Dozens of people turned out at the Department of Transportation’s workshop for a controversial pedestrian plaza on Tuesday night.
The proposed project, which could shut down traffic on the busy intersection of Newtown and 30th avenues in Astoria, would provide seating, tables, umbrellas, greenery, bike racks and public art to the space.
If approved, the project has a completion date of Spring 2013 and a projected cost of about $400,000. According to the DOT, the proposed closure would remove seven parking spaces. The Central Astoria Local Development Coalition, an advocacy group for the neighborhood, supports the project.
However, those opposed to the proposal made themselves known at the public workshop, voicing their concerns with a number of loud outbursts throughout the DOT’s presentation.
Councilmember Peter Vallone Jr. (D-Astoria) spoke for area merchants who do not want the project as presented.
Many owners are concerned that closing the intersection will hurt their businesses, while making traffic in the area worse. Vallone and the merchants are trying to compromise by supporting the construction of a small landscaped plaza that would not close traffic entirely.
“The people in this room do not want that street closed,” Vallone said to loud applause from supporters.
“That’s not true. Don’t speak for me,” said Tamara Reynolds to the testy crowd.
Reynolds, a local chef and television personality living in Astoria for 13 years, wants to see the project move forward, like many others in attendance.
“It’s my fault. I never knocked down his door, he can’t be psychic and I shouldn’t expect that,” Reynolds added, “but for [Vallone] to come into a meeting, and have 10 people who won’t shut up and assume that’s the opinion of everyone here, is a little hard.”
Vaidila Kungy, NYC Plaza program director at DOT, said the organization received a letter from Community Board 1 in 2001 asking for the street’s closure.
“The intersection has a very long history,” Kungy said.
In 2006, the DOT started studying schools adjacent to streets with lots of accidents. PS 17, located a quarter of a mile from the proposed plaza, was one of 135 city schools studied that reported numerous accidents in nearby intersections, including the proposal site, according to DOT traffic accident data.
This survey looked at travel speeds, vehicle accidents and street crossings durations. The DOT additionally conducted interviews with the school’s teachers and its principal.
“They knew this was some place that needs some improvements. There’s only 11 percent of streets in this borough that have more crashes,” Kungy added.
The NYC Plaza Program is a primary part of the city’s effort to ensure that all New Yorkers are within a 10-minute walking distance to a public space.
The next steps after gathering residents’ opinions from this workshop is for the DOT to present its findings to the CB 1 Transportation Committee, and give a proposal to the full board tentatively to June 19.