That’s why on Thursday, September 24, the Department of Transportation(DOT) held a presentation on Woodhaven Boulevard as part of the city’s Congested Corridors Project. The presentation was broken up into current problems, accident and pedestrian figures, possible fixes, and a question-and-answer session with concerned residents.
The report took a look at 16 intersections between Queens Boulevard and Rockaway Boulevard. The affected corridor includes parts of Community Board’s 4, 5, 6, 9, and 10, which added to the logistical issues of coordinating the project.
The DOT found that traffic congestion in the area results from drivers using the corridor as an alternative to the Van Wyck Expressway, use as a local truck route, roadway configuration of mainline and service roads, major traffic generators, vehicle-pedestrian conflicts, and poor levels of service.
Vehicle-pedestrian conflicts results from heavy turning of cars on the corridor and the lack of areas that are exclusive to pedestrians. Even when people are crossing the street in the short window available, they have to compete with cars that are turning into them.
Roadway configuration of mainline and service roads simply means that the corridor was never meant to handle this level of traffic. The report cites closely spaced intersections, poorly aligned lanes with minimal continuity, and no crossovers between service and main roads as roots of the problem.
Bottlenecks at the Long Island Railroad (LIRR) overpass result from high traffic coming off of the Long Island Expressway and are compounded by lane reductions in the area.
Unsurprisingly, the highest rates of vehicle accidents were in the two areas which have not two, but three different roads intersecting. Union Turnpike, Jamaica Avenue, and Queens Boulevard all converge, as do Rockaway Boulevard, Liberty Avenue, and 94th street.
Public transportation is also contributing to the traffic problems in the area. Three local stops, one limited stop, and four express bus stops serve the entire corridor. Transportation availability was not the only problem, as buses in mixed traffic, bus-pedestrian conflicts, and the location of bus stops also negatively impacted congestion.
A big problem is the lack of pedestrian amenities, including no preferential treatment for crossing pedestrians, a high volume of conflicting turning vehicles, poor visibility, narrow sidewalks at the LIRR overpass, and long crossing distances across Woodhaven Boulevard. The DOT knows that pedestrians typically cross the street at four feet per second, so they at least have a starting point for calculations on traffic lights.
Preliminary improvement ideas included fixing traffic operations by modifying signal timings, adding left turn lanes, and re-striping and revising pavement markings. Improving signage along the corridor was also suggested.
Improvements for pedestrians include adding refuge islands as people wait for traffic to stop so the can continue their trek across Woodhaven Boulevard. High-visibility crosswalks were suggested as well, which are crosswalks with a lot of white stripes, which makes it easier for cars to see pedestrians.
Long term and costlier improvements include reconfiguring the intersections and installing crossovers between mainline and service roads.
Additional transit service, exclusive bus rapid transit lanes, and coordination with New York City Transit on bus schedules were also included as suggestions.
One man in attendance asked about progressive lighting, which is used on some avenues in Manhattan and allows for nearly nonstop travel as lights turn green at a constant interval. Atma Sookram, Associate Vice President of AECOM, the company which advised the DOT said that it is very difficult to implement progressive lighting on two-way corridors like Woodhaven Boulevard.
The long process of analyzing the Woodhaven Boulevard corridor and fixing the traffic problems began on January 4, 2008. So far there have been two Project Advisory Committee(PAC) meetings which are closed meetings, two public meetings, and a community walk-through.
There will be two more PAC meetings in fall 2009 and spring 2010, another public meeting in winter 2010, and a community board meeting in spring 2010 before the final report is issued.
The long, thorough process has its drawbacks as even short-term fixes can’t happen fast enough. A woman was hit by a car and killed crossing Woodhaven Boulevard and 63rd Avenue on Tuesday, September 29th during the morning rush.
She was crossing in the middle of the street and improved traffic measures may not have made a difference but there’s no question that the Woodhaven corridor needs the attention it is receiving.