For much of its length between Kew Gardens and JFK Airport, Lefferts Boulevard is your typical outerborough congested thoroughfare. Two lanes wide between its northern end at Kew Gardens Road and Rockaway Boulevard in South Ozone Park, traffic often backs up on it at rush hour and on weekends.
But south of Rockaway Boulevard, Lefferts is wider — four lanes in each direction — and less congested.
It is, however, dangerous.
According to city Department of Transportation records, the stretch of Lefferts Boulevard between Rockaway and North Conduit Avenue has seen 211 accidents since 2009, causing 135 injuries and five fatalities — two at the intersection of Lefferts and 135th Avenue and three at the corner of Lefferts and Rockaway boulevards.
Of the 211 accidents, 71 occurred at Lefferts and North Conduit Avenue, which is remarkably higher than average.
“The major intersections, most of them don’t have any more than 20 accidents,” Nichole Altmix, senior project manager for the DOT, said at the Oct. 4 Community Board 10 meeting, where the agency presented a plan for comment. “That’s pretty scary.”
The statistics, part of a study that began in 2009 for the stretch of Lefferts Boulevard in South Ozone Park have led the agency to look at changes to the configuration of the road.
The plan they presented last week would reduce the number of lanes from two in each direction to one between Rockaway Boulevard and 149th Avenue, allowing for a wider parking lane and dedicated left turn lanes. There will be a wider painted median and new crosswalks would be installed.
The lane reduction will also reduce speeds, Altmix said, noting that the road, which the DOT says is used by 495 vehicles per hour at peak times, is notorious for speeders.
“More than 70 percent of cars speed along this stretch,” she said, adding that the DOT has found that converting to a busy one-lane road reduces speeding.
“We believe one lane in each direction can handle the amount of traffic on Lefferts Boulevard,” Altmix said.
Nothing will be touched south of 149th Avenue, but northbound traffic will merge into one lane beginning about 100 feet from that intersection and the left lane will be turned into a turning-only lane to allow traffic to merge into the single lane before the intersection. Altmix said 100 feet of merging traffic will allow it to flow freely.
No changes will be made north of Rockaway Boulevard where Lefferts is one lane both ways for the rest of its length.
The DOT’s presentation was met with a blend of skepticism and frustration, mainly deriving from the agency’s reconfiguration of Rockaway Boulevard in Ozone Park and South Ozone Park last year. Coinciding with the opening of Resorts World New York City Casino, the DOT reduced the number of lanes on Rockaway Boulevard from two to one for a stretch eastbound in South Ozone Park and westbound in Ozone Park.
“What you did on Rockaway Boulevard is a mess,” said Margaret Finnerty, president of the Richmond Hill South Civic Association.
Queens DOT Commissioner Maura McCarthy defended the changes on Rockaway Boulevard.
McCarthy said the Rockaway Boulevard changes are proven to have worked because fatalities and accidents are down along the route.
CB 10 members expressed a number of concerns over the new plan for Lefferts Boulevard, including what would be done about double-parked cars and trucks. McCarthy said the wider parking lane is meant to accommodate double-parkers.
“We don’t want people to double-park, but we have to acknowledge reality,” she said.
Donna Gilmartin, CB 10 member and president of the Locust Grove Civic Association, suggested the change could cause trucks and other traffic to divert to 114th Street to avoid Lefferts Boulevard traffic, aggravating an already existing problem, a concern echoed by CB 10 member Frank Dardani, who said he has seen similar problems occur after DOT changes on Rockaway and Woodhaven boulevards.
“Every time DOT does traffic calming, it diverts traffic onto residential streets,” he said.
Dardani suggested building traffic islands on Lefferts Boulevard to keep vehicles from driving over the yellow lines in the center of the street, something the DOT did not promise, but agreed to look at.
“We like to be conservative,” Altmix said. “We don’t want to take everything away at the start.”
McCarthy also took a suggestion to add countdown clocks to Lefferts Boulevard, adding that the thoroughfare is one being considered for installation of the pedestrian safety devices.
The representatives from the DOT also entertained a suggestion to end the changes at 135th Avenue instead of 149th Avenue, which would keep Lefferts Boulevard as is for the one-block stretch that includes stores and restaurants including Foodtown and Don Peppe. A few members of the community board suggested the reduction to one lane would negatively affect the parking lot at Foodtown which exits onto Lefferts Boulevard.
The concerns over the plan led Peter Granickas, one of the more outspoken members of CB 10, to suggest the DOT take back a radical suggestion.
“I think you need to scrap all of this and start over with something new,” he said.