2016-05-18 / Editorials

Op-Ed:

Safety In Astoria Without Dividing The Community
By Peter Argyris

The issue of safety in Astoria has come up on numerous occasions stemming from various issues throughout Astoria.  Local politicians and planning boards have attempted to tackle the issue, but instead of tackling the issue, they put on measures that hinder safety even more with the result of dividing the entire community into us-versus-them.   The issues at hand are Shore Blvd., 19th Street and Astoria Blvd. North.  In addition, there are other issues such as 18th Street, and 75th Street, between 20th Avenue and Ditmars Blvd.

Shore Blvd. has been the heart of the controversy since it was suggested that the strip be permanently closed to traffic.  Upon discovering this, a petition was crafted where 1,267 signatures were obtained and a decision [was made] by Commissioner Trottenberg at the Astoria Civic Association Meeting that Shore Blvd. was never to be closed nor altered in any way.  Later in February, the issue came up again where Shore Blvd. is to be converted to a one-way street for southbound traffic only with the northbound lane being converted to a protected bicycle lane.  Their reason behind this was that the bike path inside Astoria Park was not sufficient enough for cyclists and it often interfered with pedestrians.  This was passed by Planning Board 1 despite intense objections from members of the community who filled up the hearing hall on Wednesday, February 16.  While the Department of Transportation is in the process of converting the strip into a one way street, the aftermath of this will be detrimental to the community which is why a new petition has been under way.  The aftermath will be felt on 19th Street, Ditmars Blvd., Astoria Park South and even as far as 21st Street and other side roads.

Full closures have been implemented in 1978 and sometime in the 1980s (maybe 1981).  When Shore Blvd. was completely closed, 19th Street, 21st Street, Astoria Park South and Ditmars Blvd. were either high traffic and or gridlock zones, especially on 19th Street and 21st Street.  Upon discovering the aftermath, Astoria leaders at the time decided to do an about face and reopen Shore Blvd. to traffic.  Many today will ask me what does this have to do with 2016?  As Edmund Burke once said “Those who don’t know history are doomed to repeat it.”  This premise still holds true even today. With the conversion of Shore Blvd. into a one way street, 19th Street will once again become an even more dangerous road with more gridlock especially with many elderly and families with young children living on that block.  21st Street will also be heavily gridlocked, especially during the school days where many parents will flood 21st Street to drop off and pick up their children at PS 122 on the corner of 21st Street and Ditmars Blvd.  Ditmars Blvd. will also be very busy where many cars that would’ve normally used Shore Blvd. would be turning from either 19th Street or 21st Street to reach their destination, creating an even more dangerous situation.  As Jean-Baptiste Alphonse Karr pointed out, “The more things change, the more they stay the same.”  This argument still holds to this very day in comparing 1978 to 2016.

In the new petition, I have outlined a viable solution to the problem which would benefit the entire community.  The solution for Shore Blvd. is to create an extension outward towards the river by either creating a viaduct or just cover up part of the river.  This, of course, will be a capital project and may not sit well with several elected officials, but the benefits of this project will outweigh all the negativity towards it.  The benefits would include the restoration of Shore Blvd. into a two-way street, installed bicycle lanes would remain, an enhanced view of the river by eliminating the rat infested shore line, and the planting of new trees to replace the ones that have been partially destroyed through Hurricanes Irene and Sandy.  In addition, the sewer lines on the strip would be moved and improved if there is a chance that the sewers are going directly to the East River instead of a sewage treatment plant, as it has been recently discovered, from the pipes at Astoria Pool and in one of the public restrooms at the park.  It is a sad sight today to look at the river and see garbage and sewer rats roaming instead of the beauty of the river.  That is why the extension viaduct is a better option.  To tackle the issue of safety, additional speed humps need to be put in place as well as two traffic lights on the corners of Astoria Park South and Ditmars Blvd. An additional traffic light at the World War I Monument would be beneficial as well. The safety of the strip is paramount but it needs to be done in a way that it does not inconvenience anyone, nor cause friction among members of the community.

Nineteenth Street is another issue that really needs the attention of our local leaders to implement safety protocols.  Sadly there is still no plan for safety on that road and things are about to get even worse with the alteration of Shore Blvd.  Earlier last summer, there was a fatal hit and run on the corner of 19th Street and Ditmars Blvd.  This should’ve been a call for additional safety measures on that block specifically on the corner, but instead, this was used as one of the main reasons for the alteration of Shore Blvd. By avoiding the problem and using the problem as a “solution” to another problem, our local leaders will make it even worse.

In the petition, I have also outlined a better solution to the problems at 19th Street.  The solutions are the installation of traffic lights on the corner of 19th Street and Ditmars Blvd.  This would make the corner even safer and avoid another accident in the area and make the corner safer for many residents in the area to cross the street especially elderly and families with young children. Additional traffic lights, particularly on the corners of 24th Avenue and 23rd Avenue will also be very beneficial to the block as well especially by the entrances to Astoria Park and Astoria Pool.

Astoria Blvd. North and 33rd Street at the exit ramp off the Grand Central Parkway is another safety hazard created after placing the barrier on the exit ramp and extending it out to 31st Street.  After 31st Street towards the Robert F. Kennedy Triborough Bridge, many vehicles have been in danger of being sideswiped by other vehicles about to enter the bridge especially trucks and tractor trailers along the route.  This makes it even harder for local traffic to go through Hoyt Avenue without the risk of being sideswiped by a vehicle entering the bridge. Local leaders have alleged that they made the area much safer but in reality, they made it more dangerous than it was before the barriers were put into place.

In the petition, I have also outlined two possible solutions to the problem.  One solution is that the lights on the corner of Astoria Blvd. North and 33rd Street become a three-way with one light on Astoria Blvd., another on 33rd Street, and another on the exit ramp from the Grand Central Parkway.  Many critics allege that this would create even more backup on the Grand Central Parkway but fail to realize that backup has already been created since the barrier was already put in effect especially if there is a disabled vehicle on the left lane.  The three-way light would ease congestion and would also be a safer alternative for vehicles to travel to their intended destinations without a great risk of being sideswiped.  Another possible solution is by moving back the exit ramp to exit either on 37th Street or 35th Street.  Although a costly solution, this will help smooth out traffic from the Grand Central Parkway to Astoria Blvd. and Hoyt Avenue without the major accident risks since 31st Street is further away from where the exit is now making it easier for cars to change lanes. Thirty fifth Street or 37th Street could be converted to only northbound traffic while 33rd Street would be a two-way street since the original exit ramp in the area would be obsolete which would make it easier for automobiles to move further without tying traffic making it another better and safer alternative to the current situation.

On 18th Street between 27th Avenue and Astoria Park South there is another situation.  While this was not an issue at hand, I implemented that in the petition because of the huge problem which has occurred on numerous occasions.  MTA buses have been using 18th Street on numerous occasions as a way to return to their bus depot via Hoyt Avenue. This is a very huge problem since many families with young children as well as elderly people living on that block are being put in danger from the ongoing buses.  There is a law in the books that states that commercial vehicles and buses are not supposed to go through one way streets except for either local deliveries or when being used as a designated route for buses. 

There is an occasional charter bus on that block for parishioners of a house of worship or patrons from a cultural organization to go on a trip such as Atlantic City or any other privately organized trip by the institutions but that is very rare to say the least.  There are also occasional trucks on that street for deliveries to a local deli or to a pizzeria as well as personal deliveries to people’s homes as well as school buses transporting children to school throughout the school year or camp over the summer.  These scenarios are the only acceptable situations where a truck and a bus can use a one way street such as 18th Street. 

The solution I have outlined is the installation of speed humps on the block.  MTA buses do not use roads with speed humps since they are extremely low impact vehicles which can cause heavy damage to them, therefore the humps will discourage them from ever using 18th Street which in turn will make the road much safer.

The final issue I have outlined on my petition was the issue of the 49th Street overpass on the Grand Central Parkway with regards to commercial vehicles on Hazen Street and other surrounding blocks. The issue is that Hazen Street does not have an overpass and it is the designated truck route to go to Astoria Blvd.  Trucks are not permitted to go on any other street which includes 49th Street and 75th Street.  Many trucks have decided to use 75th Street from 20th Avenue to go to Ditmars Blvd. and then to 82nd Street to take Astoria Blvd.

East while others heading westbound to the RFK Bridge remained on course on Hazen Street or used 49th Street.  Many residents on 75th Street expressed frustration about the trucks going through the block especially since there are many elderly residents and families with young children living there.  In addition, PS 2 elementary school is on the corner of 21st Avenue and 75th Street which makes the area a school zone.  The trucks driving on that block place many school age children, parents or guardians, and school personnel at risk while crossing the street.  Many truck drivers fail to stop at the stop sign as well as listen to the school crossing guard on the corner.  It has been suggested that the truck route be transferred to 49th Street since there is an overpass on the Grand Central Parkway but the residents on that block also do not want the trucks on their block as well as the residents living on that block who have similar demographics as the residents on 75th Street.

The solution I have outlined is to create a second overpass going one way directly from Hazen Street turning directly to Astoria Blvd. South going Eastbound.  This will keep the trucks from using either 49th Street or 75th Street to reach their eastbound destinations and make the blocks safer especially the area by PS 2. The overpass may be a capital project and may sound costly but that is a small price to pay in comparison to the current safety hazards on either 75th Street or 49th Street.

Safety is very important and paramount to every member of our community.  Everything I have outlined is a comprehensive plan to improve safety in our hometown.  Safety needs to be done in a way that it does not inconvenience others and in a way that it does not cause friction among all members of the community.  Please click on the link for the petition which has been posted on change.org since February of this past year. The link is www.change.org/p/queens-county-planning-board-1-safety-in-astoria-withou....

About The Author: Peter Argyris is a lifelong resident of Astoria and is co-founder of Stay Rooted Astoria, a grassroots movement fighting gentrification from the ground up.


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