State Senator Tony Avella led the charge in opposition to the Department of Transportation’s plan to close the entrance to Roosevelt Avenue off of Northern Boulevard and turn it into a plaza.
The street runs along Leonard Square, which honors those who lost their lives on September 11 while also serving as a memorial for Flushing native Corporal William A. Leonard, who was killed during World War I.
The Korean American Association of Queens hosted the first public workshop on the plaza and street closure on April 16. On April 18, the group held a one-day plaza event, when the street was closed temporarily, which over 150 people attended, according to a DOT spokesperson. Another one-day plaza event was held last Friday.
The DOT representative said the proposal, which does not call for any changes to the park at Leonard Square, will feature an interim design with temporary materials such as epoxy gravel, benches and moveable furniture.
But residents are unimpressed. With the street closure, drivers will line up on Northern Boulevard, where they will wait to make a left turn, then make a right turn to get onto Roosevelt Avenue.
Many said this new traffic pattern made no sense when they have a direct access to Roosevelt Avenue currently. Avella argued that about three cars can fit into the left turn lane on Northern Boulevard, adding to the congestion in the area.
Last Friday, Avella said he spoke with Nicole Garcia, borough commissioner for DOT, who said the proposal had been discussed with civic groups in the area. However, many civic members on Monday refuted that.
"We’ve only been told through hearsay and the newspaper that this is going to happen,” said Terri Pouymari, president of the Auburndale Improvement Association.
Janet McCreesh, a community leader and 20-year resident, contacted DOT in January about her concerns after hearing rumors within the community. After following up in May, agency representatives still failed to notify her about information on plans for workshops and the street closure.
Instead of the proposed street closure and pedestrian plaza, the community prefers the DOT work on current traffic conditions in the area. The location is especially dangerous for drivers exiting from the nearby shopping mall’s parking lot, and Pouymari suggested new signs to help with traffic flow.
Residents also argued that finding parking will be especially difficult once the 15 to 20 spots are removed. And Joe Brostek of the Broadway Flushing Homeowner’s Association added that library access will diminish significantly because cars won't be able to pick up or drop off passengers.
Many did not understand the justification for the street closure by making parallels to the success of similar pedestrian plazas in Manhattan. While there is a high level of pedestrian traffic in Manhattan, which makes the plazas useful, there is hardly any foot traffic at this particularly busy Flushing intersection, they argued.
"Let me make it very clear to DOT and anybody who supports this project, Queens is not Manhattan nor do we want to make it Manhattan,” Avella said. “I want to know who funded this supposed study, I want to know who the DOT actually reached out to, and I want to know which elected officials have indicated their support without reaching out to the community.”
Urban planner and Flushing resident Paul Graziano argued that while the neighborhood does have some spots that could benefit from a pedestrian plaza, just as some side streets are used in the city’s Play Streets children’s program, this particular street isn’t one of them.
“Losing this artery is outrageous,” Graziano said. “This is not a bucolic side street.”