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CB 6 transportation committee approves resolution requesting DOT to increase pedestrian space on Austin Street in Forest Hills

Feb. 28, 2023 By Carlotta Mohamed

The Community Board 6 Transportation Committee on Thursday, Feb. 23, unanimously voted in favor of a resolution calling on the city Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a safety study to increase pedestrian-friendly space and quality of life along Austin Street in Forest Hills

In September 2022, Pedro Rodriguez, a volunteer with Neighbors for a Safer Austin Street and CB 6 member, launched an online petition to make Austin Street car-free. The petition requests DOT, Councilwoman Lynn Schulman, Queens Deputy Borough Commissioner Albert Silvestri and Queens Borough DOT Commissioner Nicole Garcia. 

As of Monday, Feb. 27, the online petition has garnered 391 signatures with a set goal of 500. Rodriguez’s handwritten petition has received 277 supporters. 

“This is a big milestone in our campaign! It does not mean we are done. Now that the committee has voted as such, we need to ensure DOT actually does the study. Our campaign will continue until we finally have real pedestrian safety on Austin Street!” Rodriguez wrote in an update on the petition site. 

Residents in the community are requesting the DOT to widen sidewalks, reduce pedestrian hazards by eliminating car congestion and honking, creating outdoor seating areas, allowing more businesses to have outdoor seating, creating safe crossings for pedestrians and studying the possibility of fully pedestrianizing segments of the street. 

Austin Street has been a congested commercial corridor with high pedestrian traffic, yet little in terms of pedestrian spaces, making the area dangerous and unpleasant, Rodriguez said.  

“Between [January] 2018 and [November] 2022, there have been 71 crashes, with 83 injured, 50 being pedestrians or cyclists, on Austin Street between Yellowstone [Boulevard] and Ascan [Avenue],” Rodriguez said in the petition. “The sidewalks are too small for the number of people on them, causing conflicts between pedestrians. This significantly harms the elderly, people in wheelchairs, parents with strollers and others who require more space to move around.”

Rodriguez also stated that the car congestion causes difficulties in making deliveries to businesses, leading to double parking and blocked bus stops and sidewalks.

“The congestion also leads to impatient drivers who end up making dangerous maneuvers as they try to escape from the gridlock,” Rodriguez said.

During the virtual meeting, discussions were made on the possibility of pedestrianizing segments of Austin Street between Yellowstone Boulevard and Ascan Avenue and the effects of a one-way street conversion of the commercial strip. 

Board members raised questions regarding parking issues in the area as they have already lost one garage and the possibility of removing street parking that would be detrimental to the survival of businesses along Austin Street. According to a board member, a suggestion to widen the sidewalk that would result in narrow streets and make deliveries to businesses and residents more difficult. 

For the past six months, Rodriguez has conducted outreach with businesses along the corridor, who all agree that there is a problem and that it needs to be fixed. 

CB 6 Chair Heather Dimitriadis said the board received letters of support from residents who have lived in the community for over 10 to 20 years.

“Of the nine letters we received, five of those are people who have lived in the community for 10 years or more. We’ve had two letters from people who have lived here for 30 years,” Dimitriadis said. “I know sometimes in these discussions, it comes up that it must be new young couples and new young people moving into this community. In this small sample, there are folks who are very familiar with the community and this has been their home.” 

Following the committee’s vote to support the resolution, Dimitriadis noted the importance of the DOT conducting a study to gather the data needed for the proposal. 

“It would illuminate what we need to understand. I’m all for getting the facts and then we can move from there,” Dimitriadis said. 

While the DOT conducted a 2018 study specifically focused on parking management and deliveries in the area, Peter Beadle, co-chair of the CB 6 Transportation Committee, said the study highlighted other issues that weren’t addressed.

“Austin Street provides a unique place for us to provide an experience for people to do shopping, something that is in decline due to the pandemic and online shopping,” Beadle said. “This is an opportunity to create a small town feel and bring people to our local businesses by creating a safe, quiet, clean place that they can’t do anywhere else. People are saying that we’re trying to take away our cars and shut down our streets — that’s not what this is about. We’re talking about a relatively discrete area. That’s why we need data to understand which of these solutions will be the best.”

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