Two weeks before a scheduled vote on two proposed street changes affecting Woodhaven and Richmond Hill, a crowd of angry residents let city Department of Transportation officials know that they were against any such changes.
While roughly a dozen of the more than 70 residents who attended the informational hearing Feb. 1 in Ozone Park on the proposed traffic changes to two streets in the area were from Richmond Hill, an overwhelming majority of the people were Woodhaven residents, as evidenced by a hand count early in the evening.
Amid several loud—and sometimes angry—comments from residents opposing street changes, Maureen McCarthy, the Queens Transportation Commissioner, assured residents that her department would not be implementing those changes over the protests of the community.
McCarthy also discussed how the changes came to the attention of the department and how the changes would improve traffic around the area.
According to McCarthy, the first change, which involves turning 89th Avenue from a two-way street to a one-way eastbound operation between Woodhaven Boulevard and 97th Street, came from a request by a former member of the community board, although she declined to give the member’s name.
As it stands, McCarthy said, 89th Avenue, which is roughly 31 feet wide, leaves only 17 feet for two-way traffic, there by falling short of DOT’s minimum standards of nine feet for a traffic lane. The change, she said, would make the street meet those requirements while allowing buses at nearby St. Thomas The Apostle School on 87th Street to drop students on the correct side of the street.
On the second street change—which would change 84th Street from a one-way northbound to a one-way southbound from Liberty Avenue— McCarthy noted that the board had postponed the vote specifically because of feelings that the local fire department had objected to the street change on 84th Street as a possible detriment to their response times. The commissioner said her department had investigated the claims with the fire department,and found that was not the case.
Several residents who live on the affected streets say that changing the streets’ directions is a bad idea.
Margaret Finnegan, a Woodhaven resident of 92nd Street for40 years, said that if changed, the conversion of 89th Avenue would limit her access to her own home, leaving an illegal turn on 91st Street as one of her few options to get back home.
“The Sanitation Department does it, [but] I don’t have a big truck,” she said.
Elaine McGovern, a longtime Ozone Park resident of 102nd Street, expressed concerns that by changing 84th Street, that she would have to travel farther just to get to her car.
“I’ll have to go nine blocks out of the way to get into my car,”she said.
Diane Yodice, who lives on 84th Street and 91st Avenue, who has previously spoken against the changes, criticized DOT at the hearings for the lack of outreach on the proposed street changes.
“The only way I found out about this supposed [street change] is by sitting in St. Elizabeth’s, right here, reading two lines and a blurb,” she said, referring to the church’s newsletter.
In response, McCarthy said that her department had posted information on their web site, while adding that she appreciated the input of residents at the meeting regarding the street changes.
Mary Ann Carey, of Community Board 9, said that she had received more than 60 letters from residents against the street changes.
While DOT is within their rights to mandate street changes if the area in question has a dangerously high number of accidents, the Queens transportation commissioner said the two streets did not fall under that category; therefore, DOT would not force the street changes to happen if the community does not want it.
“Neither one of these is mandated to improve or because it is a high-accident location, so this can be voted up or down by the community,” she said. “DOT is not going to implement this over the objections of the community.”
However, the final say on the matter will come in a scheduled vote by Community Board 9 at its regular meeting at 7:45 p.m.,Feb. 14 at the Kew Gardens Community Center on 80-02 Kew Gardens Road.
After the meeting, Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, who also spoke at the hearing, said he was pleased by the turnout—his association had spent weeks attempting to rally as many people against the changes as possible via their Facebook and web pages, as well as handing outfliers.
On whether the turnout would have any impact on the Feb. 14 vote by the community board, Wendell was optimistic.
“I think we made our voices heard, but we’ll see,” he said.
By Jean-Paul Salamanca
Forum Newsgroup Photo by Jean-Paul Salamanca