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Residents nix DOT’s plan for Queens Blvd.

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Residents of Forest Hills and Rego Park voiced their unabashed rejection of a plan to narrow Queens Boulevard service lanes by converting two lanes to metered parking at a Community Board 6 meeting last week.

Residents and community board members said that rather than the lane removals slowing down Queens Boulevard traffic as the city Department of Transportation expects, they believe the additional lanes of parking will encourage motorists to cross at various points on the road instead of a designated crosswalk.

Ricki Garfield of Forest Hills stood before the DOT’s Queens commissioner, Joe Cannisi, and swiftly flipped through a clipboard of complaints April 25. She then asked the commissioner point-blank:

“Is this a done deal?” He told her flatly that it was.

“I’m really emotional about this. I’m really upset and I’m really angry,” Garfield said.

Queens Boulevard is one of the most dangerous roadways for pedestrians in the city of New York. Since 1993 more than 70 people have been killed on the boulevard.

Cannisi said in light of problems on the boulevard the DOT made a conscious decision to change its mission.

“We shifted our focus away from moving traffic and began to think about pedestrian safety,” he said, noting that the two missions were not entirely compatible.

In recent months the DOT and police have responded with many measures in an effort to ensure pedestrian safety. Included among the changes were extended crossing times at crosswalks, a consistent 30 mph speed limit, median fences to prevent crossing outside of the crosswalks, and crackdowns on speeders, jaywalkers and drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in crosswalks.

Last week after the plan to convert the service lanes into parking was approved by Mayor Giuliani, the DOT began installing meter stanchions on the inside service lanes of the boulevard. The roadway affected by the plan is a four-mile stretch between Kneeland Avenue and Union Turnpike, which intersects Elmhurst, Rego Park and Forest Hills. The department expects the plan to take effect in mid-June.

Last Friday work on the south side of the boulevard was nearly complete and workmen had plans to continue the installation on the opposite side of the road. Upon completion more than 300 parking meters will be installed.

Community Board 6 Chairman Joe Hennessy also expressed frustration at how the DOT handled the project.

“Nobody came to us to tell us about this,” Hennessy said at the meeting with a raised voice. “They want to change a street name and they kill us with paperwork, but this — a major change — and not a word was given to this board to have our input.”

Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), who attended the meeting, and state Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills), who sent word through a spokeswoman, also objected to the DOT’s bypassing the community in the decision-making process.

Hennessy said at the very least there should have been a public hearing to discuss the plan. He was also incensed that a Borough Hall meeting to discuss the meters was scheduled for mid-May — well after the meters were scheduled to be installed.

Toward the end of the meeting the chairman requested a project schedule from DOT detailing where and when meter installation and removal would occur. He asked that it also include adjusted truck loading locations.

“It’s important that the community gets educated about this,” Hennessy said. “Ignorance is the most difficult thing to deal with.”

Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.

Posted 7:05 pm, October 10, 2011
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