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Queens Chronicle

The lights are still out in Forest Park

Dark conditions lead to concerns after two sex attacks this year

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Posted: Thursday, October 10, 2013 10:30 am

Last weekend, Ed Wendell, president of the Woodhaven Residents’ Block Association, and his wife went to Forest Park for one of their daily early morning walks.

But as the days grow shorter, their walks have featured less and less daylight. Now, when they get to the park before dawn, the sun has not yet risen.

Typically that wouldn’t be a problem, since the park is equipped with ample street lighting — unless they don’t work, which is the case in one part of the park.

Wendell filmed himself driving along Myrtle Avenue and Freedom Drive before dawn on Saturday and the resulting video looked more like a spooky rural road in Upstate New York than a major Queens thoroughfare.

The streetlights along Myrtle Avenue between Woodhaven Boulevard and Freedom Drive were out, as was every streetlight along Freedom Drive, which cuts a winding route through the deep, wooded park between Myrtle Avenue and Park Lane South.

To reinforce his point about the darkness, Wendell posted the video online over the audio to the trailer of the sci-fi movie ‘Gravity,” featuring Sandra Bullock and George Clooney stranded in space.

Wendell said while he was filming, he took note of signs that showed it was not a new issue.

“I saw someone jogging with a flashlight and I thought ‘this is not new, people are coming prepared for this,’” he said.

Lighting in Forest Park has been a concern for Wendell and other civic leaders all summer, especially after a woman was raped on Aug. 26 very close to where Wendell filmed — the second attack on a woman in the park this year. Along the same stretch of Myrtle Avenue where Wendell saw the lights out last Saturday, his car was broken into over the summer.

The problem was worse earlier in the summer and has been fixed somewhat after a sense of urgency in the wake of the August rape, even though the attack happened during the day. The lights are back on along Myrtle Avenue between Freedom Drive and Park Lane South, where they had been out for months. Issues with lighting west of Woodhaven Boulevard near the carousel and the Seuffert Bandshell have been fixed. Previously, they had been on during the day and off at night, which is the problem along Freedom Drive and the section of Myrtle Avenue to the west.

“I’ve reached out to 311, elected officials and the police,” Wendell said. “It seems to be a timing problem.”

He couldn’t tell if the street lights were on along Forest Park Drive, the road that transverses the park from east to west which is closed to traffic between Woodhaven Boulevard and Myrtle Avenue and used by bicyclists and pedestrians.

In 2008, a significant portion of the stretch between Metropolitan Avenue and Freedom Drive was dark at night for several months, leading to rampant drug use and sex in that area of the park. The lights were fixed by the end of the summer that year, both along Forest Park Drive and along some trails connecting Forest Park Drive to Park Lane South.

The city Department of Transportation did not respond to requests for comment.

Wendell was baffled at the city’s tepid response to the lighting problems, especially in the wake of the two attacks this year.

“You would think that since there has been these attacks, there would be a greater sense of urgency in fixing these problems,” he said. “Of all the things the city has to take care of, keeping the lights on should be the simplest thing.”

Wendell has noticed one big difference in the park since the August attack.

“I’ve seen less women jogging since the rape,” he said.

Welcome to the discussion.