Councilmember Peter Vallone, Jr. is taking a cautious approach to a plan by city transportation officials who want to transform a small triangle on Newtown Avenue between 33rd and 31st Streets into a 4,700-square-foot pedestrian plaza, in order to make streets near PS 17 safer for young students.
Police said a total of 49 crashes were recorded at the intersection of 33rd Street and 30th Avenue between 2008 and 2010. Another 53 crashes were reported at 31st Street and 30th Avenue in the same time period.
Vallone, who heads the City Council Public Safety Committee, said he is not opposed to the installation of a pedestrian plaza at the site.
“I am not opposed to the pedestrian plaza,” Vallone said. “But I am opposed to any plan that calls for closing the entire street to accommodate the installation of the plaza.”
The Astoria lawmaker said he is unsure how the installation of the pedestrian plaza at Newtown Avenue would increase safety around P.S. 17, which is located four blocks from the proposed site.
“DOT officials say they feel they can increase safety around the school by shutting this street,” Vallone said. “If that’s the case, then they can use this premise to shut any street in Astoria.”
This is not the first time city Department of Transportation (DOT) officials have asked community residents to consider the site for the location of a pedestrian plaza. DOT, in 2008, proposed a plaza at the busy Astoria intersection, like the one established in Times Square, under the city’s “Green Light” program.
The “Green Light” program was designed to reduce vehicular traffic and increase pedestrian traffic at public places throughout the five boroughs.
Vallone welcomed a prior proposal for a pedestrian plaza at the site – a plan that did not call for the street closure.
“Closing that street at this time will remove seven or eight parking spaces and increase congestion along th 30th Avenue corridor that is home to more than two-dozen sidewalk café’s,” Vallone said.
“The 30th Avenue cafes are well known throughout the city and the country,” Vallone said. “These cafes bring tourists from around the country and the world to Astoria.”
Vallone said most constituents who have contacted him about the plan are opposed to the establishment of a pedestrian plaza at the site – and every business owner on the commercial strip is opposed to the plan.
“There is a lot of unused space there,” Vallone said. “Perhaps the city can do some landscaping, install trees and bushes – and a flagpole,” he said. “DOT could also add to safety at that site by installing traffic devices with a timer,” Vallone said. “Right now, pedestrians have just a few minutes to make it across the Avenue, so the timing devices would make it much safer than it is today.
“As a rule, I’m always worried when DOT comes up with a plan that calls for shutting down streets,” he declared. “Those plans are never developed to help traffic move.”
A DOT spokesperson said the agency would not consider any locations where a traffic survey shows that a plaza would impede traffic or create a hardship for local businesses.
DOT officials have established a Facebook page on the proposal where interested parties can voice their approval or concerns. To express your opinion, go to facebook.com/NewtownAve.
For information on the proposal or to suggest a location for a pedestrian plaza under the city “Green Light” program go to: www.nyc.gov/dot.