Queens Community Frustrated With Lack Of Street Safety Precautions

Council Member Julissa Ferreras and other Queens residents and advocacy groups rallied at City Hall, calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to move forward with the safety improvements project along 111th Street.

On a recent Tuesday, Carmela Bravo stood at the intersection of 46 Avenue and 111th Street in Queens, holding her 8-year-old son’s hand. There’s no traffic light, so she looked around vigilantly, waiting for a moment when she could cut through heavy traffic flow to the only park in her neighborhood.

“There are many schools in the area, too much traffic, too dangerous,” she said.

Two days later on October 4th, Bravo stood with other residents at City Hall, sending petitions with 1600 signatures to Mayor Bill de Blasio, demanding that the city move forward with a proposed project for 111th Street that will narrow the wide roadway while adding safer pedestrian crossings and a protected bike lane.

Despite a series of workshops, meetings and consultations between elected officials, advocacy groups and local residents during the past two years, the project hit a deadlock when leaders of the Queens Community Board 4 (CB4) and Assemblyman Francisco Moya opposed the proposal.

“We’ve done everything this administration asked us to do, and it’s time they do what they have to do,” said Council Member Julissa Ferreras at the rally.

Serving as the only gateway to Flushing Meadows Corona Park, 111th Street is treacherous for wide vehicle lanes and lack of protected crosswalks, according to the Department of Transportation (DOT). Without safe space for cycling, 84 percent of cyclists ride on the sidewalk, which is illegal if the rider is older than 12.

“As a mother, it affects me deeply to see children run across intersections, simply for lack of cross lights,” said Vero Ramirez, leader of Mujeres en Movimiento, a Corona-based group of Latina mothers who have been actively advocating the project.

At a community board meeting in June of 2015, after the DOT presented plans to CB4 three times, board leaders, who claimed the redesign can’t handle traffic from major events like US Open, refused to vote, according to local advocacy groups who attended the meeting.

Christian Cassagnol, District Manager of CB4, said the delayed plan has nothing to do with oppositions from community board or community leaders.

“What DOT did were only informational sessions,” said Cassagnol. “We’ve never been approached for a formalized vote.”

Bearing the same concerns over “congestion,” Assemblyman Moya presented his ideas through town hall meetings last October, but the DOT deemed them as “very expensive” and said that they “don’t make street safer.”

“Nobody was allowed to speak on the so-called forum,” said Jaime Moncayo, Queens’s organizer for Transportation Alternatives (TA), a non-profit organization promoting bicycling, walking, and public transit. “It’s a very one-sided event.”

Last year, the TA conducted studies on traffic volume during Mets games at the Citi Fields arena in Flushing Meadows. According to the TA, they found the event didn’t affect the traffic too much. Moncayo said regardless of the results, traffic volume on certain days shouldn’t be an excuse for postponing safety improvements that are beneficial to the neighborhood every other day of the year.

“We must not allow politics get in the way of saving people’s life,” said Moncayo.

Last fall, DOT conducted studies on traffic volume during major events and said they would release data this spring, which haven’t been reported till now.

Mayoral spokesperson Austin Finan said they are encouraged by community support and will continue discussions regarding the proposed project.

In May 2016, Mayor approved a protected bike lane project along Queens Boulevard despite of the oppositions from Community Board 4.