Residents of the Park Plaza co-op remember when they had a traffic-free block and plenty of parking. But with the new Rego Center II mall as their neighbor, long-held worries about congestion may have been realized.
“The planners made studies on the impact of the mall,” said resident Doreen Lynn Saunders, “Clearly they failed, because they do not live here.”
Since the March 3 ribbon cutting at Kohl’s and Century 21, the retail center has already felt both the benefits and costs of crowds. In its first week, one elevator was shut down and others were crammed with shoppers. Outside the mall, double parked cars idled and jaywalkers waded through traffic. And with 97th Street connecting the facility to the Long Island Expressway, residents say the once-empty block is now mired in congestion.
“Two parking lots feed into it,” Saunders said. “They are always full, and I suspect shoppers from Queens Center Mall are using them. That mall has only 200 spots available.”
Across the highway, heavily used Junction Boulevard, whose short blocks often result in traffic congestion, is also experiencing more trouble.
“The traffic here was always bad,” said Lefrak City Residents Association President Lester Youngblood. “For cars going to the LIE, it’s a really bad turn.”
The Department of Transportation has already received proposals to improve traffic light timing and change street directions around the new mall. But DOT spokesman Scott Gastel noted that many of the complaints arrived during its opening week. He said the agency is taking a cautious approach, promising to reassess traffic conditions after the initial hoopla dies down. And Gastel said officials will continue to monitor local streets.
But at a Community Board 6 hearing last Wednesday, Saunders did not wait for anyone to issue recommendations — she brought her own proposal to the meeting.
“The connector between the two malls is too high,” Saunders said. “It’s worthless and shoppers simply jaywalk across 62nd Drive, going from Sears to Century 21. They should have built a bridge for pedestrians, too.”
Saunders also proposed restoring 62nd Drive as a one-way street and enforcing the double-yellow line, which drivers exiting the Rego Center II parking lot often violate as they seek a quicker way to enter the nearby highway.
“I’ve seen this coming since they put the shovel into the ground,” said CB 6 Chairman Joseph Hennesy. “We’re working with the DOT to relieve the traffic problem.”
“Unfortunately, we are only an advisory board — but residents are generating petitions on this matter,” he added.
Councilman Danny Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) is now talking with community leaders and the mall’s managers to find a solution to the issue. He blamed his predecessor, Helen Sears, for failing to prepare for potential problems.