Residents who live on and near Fitchett Street in Rego Park have seen tremendous traffic changes over the past years and are now urging their local representatives to help them protect the safety of their families.
While the residents have proposed making the two-way, curved roadway one way, installing four-way stop signs at troublesome intersections and have gained the support of their elected officials, their requests have been continually denied by the Department of Transportation.
This week, after waiting four long months, the residents were once again told by the DOT that there weren’t enough accidents, high enough traffic volume or pedestrian traffic to meet the federal mandates that allow for such changes.
In May, both Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz and Assemblyman Michael Cohen wrote to Queens Borough Commissioner William Baier of the DOT.
They requested a traffic study at the intersection of 65th Drive and Fitchett Street, which is two blocks away from PS 174.
Both noted that according to the residents there have been more than 10 accidents in the past four years and that the roadway has become increasingly more heavily used by motorists.
Koslowitz received a letter from the commissioner indicating that a study would be conducted and a determination to be made by September 30th.
Cohen received an identical letter, but the determination for the same location was to be ready by September 15th.
When Koslowitz was asked about the different dates she said the DOT had just sent another notice dated August 18th to her office.
In that response, the city agency said “we completed our analysis earlier this month,” but the assemblyman didn’t receive a notice although his letter was dated before the councilwoman’s letter.
The letter said, “Factors such as vehicular and pedestrian volumes, accident experience (the latest available three year summary showed only three accidents susceptible to correction by an all-way stop control), vehicular speeds, visibility and signal spacing were all taken into consideration in making our determination.”
The DOT said, “Based on our evaluation of the data collected, it is our judgment that all-way stop controls are unwarranted at this time.”
“Fitchett needs to be made one way,” said Anita Wunsch who has lived in the community more than five years. Wunsch was one of the many residents who had written to the legislators to seek help.
“PS 174 is diagonally across from my home (on 65th Drive). I’ve seen a lot of accidents. On Easter Sunday there was a serious head-on collision. Motorists whip around these corners which are blinded by the curves,” she said.
“It’s horrible here and we have no crossing guards with the school right down the street,” she said.
Wunsch noted that changing Fitchett to a one way, in either direction or installing a four way stop sign at the intersection would help save lives. She noted that there are many children in the community and many from surrounding areas when the school term begins.
Wunsch complained that the data taken for the DOT survey was done during the July 4th weekend when traffic was at a lull.
“Mark Patterson, spokesperson for the DOT said, “The survey is not done on one day. It’s only common sense there is no one around during a holiday. It usually takes 30 days or more.”
When asked when the survey was done, Keith Kolb, another spokesperson for DOT said, “It takes 12 weeks.” When Kolb was questioned about the exact dates, he reluctantly said from May 26th to July 25th. He later admitted that the actual determination was made on July 25th and said “I don’t know the exact date.”
Kolb said the DOT uses counters to analyze the area. When asked if the school was taken into consideration he only reiterated that there was not enough traffic when the study was done stressing that school was still in session. He said, “The study was done when it was requested.”
He also noted that it would probably take another year before another study would be considered.
John Greco, another Fitchett resident for the past 50 years, also feels the street needs to be made into a one-way situation.
He said the intersections at 65th Drive and 64th Road are dangerous.
“Cars are always jumping the sidewalks and hitting the neighbors fences. They race down the street to blind corners. they use 64th Road to get to Woodhaven Boulevard. When they see a green light they goose up their speed.
“They told us a few years ago there wasn’t enough traffic. They should look more closely at the traffic accidents.”
Greco said the most recently installed pedestrian sign “isn’t going to help solve our blind corner situation.”
Greco added, “When Woodhaven Boulevard backs up, all the motorists use Fitchett. Now there’s work on the Van Wyck Expressway so the locals who know the area use our streets as a short cut.”
According to Greco’s recollection there have been nearly 10 accidents in the past year. “Four of them involved cars on the sidewalks or into the trees.”
Ray Sito, another resident, criticized the DOT for evaluating the traffic during the summer months.
“Our major concern is the safety of the children and we have a school in the middle of our community,” he said.
Sito, who has lived in the area for the past seven years said, “Since I first moved here the traffic has increased significantly.”
He noted that PS 174 is in the middle of building modules to house the enormous increase in students. “That should tell you something,” he said. “It demonstrates the change and with that change is additional traffic that needs to be monitored.”
Sito also feels the traffic has increased because of the work done on Woodhaven Boulevard and the Van Wyck.
“Why do they have to wait for a child to be hit or killed before they do something?” he questioned.
Sito noted that several years ago Fitchett was made a one way for one block between 63rd Drive and Woodhaven Boulevard. “It’s the same street, but we have the curves it only makes sense to fix it before there are more accidents or a senseless death.”
The residents said they will continue to fight for a four-way stop on the two intersections or have the street made into a one way.
While the DOT refused to comply with the wishes of the residents it did commit to installing a stop ahead sign on westbound 65th Drive and to refurbish the faded stop bars on both approaches. Earlier this month the DOT also installed pedestrian crossing signs on the west side of Fitchett Street on 64th Road.