Traffic calming OK’d along Astoria Blvd. 1

Plans for Astoria Boulevard from 79th Street to Ditmars Boulevard include marking off the parking lanes on either side of the thoroughfare.

A number of safety-promoting changes to Astoria Boulevard have been given the green light, as the city furthers efforts to make the road a “neighborhood boulevard.”

Community Board 3 unanimously approved last week a Department of Transportation project that calls for a series of changes spanning a nearly two-mile stretch of the corridor in East Elmhurst, from 77th Street to Ditmars Boulevard.

One of the main changes will be the removal of evening rush-hour parking restrictions on the south side of Astoria Boulevard, beginning at 79th Street. The project would also add a parking lane stripe on both sides of the road.

The parking lane has the effect of visually narrowing the road for drivers, said DOT Project Manager Casey Gorrell, causing them to slow down. And removal of rush-hour restrictions would affect about 150 parking spaces, allowing drivers to park there at all times.

“That’s a big gain for the community, being able to park along the south side of Astoria Boulevard in the p.m. rush hour,” Gorrell told the community board at its monthly meeting Feb. 18.

The project is part of the DOT’s efforts to calm traffic along the busy corridor and make Astoria Boulevard safer for pedestrians to cross. Last spring, the DOT unveiled changes to a six-block span, from 99th to 105th streets.

The newly approved project expands on that and includes feedback from community members who attended a December workshop hosted by City Councilman Costa Constantinides (D-Astoria) and Assemblyman Michael Den Dekker (D-East Elmhurst).

According to stats provided by the elected officials, there have been nearly 200 injuries, including three fatalities, since 2010 along the stretch of road between 77th and 92nd streets. A recent study also found that nearly 60 percent of vehicles speed through the area, which sees roughly 2,000 cars pass through during rush hour.

Drivers and residents have also complained of missing crosswalks at some intersections, excess slip lanes and confusing lane designations and turn lanes. Astoria Boulevard has been designated as a priority area in the city’s “Vision Zero” initiative to eliminate roadway deaths.

In addition to the corridor-wide changes, the DOT’s plan includes specific improvements to the areas between 77th and 79th streets, where vehicles exiting the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and the Grand Central Parkway merge with Astoria Boulevard.

Drivers would no longer be allowed to park between those two blocks, which would clear all four lanes for traffic and eliminate the possibility that merging vehicles run into a parked car. Among other things, the project would also force all 79th Street traffic to turn right onto Astoria Boulevard, rather than allow it to drive straight across the boulevard.

On the opposite end of the corridor, from 105th to Ditmars Boulevard, the DOT plans to upgrade all crosswalks to make them more visible. It would also extend certain medians and add a left turn bay at 108th Street.

“This plan will greatly improve traffic safety along the Astoria Boulevard corridor,” Constantinides said. “Adding parking will shorten crossing distance for pedestrians. The redesign at 77th-79th Street will provide a dedicated turn lane and simplify the traffic patterns. I fully support this plan that will benefit our entire community.”

Community Board 3’s approval of the project came with the caveat that the DOT discuss with education officials traffic and pedestrian safety concerns associated with a proposed middle school on Astoria Boulevard, just beyond Ditmars Boulevard. Some have worried about children crossing neighboring roads to get to the school.

DOT representatives at the meeting vowed to work with the School Construction Authority to implement safety changes, should plans go forward to build the school at that site.

For now, “we’re just trying to make an improvement here for the existing problem that we have,” said Heidi Wolf, a senior project manager at the DOT.

In other business, the community board on Feb. 18 approved a speed hump request on 84th Street, between 30th and 31st avenues. A second speed hump was approved for 76th Street, between 32nd Avenue and Northern Boulevard.

In addition, the board approved a beer and wine license for Veyta’s Bakery Cafe II on Roosevelt Avenue in Jackson Heights, as well as a liquor license for Chao Hong, a Chinese restaurant on Roosevelt Avenue.

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