A plan conceived over a year ago by the Department of Transportation to ease traffic behind and around Queens Center Mall has become a constant headache for local residents.
Faced with the pending expansion of the mall and the former Sterns department store on Queens Boulevard, the DOT implemented a controversial traffic plan last August.
One of the major changes included converting 57th Avenue into a one-way street from Junction Boulevard to Queens Boulevard, except for a stretch from 90th Street to 92nd Street, which faces the Queens Mall.
“It’s really a madhouse,” said Julius Schatz, a member of the Board of Directors of the Hanover Court Mutual Housing Cooperative. “This plan is not going down easy.”
Residents of Hanover Court, a 78-family co-op on 57th Avenue and 92nd Street in Elmhurst, said they are directly affected by the traffic plan.
“The real danger here is that we are now seeing ambulances, fire trucks and police cars regularly using the street (57th Avenue) in the opposite direction, as well as private vehicles,” Schatz said. “We have heard countless screeching of tires as drivers try to avoid collisions at all hours of the night, but especially late at night.”
The traffic changes are very dangerous, Schatz added, because 57th Avenue is brimming with congestion from the mall and its municipal parking lot, PS13 and the Special School for the Disabled, several public and private bus lines, a Catholic high school and several rental apartment buildings.
In addition, Newtown High School’s athletic field, heavily occupied for ball games during the school year, is on the busy corner of 92nd Street and 57th Avenue.
All of this, spells a tragedy waiting to happen, Schatz said.
He believes much of the problem could be solved by transforming the entire length of 57th Avenue, from Junction Boulevard to Queens Boulevard as a uniformly one-way street.
However, one Community Board 4 member disagrees, saying she wants the DOT to to undo what they have done and return 57th Avenue to a two-way street.
“You can’t get around anywhere,” said the board member who asked to remain anonymous. “It’s a mess and we are going to have a big accident one day.”
She said the traffic between Junction and Queens Boulevards has gotten so bad that one local resident recently complained at a community board meeting that it took her 20 minutes to negotiate her way around the mall.
The community board opposed the traffic changes when they were proposed last summer, but because they were implemented during Labor Day weekend, the board was not notified in time to inform local residents.
Another complaint from local residents is that 57th Avenue, a two-way street, had long served as a service road for the nearby Long Island Expressway. However, with the one-way implementation, when cars drive along 57th Avenue and reach Queens Boulevard, they can only make a right turn towards Woodhaven Boulevard.
The right turn only provision has caused traffic jams at Woodhaven Boulevard and along Hoffman Drive, which runs south of Queens Boulevard behind St. John’s Hospital.
In addition, vehicles exiting the mall at 57th Avenue and 90th Street searching for the LIE must first merge into the middle lanes of Queens Boulevard, get immediately over to the left-hand turning lane, make a U-turn by the Elmwood movie theatre, and track back up the boulevard’s service road to the highway entrance on Woodhaven Boulevard.
Despite the complaints, the DOT remains unconvinced that their plan has been a flop.
“From a safety standpoint, it’s been effective,” DOT spokesman Tom Cocola said. “It has helped us to avoid conflicts in the Queens Boulevard, Woodhaven Boulevard, and 57th Avenue intersection.”
Cocola added that when the plan was initially implemented, construction had been ongoing on the LIE service ramp, and had caused some back-ups. Those delays, he said, subsided earlier in the year when the ramp construction was completed.
The massive Queens Center Mall expansion plan, slated to begin next year, could also have a big impact on traffic in the area.
The 605,000-square-foot mall will increase to over 1,000,000 square feet.
The plan includes adding a retail store-lined two-story bridge over 92nd Street that will connect the existing mall with an additional wing which will be built on the 92nd Street municipal parking lot. A new parking structure will also be built on a portion of the municipal lot.
“It is designed to alleviate traffic on the street,” said John Genovese, senior vice-president of the Macerich Company, which owns and manages the mall.
Plans are also in the works by the College Point Mattone Group to build a movie theatre on another parking lot near the mall.
For now though, local residents are angry about their traffic nightmare, which they want to come to an end.
“You can get to the mall, but you can’t get back,” said the board member. “Traffic is backed up forever.”