Armed with picket signs and a long list of complaints, dozens of Briarwood-area residents protested traffic and safety conditions brought about by the ongoing Kew Gardens Interchange project near the newly-opened entrance of the Briarwood-Van Wyck Expressway subway station on Saturday.
Following what it termed to be a lack of response from the state Department of Transportation, the Briarwood Action Network organized the rally in an effort to get multiple concerns addressed.
Among the group’s requests are increased traffic lights in the area, more effective traffic signage, additional external lighting and security and adequate sanitation collection, as well as better communication with the community.
Safety was of primary concern for many in attendance.
“Traffic patterns are confusing. Pedestrians and motorists have blind spots,” BAN President Aida Vernon said.
“I almost got hit by a car,” Briarwood resident Brenda Cummings said. “I was walking home from work. A car got lost. There’s nothing to tell them this is a pedestrian area. This has added 15 minutes to my walk each day from where the other station entrance was. They put little signs up. No one knew where to go.”
Janet Harmeyer, who also lives nearby, said she once saw school children endangered by construction activity near the subway entrance.
“About 3:30, a guy stopped all the traffic and a huge truck came out,” she said. “That’s the time the children come from school. That could be a major problem.”
Locals called for an increased police presence and improved lighting along the path to the subway entrance.
“If there is a police presence, I don’t see them,” said one area resident.
Another, Adela Poveda, called for security cameras along the pedestrian path many commuters must now use to enter the station.
“It’s very lonely especially if you come at 10 p.m. from work,” she said. “It’s scary especially with winter coming.”
Several area entrances to the E and F trains have been closed because of the project. The location of the new subway entrance, which opened on Aug. 17, borders the Van Wyck Expressway service road on one side and Maple Grove Cemetery on the other, leaving many commuters disgruntled.
“I just retired because of this,” said 78-year-old Barbara Greenberg, who has lived in the area for two decades.
“You have to walk through a narrow passageway — all the way around,” Greenberg said. “When it gets dark and it’s raining and snowing, it will be very hard to cross.”
“They should have left things alone,” she added. “It’s a waste of money. They’re going to build an elevator that is only going to go down to a certain level and for people in wheelchairs and with canes. This is going to be very dangerous.”
With no trash cans in sight, sanitation has become a problem.
“Our new neighbors are the mice,” said resident Frieda Cabreja.
Beth Brooks, communications director for BAN, said she met with representatives of the DOT and NYC Transit in October and expressed some concerns.
“We’re concerned that there hasn’t been the result we requested,” she said. “The traffic on the Van Wyck service road is very dangerous. There was a complete change in the traffic pattern. Cars were driving on the wrong side of the road.”
A representative for Assemblyman Michael Simanowitz (D-Flushing) acknowledged that navigating the area in a car or by foot could be confusing and disconcerting.
“There’s nothing we can do to stop the project. We want to minimize the inconveniences.”
Simanowitz did a walk through of the site on Tuesday with residents and DOT officials.
His spokesman said the assemblyman is making contacts on short-term solutions and assessing how to coordinate with various agencies on long-term relief measures.
“The agencies don’t seem to be communicating,” Vernon said.
The Van Wyck widening, to the south of the Kew Gardens Interchange, is the first stage of the effort to redesign the tangle of roads and ramps where the Grand Central Parkway, the Jackie Robinson Parkway, the Van Wyck Expressway and Union Turnpike converge.