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Queens Chronicle

Community shares street vision for city

City officials hear ideas and concerns from residents on Vision Zero project

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Posted: Thursday, May 1, 2014 10:30 am | Updated: 11:39 am, Thu May 8, 2014.

The Vision Zero initiative remains somewhat vague despite it being announced some months ago.

The idea of eliminating pedestrian deaths in the city — as Vision Zero intends to do — is something almost everyone can get behind but the means of accomplishing that goal are still under debate.

The City Council hosted a Vision Zero town hall on April 24 at LaGuardia Community College so electeds, city agencies and the Police Department could listen to the ideas and concerns of the public and vice versa.

“My office has been working on this issue since day one,” Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), whose district the meeting was held in, said. “We committed to Vision Zero long before it became as popular as it is today.”

A bevy of Council members were in attendance and each Queens representatives made sure to lay out problem areas in their districts — from congestion on Northern Boulevard in the west and Main Street in the north to the lack of slow zones in the southeast. Each of them shared stories of tragedy that resulted in the deaths of young children, parents or teenagers.

“What do you say to the mother?” Councilman Donovan Richards (D-Laurelton) said. “What can you say to a mother whose child has blood running down his face because he got mowed down by a car? There’s nothing you can really say but one thing we can do is make sure it never happens again.”

Understandably many of the anecdotes used by the Council members led to a wave of sorrow hitting the audience all at once. No one wants a child to get run over on the way to school.

But while residents and city leaders can agree that a single pedestrian death is one too many, there seemed to be a clear disagreement on the best answer.

Many testimonies were directed specifically toward Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who is new to the position.

Those testifying came from all walks of life: Taxi drivers, professors, parents and activists had stories to share.

One testimony was particularly relevant as it involved the street on which LaGuardia Community College sits, Thomson Avenue.

The school hired Philip Habib & Associates to conduct a comprehensive traffic study. It was released the same day as the meeting.

“We have more than 50,000 students and five high schools with more than 2,000 students who cross Thomson and Van Dam every day, making it a high traffic and pedestrian corridor,” LGCC President Gail Mellow said. “LaGuardia urges the city to rapidly make the necessary improvements for both pedestrian and vehicular safety by making modifications on Thomson Avenue between Skillman Avenue and Van Dam Street.”

Comments such as Mellow’s were met with applause and words of praise while others, including one Astoria man’s statement, were responded to with jeers and hisses.

“We need to also look at these people who are jaywalking and not looking up as they cross,” he said. “They aren’t paying attention.

“Even if the driver is doing the right thing, an accident can happen if a pedestrian comes out from between two parked cars and from what I’m hearing, for a lot of these accidents, the pedestrian was jaywalking.”

People began shouting at the man, dismissing his statement, “The pedestrian has the right of way, always,” someone yelled.

As more and more people stood up to share their grievances and beg the city to implement traffic-calming measures in their neighborhoods, more and more questions on enforcement bubbled to the surface.

“Why can’t pedicabs be allowed to ride in the bike lane?”

“Why does the DOT refuse to recognize cabs that don’t have a medallion?”

“When will we receive more bike lanes?”

There were also requests to improve snow cleanup near the college.

These were all questions that community members wanted answered because each is important to a specific neighborhood.

There were also requests to improve snow cleanup near the college.

Some of the requests addressed exactly what the city is looking for — busy corridors that are often the site of fatal car accidents — while others strayed from the point a bit.

At the conclusion of the meeting, little if anything had been resolved. The officials were invited to respond to the testimonies delivered, but most of the responses from city officials were promises that they would look into the various concerns.

Despite confusion, a wide spectrum of requests and warranted emotions — several speakers lost their family members to cars that were too fast or swerved onto the sidewalk — there was a single thought that almost every speaker began their testimony with.

“I am so happy with the city’s Vision Zero plan.”

Trottenberg and the co-sponsor of the Vision Zero legislation, Councilwoman Vanessa Gibbs (D-Bronx), suggested that for some residents, their prayers would be answered soon as the mayor was in the processes of arranging a press conference to make an announcement regarding the traffic program.

City officials hope once the plan finds its legs, 50 corridors around the city will be chosen for study and implementation of traffic-calming measures every year.

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