According to Eric Beaton, senior director for transit development at the Department of Transportation (DOT), there have been 22 deaths and 3,000 injuries on Woodhaven and Crossbay boulevards in just the past five years.
“Woodhaven has been an incredibly dangerous street,” he said. “As an agency and as a city, we're sort of saying that's just not something we can accept anymore.”
Beaton said that even for drivers, Woodhaven Boulevard does not work well.
“You can drive very fast then hit a bottleneck and hit bad congestion,” he said. “Then you have these services roads that appear and disappear. It's not an easy street to drive.”
Beaton added that the corridor is also a vital mass transit connection heading north-south in an area where the subways run east and west. He explained that SBS isn't about making the commute faster.
“Instead you'll have a much smoother trip and a much calmer trip, with the total travel time being about the same,” he said.
DOT is hoping to start initial work of the project this year, with a new bus-only lane and improved bus shelters on the median between the main and service roads competed in 2017.
At last week's town hall, a large map of the roadway was laid across a wall with post-it notes for residents to point out specific areas and items they think should be addressed.
Lew Simon said one thing that really annoyed him was a proposal to ban left turns from Woodhaven Boulevard at the intersection of Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue, which he thinks will be awful for drivers and businesses in the area.
DOT has agreed to allow left turns at Jamaica Avenue in Woodhaven after similar concerns were raised.
“They socked it to Ozone Park,” he said. “No one in Ozone Park knew this was going to happen.”
Simon said he's planning a rally outside the P.C. Richard & Son at the intersection of Woodhaven and Rockaway boulevards and Liberty Avenue to draw attention to the businesses that will be affected.
Rosemary Ciulla-Frisone, Community Board 10 Transportation Committee chair, wondered if DOT was listening to community concerns.
“We've been having these meetings for so long,” she said, “and they're always just doing whatever they want to do.”
Woodhaven resident Jose Vazquez said that eliminating turns off Woodhaven Boulevard will drive vehicles to the surrounding streets.
“All of the pictures look beautiful, but there are no diagrams or pictures of the adjoining streets next to Woodhaven Boulevard,” he said. “Because that's where all of the traffic is going to go with all of these turns that they're eliminating.”
Woodhaven resident Peggy Finnegan passed around photos of snow piled up on the median five days after a winter snowstorm. She said if the Department of Sanitation is going to neglect the medians, commuters will have to stand in the road while waiting for a bus.
Not all of the residents in attendance were against the proposal. Toby Sheppard Bloch, who lives just off Woodhaven Boulevard and is a member of the activist group Rider's Alliance, explained that 43 percent of the households that live within a 15-minute walk of the corridor do not own cars.
He thinks the sentiment that the plan is overwhelmingly anti-driver is misguided. Bloch said that if 36 percent of the people that travel on Woodhaven Boulevard are using buses and DOT is proposing to allocate 25 percent of the roadway to buses, it seems like an equitable and reasonable solution.
“For a lot of people, they don't have the choice to drive,” he said. “I think that the premise that everybody who lives in Woodhaven is in a car is just wrong from the get-go.”