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Queens Chronicle

Transportation reps draw town hall crowd

Smith meeting brings DOT, MTA and LIRR to a lively public forum

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Posted: Thursday, April 17, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:00 am, Thu Apr 24, 2014.

A town hall meeting hosted by state Sen. Malcolm Smith (D-Hollis) on April 10 featured some talk about the state budget.

But it was the transportation segment that the crowd of more than 80 at the Alpha Phi Alpha Senior Citizens Center in Cambria Heights came to hear, and which wound up taking over most of the evening.

Smith was prepared, having assembled a panel consisting of representatives of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Long Island Rail Road, the city Department of Transportation and Michelle Keller, chairwoman of Community Board 12’s Transportation Committee.

All began with overviews, and all took notes to address individual complaints when possible.

Warren Gardiner of the DOT said his agency means to overlook nothing from potholes to Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative to reduce or eliminate traffic deaths.

“We’ve filled about 300,000 potholes this year,” Gardiner said, “which is 200,000 more than last year, but we’re still not done.”

With Vision Zero, de Blasio is calling on every department in the city with a possible contribution to make — the DOT, NYPD, the Department of Public Health and others.

Gardiner said public education will be as important as engineering and law enforcement to bring down the numbers, which he placed at 4,000 New Yorkers hurt last year and about 250 killed.

“It’s said people are just going to speed,” he said. “But 30 years ago, people also thought nothing about going out after work for a few drinks and getting behind the wheel of their cars to drive home. We had to change people’s views about having a drink before driving.”

Gardiner also said small but significant changes have proven effective. Red light cameras, he said, have reduced traffic fatalities in the city by 31 percent in the last two decades.

Bob Brennan of the LIRR said ridership in the last year is as high as it has been since the 1950s. He also touted the railroad’s ongoing effort to improve facilities, such as a major construction project recently completed at the St. Albans station.

When questioned by proponents of reactivating the old Rockaway Beach line, Brennan said there was a major hitch.

“We don’t own it,” Brennan said of the three-mile line that was discarded by the LIRR 52 years ago and has since been sold to the city. “And you’re talking about a line that has not had a train run across it since 1962.”

Raskin had to field numerous questions from people who would like to see more frequent bus service, and solutions to the apparent increase in the homeless using subways, particularly during this past brutal winter.

He said bus and subway routes always are under review for expanded service, and that the MTA is ratcheting up its work with the NYPD and mental health professionals to deal with the homeless, who he said “just feel safer in the subways than in city shelters.”

Keller said all issues from potholes to bus service are things that residents should feel free to bring to the attention of their community boards, and that with an email or a phone call they do not have to wait until boards’ monthly meetings.

People also can call 311.

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