The most contentious element of the plan, revised significantly over the past year, involves the five-legged intersection where Maurice Avenue and 58th Street converge.
The DOT has already changed 58th Street and Maurice Avenue to local truck routes only, and posted signage. Residents have complained that trucks use Flushing and Grand avenues as shortcuts to other parts of the city, including Brooklyn. With the new bypass, along with converting Flushing and Grand avenues to local truck routes, the DOT hopes to shift some of those trucks to 58th Street and Maurice Avenue.
A vote on the proposal, already approved by Community Board 2, was postponed for the third time at last month’s CB 5 meeting.
One board member and several residents asked why any street changes were necessary, arguing that the focus should be on enforcement.
In response, DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy said the department is planning for the expected increase of truck traffic at that intersection.
“At the last board meeting, one of the members said ‘if it isn’t broken, why fix it,’ but it isn’t broken today because we have not directed trucks to the [five-legged intersection],” said McCarthy. “When we do that, up to 200 vehicles in the peak hours will go through that intersection in addition to the traffic that is already there.”
McCarthy said once trucks are rerouted changes will have to be made or that intersection “will be broken.”
To accommodate that traffic, the DOT is converting 58th Street to a one-way southbound, and Maurice Avenue to a one-way northbound, and restricting turns at the intersection to eliminate dozens of “conflict points” in the traffic there.
The bypass plan had near unanimous support from local politicians. State Assemblywoman Marge Markey (D-Maspeth) attended the meeting Wednesday to speak in favor of the DOT plan and several representatives of Councilwoman Elizabeth Crowley (D-Middle Village), a staunch supporter of the bypass plan, were in attendance as well.
“Our seniors, our children and our shoppers deserve good quality of life in Maspeth and with the enormous amount of truck traffic that we have I think this is a doable solution,” Markey said, adding that DOT has committed to monitoring the changes and adjusting the plan to tackle any unforeseen problems.
CB5 District Manager Gary Giordano said truck traffic on Grand Avenue has already been reduced after being converted to a local truck route. He said traffic could decrease even further.
“I’m hopeful that this bypass plan will bring an even bigger reduction of traffic on Grand Avenue because DOT is going to say what route they should take.”
Despite the traffic reductions, not all stakeholders are pleased with the DOT’s plan.
Nick Diamantis, owner of the Clinton Diner at the corner of Maspeth Avenue and Rust Street and one of the leading opponents of the bypass, said his business will suffer if Maurice Avenue becomes a one-way street.
“Once you close access to one-way there will be hundreds of cars and trucks that will not easily be able to access the diner,” Diamantis said.
Representatives for Junior’s Cheesecake, at 58-42 Maurice Avenue, have repeatedly claimed the street changes will destroy the business. An employee of Super Plumbing and Building Supply, at 58-77 Maurice Avenue, said that business plans to move because of street changes.
Jason Schwartz, director of operations for Junior’s Cheesecake, said the change to Maurice Avenue is a death knell for his company. The loading dock of Junior’s—flanked by a concrete wall—is oriented so that trucks must back in while facing south. Today, trucks veer across the northbound lane and then reverse into the dock. While the DOT has offered street loading space for Junior’s, Schwartz said his deliveries would certainly spoil if they were unloaded outside.
The DOT has said it remains committed to helping Junior’s find a solution within the parameters of the street changes, but was unable to accommodate them in the current plan.
“In an ideal world, we would have a solution … that solved the problem without causing any others,” said DOT Deputy Commissioner David Woloch. “We’ve come 90 percent of the way there and there’s no question that there are impacts of what we’re doing that not everybody is happy with. When you have a major neighborhood traffic change, it’s impossible to solve everybody’s problem.”
Schwartz, prompted by his landlord’s lawyer, Arthur Goldstein, walked out of the board meeting just before the vote. Outside, as the bypass was being approved, he said the business would have to move. “There’s nothing we can do,” he said. When asked about other loading options, he said all of them were far too expensive for Junior’s to implement.
Giordano said he was pleased that business spoke up about their opposition to the plan. “It’s healthy that they come out and speak; it’s one of the services the community boards provide,” he said. He added that the DOT has done a great job of meeting with businesses and trying to address their concerns.
Support for the plan passed by a vote of 33-5.
Richard Huber, who voted against the plan, said his concern was “the impact it’s going to have on small businesses.”
“The more trouble we make for small businesses, the more they’ll move out,” he said. “As a business owner, it’s very difficult in these times between the taxes and the rising costs of everything.”
by David J. Harvey