in the morning you just can’t go that fast. They’re really flying.”

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NYPD Precinct Where Driver Killed Ally Liao Announces Walking Crackdown

Council Member Peter Koo, Congress Member Grace Meng, Deputy Inspector Thomas Conforti, Assembly Member Mike “Don’t Call Me” Simanowitz, and Assembly Member Ron Kim

Council Member Peter Koo, Representative Grace Meng, Deputy Inspector Thomas Conforti, Assembly Member Mike “Don’t Call Me” Simanowitz, and Assembly Member Ron Kim want to ticket people for walking in a precinct where traffic enforcement is lax and law-breaking drivers keep killing.

An NYPD precinct in Queens where law-breaking drivers have killed several people this year has announced a crackdown on walking.

On Monday, Deputy Inspector Thomas Conforti, commanding officer of the 109th Precinct, stood with Assembly Member Mike Simanowitz, Assembly Member Ron Kim, U.S. Representative Grace Meng, and City Council Member Peter Koo to tout a “plan to increase ticketing against pedestrians who jaywalk,” DNAinfo reported. The precinct’s campaign is “supported by local politicians who say pedestrians who violate the rules of the road endanger themselves and others,” wrote reporter Katie Honan.

The 109th Precinct is where a motorist hit 3-year-old Allison Liao and her grandmother as the two walked hand in hand in a Main Street crosswalk, killing Allison. The driver assumed full responsibility for the crash.

The precinct will spend a couple of weeks instructing people on how to walk, then ramp up enforcement against those who do it incorrectly.

“Elected officials are going to start getting phone calls when people start getting summonses, I know it,” said Simanowitz. “Don’t call me. I’m not going to agree with you. If you’re crossing in the middle of the street, you’re wrong, you’re endangering yourself, you’re endangering others, you’re endangering drivers.”

“Cross at the green, not in-between, and hopefully we will be able to reduce the number of traffic fatalities,” Simanowitz said. Whatever that means.

Motorists have killed five people walking in the 109th Precinct in 2015. Of those victims, three were killed by hit-and-run drivers and one was in a crosswalk crossing with the signal. According to DNAinfo, Monday’s announcement was prompted by the death of 84-year-old Agalia Gounaris. Gounaris was fatally struck on Main Street at Kissena Boulevard on November 5 by the driver of a casino bus, who police later tracked down in Connecticut. Witnesses said multiple people ran over Gounaris as the octogenarian laid in the street.

Police and elected officials blamed Gounaris for “walking mid-block.” But if Gounaris wasn’t crossing at the corner, it may have been because she felt it was unsafe.

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This Is 111th Street Right Before a World Series Game at Citi Field

Residents of Corona are still waiting for DOT to implement a road diet and two-way protected bike lane on wide and dangerous 111th Street by Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The city unveiled the plan this spring in response to a campaign from the Queens Museum, Immigrant Movement International, Make the Road New York, and Transportation Alternatives. Julissa Ferreras, the local City Council member, is a big supporter of the project, but when Assembly Member Francisco Moya came out against it, DOT curled into a ball. The street remains a speedway.

Moya’s opposition rests entirely on his contention that 111th Street needs to be designed like a highway all year long so it can handle peak Mets traffic when the team plays at Citi Field. Here’s how he put it in June:

111th Street is a high traffic road, which suffers from massive spikes in congestion during the numerous cultural and sporting events in the surrounding area, including Mets games and USTA tournaments. There is little doubt that DOT’s proposal to reduce car traffic to one lane will result in slowed traffic and increased congestion, but I am also deeply concerned with the possibility of an increase in accidents and air pollution for the immediately surrounding area.

A DOT traffic study found that Citi Field and U.S. Open traffic doesn’t affect this part of 111th Street much at all, but in a classic delay tactic, Moya’s chief of staff insisted on a “study over the whole peak summer.”

Well, it was October, not summer, but volunteers with TA and Make Queens Safer went out and got video of 111th Street during the peak of the sports traffic peak, the biggest event in the history of Citi Field — the World Series. They recorded these videos in the lead-up to games three and four, which both started at 8:05 p.m., with the stadium filling up well before the first pitch.

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Joe Addabbo Tells Voters to Fight Bus Lanes on Street Where He Drives Daily

The overhaul of Woodhaven Boulevard in southeast Queens promises to make buses faster and more reliable while preventing injuries and deaths on one of the most dangerous streets in the city. Naturally, State Senator Joseph Addabbo is mobilizing constituents to oppose the project and keep Woodhaven the way it is.

Joe Addabbo, Jr.

Addabbo has been agitating against the project most of the year, writing in the Queens Chronicle this April that “[r]ush-hour traffic would suffer significantly and, as someone who sits on that roadway every day during those times, I shudder to think it could get worse.”

In an email to constituents yesterday, Addabbo rattled off the typical litany of horrors you hear any time the city proposes repurposing street space from cars to other modes of travel: intolerable congestion, traffic diverted to other streets, plummeting sales for local business, and, somehow, even more danger for people on foot.

Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard have such a high rate of traffic injuries and fatalities because the current design is geared only toward moving as many cars as possible. On some stretches, the street is wider than 150 feet. As a result, speeding is rampant and people get hurt on a daily basis. From July 2012 to December 2014, eight people were killed in crashes along the proposed BRT route, and 1,432 were injured, according to city stats compiled by Transportation Alternatives.

The Woodhaven BRT design concept calls for pedestrian islands to shorten crossing distances. The reduction in general traffic lanes and left turns to make room for dedicated bus lanes, spun as a negative by Addabbo, is expected to yield substantial safety benefits, as fewer drivers weave dangerously across lanes and try to shoot through gaps in oncoming traffic to turn left.

For the 30,000 passengers who ride the bus on Woodhaven and Cross Bay daily, trips are projected to get 25 to 35 percent faster, according to DOT and the MTA. Prior experience with SBS projects suggests this will be good for local businesses. On Fordham Road in the Bronx, bus ridership increased 10 percent and retail sales shot up 71 percent after the implementation of SBS.

In opposing the Woodhaven project, Addabbo is bucking the political consensus on the City Council. Earlier this year, seven council members called on DOT and the MTA to consider “full-featured BRT” on Woodhaven and Cross Bay. Among the signatories was Eric Ulrich, who holds the council seat that Addabbo vacated.

DOT and the MTA have been hosting workshops about the project since last year and will be launching a fresh round of public meetings this fall. Construction is currently scheduled to begin in 2017.

Here’s the full message from Addabbo’s office telling his constituents to oppose the project:

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