Bridge Over Troubled Intersection
by Jeffrey Harmatz
Mar 11, 2009 | 1280 views | 0 0 comments | 37 37 recommendations | email to a friend | print
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In two months, commuters will be able to walk easier along Jackson Avenue in Long Island City.

The long-requested reconstruction of the intersection of Jackson Avenue, 11th Street and 48th Avenue at the end of the Pulaski Bridge is scheduled to begin this month, and while the addition of new crosswalks, and mid-street islands is expected to make the intersection safer for pedestrians, the removal of parking spaces in the surrounding neighborhood and the plan’s failure to account for bicyclists raised the community’s collective eyebrow.

The intersection, which connects three separate roadways in addition to the bridge, is also home to the 21st Street/Ely G station and stops for the B61 bus, making it one of the neighborhoods biggest transportation hubs.

Members of Community Board 2 and the Department of Transportation (DOT) have long been concerned about the lack of a crosswalk along the base of the bridge and the high speeds at which automobiles exiting the bridge cross the intersection.

The plan, as explained by DOT Borough Commissioner Maura McCarthy at a recent meeting of CB2, will dramatically change the shape of the intersection by installing large pedestrian islands and streamlining the crosswalks while adding another along the base of the bridge, as well as redirect right-turning cars onto 11th St.

“When people cross this intersection, they are taking their lives in their hands,” said McCarthy.

In addition to the creation of new crosswalks and mid-street, pedestrian islands, the improvements will end the ability of drivers to make right turns onto Jackson Avenue, instead moving them through a protected right turn lane down 11th Street. Traffic would further be eased by turning 49th Avenue into an eastbound one-way street, eliminating conflicts between right-turning cars exiting the bridge and westbound traffic on the street.

The plan was met with general approval, although a number or residents and community board members took issue with certain portions of the plan. CB2 member Al Volpe questioned the need for a major overhaul to the intersection, pointing out that there have been relatively few accidents there in the last six years.

“The neighborhood is changing, and there are a lot more stores and residential buildings,” said McCarthy. “We want to make it as safe as possible.”

CB2 Chairman Joe Conley agreed with the necessity of the improvements, saying, “This intersection has always been problematic. The DOT came down, recognized the problem, and got to it quickly.”

Other community board members questioned the removal of seven parking spaces from the Jackson Ave. McCarthy explained that five additional spaces would be created on 49th Avenue, resulting in a loss of only two parking spaces in the area, but many residents said that the loss of any parking spaces was unacceptable.

An especially vocal contingent of speakers expressed their concern about how the changes would impact cycling over and around the Pulaski Bridge. Although there is no dedicated bike lane in the new Jackson Avenue/11th Street bridge entrance, McCarthy said that the plans could be easily modified to incorporate a requested expansion to the bridge’s bike lane.

“The bike lane issue is not addressed in these improvements,” said McCarthy, who suggested that the plans were designed with the potential for a future bike lane in mind.

Several people, many having commuted over the Pulaski Bridge from Williamsburg and Greenpoint, came to the meeting to plead for better bike lanes on the bridge.

Conley agreed that the bridge could use better bike lanes, and that access to the bridge by cyclists could be improved, but did not want to derail the existing plan.

“We don’t want to stop this proposal from being constructed over the next two months,” he said. “We are asking for growth into bicycle lanes in the future. We want there to be a long term outlook for the bridge.”

The board recommended the DOT’s proposal, which, pending further approvals, would get underway in late March or early April.

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