Cautious Optimism For Vision Zero In Queens

BY JACKIE STRAWBRIDGE
Staff Writer

The people of Queens continue to speak out against the dangerous roads in their Borough.

Residents gathered on April 23 for a town hall meeting at LaGuardia Community College to discuss implementation of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero traffic safety initiative in the Borough. Councilmember Ydanis Rodriguez (D-Manhattan), who chairs the Committee on Transportation, joined Councilmembers Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), Peter Koo (D-Flushing) and Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) among others, alongside Commissioner Polly Trottenberg from the Dept. of Transportation, to receive Vision Zero planning input and feedback.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer speaks at the Vision Zero town hall meeting at LaGuardia Community College. Photo by Jackie Strawbridge

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer speaks at the Vision Zero town hall meeting at LaGuardia Community College. Photo by Jackie Strawbridge

Vision Zero is the City’s plan for ending traffic deaths. The plan prioritizes safety above all other goals, including mobility, and incorporates a number of techniques to achieve this goal.

At the meeting, Queens representatives and residents voiced their concern over the current state of their streets. More than 50 pedestrians were killed in Queens in 2013 – more than any other borough. Helen Ho, who represented the Mayor’s office at the meeting, spoke against “a sense of business as usual” allowing these fatalities to continue. Constantinides reiterated these feelings, stating, “getting milk should not be a dangerous endeavor.”

Many residents said they were specifically upset with the Dept. of Transportation, voicing dissatisfaction with the department’s slow response to complaints and inquiries.

“We hear the frustration,” Trottenberg answered, and asked that residents re-contact the department.
Trottenberg was appointed as Transportation Commissioner in late January this year.

Ideas proposed at the meeting include replacing dangerous intersections with traffic-calming plazas, building more bike-only lanes and ticketing jaywalkers more aggressively.

Some of these ideas are already being implemented throughout Queens. Earlier this month, the transportation unit of the New York City Police Department assigned a crossing guard outside PS 206, a busy intersection close to the Long Island Expressway.

“This is a very dangerous intersection for children,” State Sen. Jose Peralta (D-East Elmhurst), said. “There’s simply no substitute for the direct, hands-on traffic control and help that a crossing guard provides to kids.”

According to a City Dept. of Health and Mental Hygiene report, motor vehicles are the leading cause of death due to injury among New York City children.

Following the town hall meeting, LaGuardia Community College released a traffic study outlining recommendations for calming traffic along Thomson Avenue, where the school is located, and where a high school student was fatally hit by a minivan in March last year. The study, conducted by Philip Habib & Associates, recommends extending curbs to reduce crossing distances, widening sidewalks and modifying signal timing at intersections to prevent further harm on Thomson Avenue.

The meeting also demonstrated that traffic safety is not simply a matter of cars versus bikes and pedestrians. Sunnyside resident Ibrahim Donmez, a pedicab driver since 2005, attended the town hall meeting to represent pedicab and electric-assisted vehicle interests.

Due to poorly posted speed limits and minimal slow zones, he said, “In Manhattan, I feel safer than I feel in Queens.”

Nevertheless, Donmez said he left the meeting feeling that Vision Zero “is going to work” for Queens.

Transportation Alternatives’ Juan Martinez also voiced optimism in his closing statements, stating, “We’re on the brink of something big.”

Reach Jackie Strawbridge at (718) 357-7400, Ext. 128, jstrawbridge@queenstribune.com or @JNStrawbridge.