BY TRONE DOWD
The city’s Department of Transportation presented the latest information from its ongoing study of Downtown Jamaica’s traffic and pedestrian woes to Community Board 12 on Wednesday night.
Carren Simpson, of the DOT, said that the study is meant to take a look at harrowing peak hour traffic conditions and travel demands on some of Southeast Queens’ busiest corridors to “develop recommendations to reduce congestion and improve safety.”
The study, which started in 2015, has been a point of contention for members of CB 12. During a two-hour public meeting in March 2017—during which the agency presented its first wave of preliminary recommendations from the study—residents voiced their frustrations concerning several key omissions from what they believed was causing rush hour standstills on Jamaica Avenue, Sutphin Boulevard, Hillside Avenue and roadways. The DOT promised to go back to the drawing board with its recommendations.
More than a year later, Simpson detailed how the agency went about getting the data that was presented at CB 12’s meeting.
“We conducted extensive community outreach to obtain input from the community and help identify issues that community members felt were important.” Simpson said.
She said that this input was collected several ways, including a web portal, boots on the ground “street ambassadors” who observed the roadways and surveying local businesses. With this information, the DOT determined that there were numerous intersections “running at failing levels of service,” meaning that travel speeds were as low as five miles per hour.
Some short term solutions to the issues include signal timing changes, geometric changes, street conversions, roadway reconstruction to widen narrow streets, restricting trucks from double parking and backing up traffic and adjusting parking rules.
Residents have long called for the DOT to address bus traffic in the community. Last year, the DOT admitted to having no contact with the Metropolitan Transit Authority, prompting Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) to facilitate a meeting. The DOT has since collected detailed feedback on how to improve bus congestion along Jamaica Avenue and Sutphin Boulevard.
“Under existing conditions on Jamaica and Sutphin, there’s a curbside bus lane,” Simpson said. “However, approximately three-quarters of the buses approaching Sutphin Boulevard make a left turn at the intersection. As vehicles generally cannot enter the bus lane unless they are making a right turn, vehicles that are going through have to cue up behind the buses that are waiting to make their turn.”
The DOT believes that having drivers cue up behind buses adds unnecessary clutter to an already busy roadway. The agency is proposing that the bus lane be moved to the center lane, allowing vehicles that need to continue past the intersection to use the curbed lane freely without having to give priority to turning buses.
Simpson also cited a second congestion point on Sutphin, between Archer and 91st avenues. Here, the DOT said that taxis and bus traffic throttle the roadway. Such a factor makes turning onto 91st Avenue from Sutphin a cumbersome ordeal.
“We are proposing to convert 91st Avenue from its current direction of westbound to eastbound,” Simpson said. “In this way, we eliminate the U-turns and left turns altogether.”
Simpson said that this would also establish a “hardened center line” between the northbound and southbound lanes on Sutphin Boulevard.
Further down Sutphin, the study focused on congestion resulting from buses making left turns onto 95th Avenue. To help reduce delays, the DOT has proposed restrictions on parking, allowing traffic to flow to the curbside lane.
Simpson said that these proposals are still being finalized, but are expected to be introduced by next month. During this period, the community will have a month to give feedback on the proposals.
The DOT’s study and its subsequent fixes and capital projects are expected to be completed in 2026.