Photo by Trone Dowd
Constituents and community leaders told the DOT that they are not happy with the lack of immediate results to a more than year-long study.
BY TRONE DOWD
Southeast Queens residents sick and tired of not seeing substantial results after months of studies conducted by the city Department of Transportation along Jamaica’s most congested traffic corridors made their voices loud and clear on Monday evening following a presentation of proposed short term, traffic reducing solutions for the neighborhood.
The two-hour presentation took place at the Harvest Room, located on Jamaica Avenue and 161st Street. The presentation was proposed as the latest stop gap in the long-term plan to overhaul Jamaica’s severe traffic problems that have caused lengthy backups of drivers, dangerous conditions for pedestrians and strained bus lines that run through the neighborhood. The plan has been a continuous back and forth between the community and the DOT since November 2015.
“We are here to report back to you what our studies found, and generate specific recommendations of improvement measures to address some of the challenges we see in downtown Jamaica,” DOT Deputy Director Michael Griffin said.
But what the DOT found was a number of problem sites throughout the catchment area, which included everything from Linden Boulevard to Union Turnpike and 130th Street to Farmers Boulevard. The agency looked at land use, pedestrian safety, public transit usages, traffic and more, identifying key aspects contributing to the long-standing issue. Solutions included converting 150th Street between Hillside and Archer avenues into a two-way street, installing an Access-A-Ride stop along Union Hall Street, converting 91st Ave between 146th Street and Sutphin Boulevard to an eastbound street to address congestion and a number of other small improvements.
Despite these proposals, residents who have been awaiting substantial change to the area rejected the minor upgrades that are scheduled to be implemented this summer, saying that real issues such as illegal commuter vans and mismanagement of bus routes were going completely over the heads of DOT members.
“Nowhere in [this presentation] did I see MTA mentioned,” said lifelong resident Vanessa Sparks. “It would seem to me that you can’t have a conversation about transportation without the MTA being at the table, especially since this is such a huge bus area.”
Sparks said that the dollar vans used to alleviate the demand for better bus service were “a disaster waiting to happen.” She added that, this week, she witnessed four fire trucks with alarms blaring getting stuck in Jamaica rush hour traffic.
“That is a death sentence and it is all because of the illegal dollar cars,” she said. “I think you may want to reopen this up and get some more current data that already exists and get the MTA at the table for us to do this again because this is not going to work. Short from a miracle from God, this is not going to work.”
Michelle Keller, who is the transportation chairwoman of Community Board 12, said that she was disheartened by Saturday’s presentation.
“Other than six or seven new slides, this is the same presentation that you showed us in December and February,” Keller told the DOT. “I’m not seeing any resolutions. I thought I would hear something about pedestrian plazas. You’re studying this thing to death and you’re singing to the choir. You came to myself, the chairwoman and the district manager [of CB 12] when we asked to meet with you and the commissioner and I still don’t see a comprehensive plan. We don’t even have renderings of what Downtown Jamaica would look like after these changes you’re talking about.
CB 12 District Manager Yvonne Reddick and CB 12 Chairwoman Adrienne Adams, who both attended the presentation, said that they stood united with constituents and fellow board members.
Another constituent brought up Royal Waste, a waste plant in Jamaica that processes approximately one-fourth of all the trash in the city, and said that its trucks that are often seen traveling the streets of Southeast Queens damage roads, cause pollution and block roadways.
“Trucks are a big disaster in this area,” said community activist and resident Joe Moretti, who added that he was flabbergasted that the DOT hadn’t identified the kind of issues that most residents see every day on their daily commutes. “That horrible neighbor we have, Royal Waste. I don’t know what idiot allowed that place to be put there, but it should have never been put in a downtown area right near residential. Until that place disappears, we will continue to have a truck problem.”
Three weeks ago, the Press of Southeast Queens reported that Royal Waste has been ruining the quality of life for nearby residents along Liberty Avenue, which is a longstanding issue that local leaders and elected officials alike have been combating.
“DOT and local law enforcement need to address that local truck situation,” Moretti continued. “Why you would have Merrick Boulevard and 168th as a truck route is beyond comprehension. Would you see a street in Forest Hills in their little downtown section have trucks going through it? Everything gets dumped on in this neighborhood.”
Moretti was just one of many residents who brought up longstanding issues that were not mentioned in the DOT’s study. Others expressed frustration with the lack of involvement from the MTA during the meetings. Councilman I. Daneek Miller (D-St. Albans) told frustrated constituents that he would make sure that the MTA meets with residents in the near future, so that they can hear the qualms directly from commuters.
Griffin ensured the Press of Southeast Queens that the comments made during Monday’s meeting would make its way back to the DOT’s office for consideration. He also said that while he understands that residents are frustrated, they should understand that these short-term goals are meant to set the groundwork for bigger changes to come once the long-term study is completed.
“They seem to be most frustrated with transit,” he said. “They may not be getting the best out of us as a result.”
As of this writing, the DOT is looking to start making short-term changes this summer and long-term changes that involve construction projects and manpower well into 2026.