Just a few minutes observing the new traffic pattern on 156th Avenue reveals a variety of creative — and illegal — ways that people are evading the new diverters installed last Thursday to prevent cutting across the double-yellow, cross-hatched markings to go to or from the Stop & Shop parking lot.
Some drivers coming from Old Howard Beach looking to visit the store or bank are going down the wrong way of the road on the opposite side of the barriers to cut into the parking lot or making a dangerous U-turn at the western end of the dividers to loop around and enter the lot.
Drivers exiting the lot to head to Cross Bay Boulevard are sometimes also going against oncoming traffic, which is coming around an already blind and dangerous curve, to make it to the intersection, or they make a tight and risky U-turn on 156th Avenue to turn around.
The latter drivers are up against the westbound traffic headed toward Cross Bay, and those coming out of Killarney Street, who, neighbors griped, roll through that stop sign anyway.
“All you heard all day was horns and brakes,” one resident who has a front row seat to the chaos told the Chronicle last Friday. She has lived there for 60 years but wanted to withhold her name for privacy.
“People are confused,” she said.
Complaints and suggestions flooded Facebook pages like Howard Beach Dads as residents became privy to the new setup.
Department of Transportation employees last Friday extended the delineators eastward but that only prolonged an eventual U-turn, instead of having drivers do them right opposite Killarney.
The resident said the U-turn situation was worse before the additional dividers were added because those drivers would come head-to-head with those coming off Killarney.
The block has always been dangerous and congested, she said, but the current situation is “definitely worse.”
The painted “median” was formerly a dangerous spot, in part due to the blind curve that sends 156th in a southeast direction just before Killarney Street and the illegal turns that would ensue there.
“This was clearly not the answer,” said Lisa Uribe, observing the situation alongside a neighbor while walking her dog.
Uribe lives on Killarney, a road she said commercial vehicles often speed down, and said she has witnessed delivery tractor trailers also making a U-turn on 156th Avenue or having to congest the narrow 96th Street in order to loop around and come out on Cross Bay from 157th Avenue.
“You’re now sending commercial traffic into residential areas,” she said.
The move came after a visit from DOT officials including Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez on July 26. While touring the area with Councilwoman Joann Ariola (R-Ozone Park) to observe issues including medians on Cross Bay, which have sent cars flipping on their sides, residents approached the commissioner about 156th Avenue specifically.
Two days later, the diverters, which DOT spokesperson Tomas Garita called “kwik curbs” in a statement, were being installed.
Garita confirmed that they came after “hearing safety concerns from stakeholders about the illegal left turns.”
Ariola said she got on the phone with the DOT immediately to say a modification was needed. It quickly become a “nightmare,” she said, and she got the 106th Precinct help direct traffic.
“As it stands right now, the delineators are causing a very dangerous situation when it was meant to take away a dangerous situation,” Ariola said.
A meeting among different stakeholders, including Ariola’s office, Stop & Shop, its landlords, the NYPD, the DOT and Community Board 10, is in the works.
“We will continue to monitor the location and work with the Council Member, the privately owned lot, and others in the community as we explore additional street safety treatments and markings,” said Garita.
Ariola feels that the “perfect modification” would be crosswalks for people like patients at the doctors’ offices to cross safely, and also a traffic light.
She proposed having Stop & Shop move its 156th Avenue entrance to be directly opposite Killarney for the pedestrian crosswalk and for a light to allow legal turns.
Ariola said the DOT agreed that there is enough traffic there to warrant a signal.
She said she will also be speaking with the Catholic Charities Peter J. Striano Senior Residence because trucks from the center line the streets and further obstruct visibility. Cars must inch out to see past the vehicles even to make a legal turn out of the supermarket’s parking lot.