Monday, June 14, 2010

Unsafe Intersection Tops DOT's Concerns by Stephen Geffon - Queens Chronicle

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Officials from the Department of Transportation are about to become very familiar with the streets and intersections of Ozone Park and Richmond Hill.

DOT visited Community Board 10 last Thursday to explain its planned safety improvements at the intersection of Crossbay Boulevard/Woodhaven Boulevard/Liberty Avenue/Rockaway Boulevard in Ozone Park and along Rockaway Boulevard from Atlantic Avenue to Sutphin Boulevard.

DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy told CB 10 members that the rate of accidents at the intersection and along Rockaway Boulevard spurred its selection of this area for study. “The main purpose of this meeting is to improve safety,” McCarthy said.

A total of 207 injuries from accidents, which included 13 pedestrians, 6 bicyclists and 188 motor vehicle occupants, were reported at Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue between 94th and 96th streets from 2004 until 2008, according to DOT.

In 2009, a child was killed at the Crossbay Boulevard/Woodhaven Boulevard/Liberty Avenue/Rockaway Boulevard intersection.

DOT said the intersection, which contains seven bus lines, an elevated subway train, high traffic and pedestrian volumes and very complex intersection geometry, is congested and difficult to navigate for all road users.

“Through a series of road closures, signal timing changes, bus stop relocation, new turning lanes, new vehicle routing and expanded pedestrian space, this comprehensive redesign project aims to improve safety for all users, simplify the intersection, improve pedestrian crossings, relieve congestion for key movements and provide more public space,” DOT said in a statement posted on its website.

The agency plans to install sidewalk extensions and medians to shorten crossing distances and improve current bus stop locations. Traffic patterns at intersections would be redesigned and signal phasing would be modified and renewed to reduce vehicles/bus/pedestrian conflicts and create simpler more navigable intersections for drivers and pedestrians. New crosswalks would better accommodate pedestrians.

DOT’s proposal includes closing Liberty Avenue between Cross Bay Boulevard and 95th Street and expanding the greenstreets that currently exist in order to provide more public space. The agency has also proposed shutting off 94th Street between Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue and converting the street into a pedestrian plaza, similar to one that now exists on sections of Broadway in Manhattan.

DOT plans to provide 14 back-in angle parking spaces on the north side of Liberty Avenue between 93rd and 94th streets.

The four-mile study area along Rockaway Boulevard from Atlantic Avenue to Sutphin Boulevard is a wide corridor with multiple travel lanes and is located adjacent to eight schools. Excess capacity at off-peak hours encourages speeding, with approximately 59 percent of vehicles exceeding the speed limit along this roadway, the department said.

Long blocks, long signal cycles and low volumes also encourage jaywalking, the DOT said, adding that the proposed project would calm traffic by reducing lanes in some portions and adding left turn bays and wide parking lanes.

Agency officials said that traffic calming improvements along Rockaway Boulevard would involve removing one through travel lane west of 104th Street, as feasible, and two through travel lanes east of 104th Street, with the exception of those at junctions with the Van Wyck Expressway, Liberty Avenue and Woodhaven/Crossbay boulevards.

Flush center medians with left-turn bays would be installed to make turning easier and safer for drivers and improve traffic flows. According to the department, this will also improve pedestrian safety by shortening crossing distances and reducing speeding.

McCarthy stressed that she and her staff were at the meeting to get community input on the proposal.

“We will be making improvements to this corridor because it is a dangerous corridor,” she said. “I don’t know what the final product will be. We will get back to the board once we make our final design.”

Although DOT plans to start making the safety improvements in September, CB 10 Chairwoman Betty Braton asked McCarthy to wait until the developer for the Aqueduct Race Track racino project is selected and has an opportunity to thoroughly review DOT’s proposal. A bidder is expected to be announced in August.

Meanwhile, Braton appointed board member Anthony Cosentino, a professional engineer, to chair an ad hoc subcommittee to prepare comments about the plan to be submitted to DOT by the end of June.