Traditionally, Queens Boulevard is known as the Boulevard of Death, but of late the Department of Transportation (DOT) has its eye on Woodhaven Boulevard, the site of an ongoing, comprehensive traffic study.
The study, started in January of 2008, will be completed sometime in the spring of 2010. Its goal is to identify ways of improving traffic flow and pedestrian safety on a 3.2-mile stretch of Woodhaven Boulevard, from Liberty Avenue to Queens Boulevard.
At an August 25th Project Advisory Committee (PAC) meeting, DOT officials briefed community leaders on the study’s latest findings.
The meeting was closed to the press, but sources in attendance provided this paper with documents from DOT’s presentation.
The DOT is studying 16 major intersections in Community Boards 4, 5, 6, 9, and 10.
They include, from south to north, Rockaway Boulevard, Jamaica Avenue, Myrtle Avenue, Union Turnpike, Metropolitan Avenue, and Eliot Avenue, among others.
The study found that southbound traffic volume on Woodhaven Boulevard “increases significantly” at the Long Island Expressway interchange.
After the LIE, traffic volume remains approximately constant, with small spikes immediately preceding Metropolitan Avenue, Union Turnpike, and Rockaway Boulevard.
Traffic in the p.m., or after noon, increases as well.
The study discovered that the volume of northbound traffic “decreases significantly” at the LIE interchange, and remains constant thereafter. Northbound traffic is highest in the a.m., or before noon.
Travel times for northbound cars along the 3.2-mile stretch averaged 10.2 minutes before noon and 12.8 minutes afterwards. On Saturdays, the number dropped to 9.2.
Speeds ranged between 12.9 miles-per-hour and 22.8, depending on the time and day.
Southbound cars averaged 12.4 minutes per trip in the a.m., and 14.0 in the p.m. That number dropped to 10.5 on Saturdays.
Speeds going south ranged from 15.4 miles-per-hour to just over 20.
While the average time it takes cars to travel that distance along Woodhaven Boulevard is low, considering drivers pass through several crowded neighborhoods - from Ozone Park to Elmhurst - the study identified several contributing factors that point towards more congestion, slower commutes and more accidents in the future.
Out of the 16 roadways feeding onto Woodhaven Boulevard under review, DOT found that nine are currently congested as they approach Woodhaven.
If no traffic improvements are made, DOT predicted that number would rise to 12 in the future. The department did not say when this would happen.
Additionally, and perhaps most alarmingly, DOT cited data showing that the number of reportable accidents increased steadily from 2004 to 2006, the last year for which there are statistics.
In 2004, there were 136 accidents. By 2006, that number had risen to 197. The accidents resulting in the most severe injuries occurred consistently at Jamaica Avenue, Union Turnpike, Metropolitan Avenue, and Queens Boulevard.
Not coincidentally, the Queens Boulevard intersection was found to have the highest pedestrian volume.
The study identified a wide range of existing conditions contributing to the rising accidents and traffic congestion.
These included “failing conditions,” “closely-spaced intersections” and poor signage; a recurring bottleneck at the Long Island Rail Road overpass; the use of Woodhaven Boulevard by truckers as an alternative truck route; the use, also, of the thoroughfare by individual drivers as an alternative rout for the Van Wyck Expressway; and finally, among many others, a “lack of pedestrian amenities,” and “vehicle-pedestrian conflicts.”
Vincent Arcuri, chairman of Community Board 5 and a member of the PAC, said addressing traffic and pedestrian concerns at the same time is the principle challenge DOT will face in coming up with a comprehensive solution.
“They’re going to have to choose,” Arcuri said, “or maybe compromise between pedestrian traffic and vehicular traffic.”
Arcuri said slowing traffic along Woodhaven Boulevard to accommodate pedestrians would likely force drivers to take alternate side streets, increasing congestion in residential neighborhoods.
On the other hand, Arcuri said, improving traffic flow to break up congestion might increase the likelihood of more pedestrian accidents.
In an email statement, a DOT spokesman said the city is considering a variety of improvements. These include high-visibility crosswalks, refuge island, signal-timing modification, and turn restrictions, among others.
The spokesman, Scott Gastel, said one possible long-term solution would be a Bus Rapid Transit system.
The study is scheduled to be completed in 2010. Before then, two more public meetings and two PAC meetings will be held. After the study is finished, a community board meeting will be held to discuss future options for the boulevard.