Sunday, February 1, 2009

Boy's Death Revives Intersection Concerns by Lee Landor - Queens Chronicle

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After a boy was killed crossing Cross Bay Boulevard at Liberty Avenue, above, concerns about the intersection, including the effects of red light enforcement cameras, left, have resurfaced.
(photo by PJ Smith)

The wide, multi-lane intersection of Cross Bay Boulevard and Rockaway Boulevard-Liberty Avenue has long been known as dangerous and “problematic” for the pedestrians, drivers and residents of Ozone Park.

Following the tragic death of a 9-year-old boy who was struck and killed while attempting to cross the northbound lanes of Cross Bay Boulevard at Liberty Avenue last week, some of the concerns regarding the intersection have resurfaced.

"Over the years we’ve heard many things about that intersection. It’s an extremely problematic location,” Community Board 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton said.

Several area residents have suggested that the red-light cameras installed on the northbound lanes of Cross Bay Boulevard at the intersection actually cause more trouble than they prevent.

One man, who only gave his name as Gary, said people often speed through yellow lights to beat the red light and avoid being photographed and subsequently fined. Others, he said, slam on the brakes and cause fender benders or more serious accidents.

Gary went on to speculate that the first scenario is partly to blame for the Jan. 6 accident that killed Ibrihim Ahmed and left 22-year-old Alexander Aponte, who drove the campaign bus that killed him, shaken up and facing charges of driving with a suspended license and failure to yield the right of way.

At least one other area resident agreed with Gary’s assessment of the cameras’ effect on traffic flow and safety, but a number of community leaders and representatives said there is no clear indication that the cameras have a negative impact.

Frank Dardani, president of the 106th Precinct Community Council said his organization plans to ask the precinct to compile accident statistics from before the cameras were installed and since.

“They’re really there to deter people from ... skipping through and causing accidents,” Dardani said of the cameras. Whether they do is still in question. According to the city Department of Transportation, studies have shown a 40 percent decrease in the total number of incidents of motorists going through red lights where cameras have been installed.

Since the Red Light Camera Program began in December 1993 and up until 2006, more than three million summonses had been issued. The number of tickets issued for violations in 2007 and 2008 were 947,341 and 801,866, respectively, according to the DOT. The agency said the cameras have been effective in reducing front-into-side crashes, which most often result from red-light running.

Although the precinct community council has heard complaints about the cameras, it believes the bigger problem with the intersection is the westbound traffic on Liberty Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard during rush hour, according to Dardani. It cripples the traffic flow of southbound cars and clogs up all of Cross Bay and Woodhaven boulevards.

Dardani was expected to meet with 106th Precinct Commanding Officer Capt. Joseph Courtesis prior to the community council’s monthly meeting Wednesday night to discuss the possibility of acquiring professional traffic controllers to direct traffic during rush hour at the crossing.

Braton said that would be “wonderful,” especially because many attempts to alleviate problems there — including numerous studies examining the situation and mitigation projects, such as lane and median changes, and adjustments to traffic signals and light patterns — have failed.

State Sen. Joseph Addabbo Jr. (D-Ozone Park) agreed that the ideal solution would include the presence of police and traffic-control officers who can prevent the undocumented — but dangerous — effects of the Red Light Camera Program.

“What the cameras don’t see, what the DOT and the police precinct don’t see, are the near-misses,” Addabbo said. “The screeching [of tires], the sudden stops.”

During his seven years as the city councilman representing the 32nd Council District, Addabbo said he heard many complaints from constituents about the unsafe intersection.

That prompted him to meet repeatedly with DOT Queens Commissioner Maura McCarthy and attempt to address the problem, a big part of which results from the increasing number of cars on the road, according to Addabbo.

The recently elected senator grew up in Ozone Park and has watched the hazardous junction worsen, he said, adding that he believes the growing volume of vehicles traveling on Cross Bay Boulevard exacerbates congestion and engenders reckless driving, putting both drivers and pedestrians at greater risk.

“The city is reactionary, not preventive,” Addabbo said, noting that now that a tragedy has occurred, the DOT will most likely re-examine the intersection and make more aggressive changes.

In response to Addabbo’s comments, a DOT spokesman said the “intersection is designated for safety and mobility improvements ... and we will continue to look for ways to improve safety there.”

Part of Woodhaven Boulevard, which turns into Cross Bay Boulevard at the Liberty Avenue-Rockaway Boulevard intersection, is now being studied by the DOT as part of the Citywide Congested Corridors Project. The agency listed Liberty Avenue from Woodhaven Boulevard to the Van Wyck Expressway as a future study area.