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Queens Chronicle

Underwhelming underpass overview

DOT Queens borough commissioner fails to sway Cooper Avenue critics

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Posted: Thursday, January 26, 2012 12:00 pm

Queens Borough Department of Transportation Commissioner Maura McCarthy laid out the city’s case Tuesday night for the most controversial element of the plan to renovate the Cooper Avenue underpass in Glendale.

But residents and business owners in the area told members of Community Board 5’s Transportation Committee that plans to redirect 74th Street from its present one-way south to one-way north will not fulfill the city’s stated aim of protecting school children, and will disrupt an already delicate traffic situation.

Work began this week on a $7.5 million project to upgrade the walls of the underpass — constructed in 1935 — and replace the parapets on top of them.

But Ali Mallick, an engineer and a deputy commissioner with the city’s Department of Design and Construction, said any time the city plans a major road-related project it now also does related safety checks on roads and walking routes for nearby schools.

And it was during this study, Mallick and McCarthy said, that the decision was made to redirect the street.

“We look to eliminate conflicts on walking routes,” McCarthy said, referring in this case to how drivers coming west on Cooper would have a poor view of approaching school children heading to or from IS 119 on 74th Street.

She also said that children who get dropped off from southbound buses must now cross behind or in front of the bus to the school on the eastern side of the street.

Having buses go northbound in the future, McCarthy said, would allow children to be discharged right on the school’s curb.

All critics admitted that the underpass walls need to be reinforced; that the parapets must be replaced; and that new wider sidewalks with accompanying bike lanes are doable.

Residents’ concern is that the plan forces buses and parent drop-off traffic south down 73rd Place and then east along 78th Avenue before turning it back up 74th to reach the school.

McCarthy said their studies indicate a peak on the roads of about 180 vehicles during times normally associated with school opening and discharge hours.

“When you break it down over an hour it isn’t a lot,” McCarthy said.

And she said that should delays occur at the three-way intersection of 73rd Place, Cooper and 78th avenues, they can look into many remedies such as adjusting traffic signal timing to adding a dedicated left turn light.

Residents weren’t impressed.

“I live on 74th across from the school, but my driveway is on 78th,” said Ingrid Huber “There are eight driveways on that street. We can’t get our cars out now and you will be adding all that traffic.”

“Hire crossing guards or put up pedestrian barriers,” said 74th Street resident Bill Burtis. “You’ve got to take care of the people who live here.”

Mallick said during construction that one sidewalk and one driving lane in each direction below the underpass will be open at all times. He also said there would be no permanent loss of on-street parking once construction is complete in June 2013, though the possibility exists of daylighting, or eliminating some parking near corners at 74th Street during school hours.

CB 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri Jr. said parking is something that the board will have to discuss with the Department of Education and the 104th Precinct.

“We would have to be careful about eliminating parking along 78th, because the teachers park there,” he said. “If we eliminated that, where would they park?”

“In front of my house,” muttered 76th Street resident Rick Schneider.

CB 5 member Richard Huber also showed more than 20 photos of students ignoring crosswalks and don’t walk signs posted through out the area.

Lance Wagner, the fifth generation owner of Glendale Lumber on 73rd Drive, said it’s easy for bureaucrats and engineers to draw up plans on paper.

“They don’t live here,” he said. “You need to do something about the underpass: great. Why does the whole neighborhood need to be done?”

McCarthy said making this type of redesign routine has proven to reduce accidents and fatalities throughout the city over the last decade.

John Maier, a member of CB 5 and an avid bicycle rider, acknowledged that people might be concerned about sharing the new, wider sidewalks in the underpass with his fellow cyclists.

“But Forest Park has a lot of shared trails,” he said. “It’s doable.”

Mallick said the project now has a community liaison assigned to the project’s field office “just down the hall here.” The liaison can be contacted at (718) 326-2513.

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