In Jamaica, Vision Zero concerns go unaddressed

As mayor celebrates lower speed limit, Jamaica residents dodge 18-wheel tractor trailers on narrow streets

By LOUIS FLORES

A commercial truck driver drove a cement truck through 170th Street in Jamaica, Queens, turning west onto Hillside Avenue. Source :  Louis Flores 

A commercial truck driver drove a cement truck through 170th Street in Jamaica, Queens, turning west onto Hillside Avenue. Source :  Louis Flores 

When Mayor Bill de Blasio (D-NY) signed a new law lowering the speed limit this week, he said that improvements in pedestrian and traffic safety would still depend “on every New Yorker taking personal responsibility and putting the lives of their neighbors first.” Some community activists have been doing just that, but they’ve found themselves stuck in a beaucratic traffic jam.

Jamaica community activist Joe Moretti has contacted police, transportation, and elected officials about concerns about pedestrian and traffic safety in his neighborhood.  Mr. Moretti documented his efforts on a post on his blog, Clean Up Jamaica Queens Now.

A dump truck was driven on 170th Street during Progress Queens' inspection tour of commercial traffic in Jamaica, Queens.  Source :  Louis Flores

A dump truck was driven on 170th Street during Progress Queens' inspection tour of commercial traffic in Jamaica, Queens.  Source :  Louis Flores

“I have reported on the tractor trailer trucks and other large trucks that travel on residential streets, which by law they are not permitted on,” Mr. Moretti wrote on his blog, adding, “But here in Jamaica, instead of traveling on designated truck routes, many are taking short cuts by traveling on residential streets such as 170th and 175th.”

When contacted by Progress Queens, Mr. Moretti expressed concerns about pedestrian safety, noting that school buses pick up children on narrow residential streets.  Senor citizen centers with large numbers of elderly are also located in his neighborhood of Jamaica, Queens.  Mr. Moretti said he worried about the safety of slow walkers, who must cross the streets with large and heavy commercial trucks barreling through his neighborhood. 

The only way an 18-wheel tractor trailer was able to make a wide turn from Liberty Avenue onto 170th Street was by jumping its rear wheels onto the sidewalk, coming within a few feet of a reporter, who was almost too startled to be able to take this photograph in time.  Source :  Louis Flores

The only way an 18-wheel tractor trailer was able to make a wide turn from Liberty Avenue onto 170th Street was by jumping its rear wheels onto the sidewalk, coming within a few feet of a reporter, who was almost too startled to be able to take this photograph in time.  Source :  Louis Flores

Mr. Moretti further noted the nuisance of noise pollution caused by large and heavy trucks charging along residential streets.  If truck drivers aren’t rocketing down 170th Street, setting off car alarms in their wake, then they may find themselves coming to a complete stop if somebody is temporarily double-parked, triggering an instantaneous cacophony of loud commercial truck horns.

In Mr. Moretti’s discussions with police officials about possible solutions, Mr. Moretti said that some officials had acknowledged to him that commercial trucks were using the narrow, residential streets between Liberty Avenue to the south and Hillside Avenue to the north as shortcuts. 

Progress Queens made an inspection tour by foot along 170th Street from Hillside Avenue to Liberty Avenue and back and observed startling conditions that may be incongruent with Mayor de Blasio’s efforts to improve pedestrian and traffic safety.

The tire marks left by commercial truck drivers, who are only able to make wide right turns from Douglas Avenue onto 170th Street by jumping the wheels of their large and heavy commercial trucks onto the sidewalks of the narrow streets in Jamaica.  Pictured here, the sidewalk at the northeast corner of Douglas Avenue and 170th Street.  Source :  Louis Flores

The tire marks left by commercial truck drivers, who are only able to make wide right turns from Douglas Avenue onto 170th Street by jumping the wheels of their large and heavy commercial trucks onto the sidewalks of the narrow streets in Jamaica.  Pictured here, the sidewalk at the northeast corner of Douglas Avenue and 170th Street.  Source :  Louis Flores

Two young girls walking along 170th Street crossed 89th Avenue.  Community residents are worried about the non-stop use by large and heavy commercial trucks of 170th Street as a short cut.  A few blocks from the intersection pictured here is another intersection that tied for second place as one of the most dangerous traffic intersections in Queens for the year 2010.  Source :  Louis Flores

Two young girls walking along 170th Street crossed 89th Avenue.  Community residents are worried about the non-stop use by large and heavy commercial trucks of 170th Street as a short cut.  A few blocks from the intersection pictured here is another intersection that tied for second place as one of the most dangerous traffic intersections in Queens for the year 2010.  Source :  Louis Flores

Mayor de Blasio has launched a crusade to improve roadway safety across New York City in an attempt to drive the number of traffic deaths down to zero in an initiative appropriately named, Vision Zero.  Earlier this week, Mayor de Blasio signed into law a new measure that would lower the default speed limit across New York City to 25 miles per hour.  The new lower speed limit, which takes effect next month, applies to all neighborhoods where no speed limit is otherwise posted.  Based on observations made by Progress Queens, the new, lower speed limit would apply to 170th Street, but it is not clear what good the lower speed limit would accomplish with the volume of large and heavy commercial trucks running through residential streets.

Amongst the observations, made by Progress Queens of pedestrian and traffic conditions along 170th Street, included :

  • The non-stop use of 170th Street by large and heavy commercial trucks, such as cement trucks, armoured trucks, half-sized dump trucks, full-sized dump trucks, 18-wheelers, flat bed tow trucks, MTA buses, Access-A-Ride vehicles, and multiple school buses ;
  • A large 18-wheel tractor truck was only able to make a wide right turn from Liberty Avenue onto 170th Street by jumping its rear wheels onto the sidewalk, the body of the trailer coming within a few feet of a reporter ;
  • Evidence of double-tire tracks on the sidewalks along 170th Street at each of the northeast corner intersections of Liberty Avenue and Douglas Avenue, evidence that wide right turns were only possible if large commercial trucks jumped their rear wheels onto sidewalks ;
  • Many children walking along the sidewalks of their neighborhood, sometimes crossing the street with no adult companion or supervisor, making them vulnerable to commercial vehicular accidents ;
  • MTA buses for several routes traveling through 170th Street, including some that made wide right turns from 170th Street onto 90th Avenue, including buses for the Q54 and Q56 routes ;
  • A large population of senior citizens living along 170th Street, including those living at two huge NYCHA complexes :  at the International Tower at 90-20 170th Street and at the John P. Conlon LIHFE Towers at 92-33 170th Street ;
  • The lack of any stop signs along stretches of 170th Street, permitting large and heavy commercial trucks to accelerate through this residential neighborhood ;
  • The lack of any speed bumps ;
  • A height restriction that forbade any commercial trucks taller than 12’11” from travelling on 170th Street from Liberty Avenue to Jamaica Avenue as a result of an LIRR overpass, but it appeared that this height restriction sign implicitly approve the use of 170th Street by all shorter, but nonetheless large and heavy, commercial trucks ;
  • A large concentration of commercial truck yards near the Liberty Avenue end of 170th Street ;
  • At each of Jamaica Avenue and Liberty Avenue, there was no dedicated left turn signal or lane from east-bound traffic onto 170th Street, but large, commercial trucks and MTA buses made those turns, anyway ; and
  • One of the reasons that there was so much pedestrian traffic in that neighborhood is that there is a subway entrance at 169th Street and Hillside Avenue.

For his part, Mr. Moretti would like to see a ban of commercial trucks traveling through residential streets in Jamaica, which could be accomplished by posting a "No Thru Trucks" traffic sign.  Once such a ban and signs are in place, Mr. Moretti wants to see police officers make an effort to issue traffic tickets to the drivers of large and heavy commercial trucks that continue to drive through residential streets. 

What exasperates some community residents, including Mr. Moretti, is the lack of any action to address the community complaints.  Mr. Moretti said that he believed that the New York Police Department does not prioritise quality of life complaints, such as concerns about pedestrian and traffic safety.  Adding to the community's frustration is that they don't see elected officials taking steps to address the dangerous commercial traffic, either.

“It’s not an extremely difficult problem to solve,” Mr. Moretti told Progress Queens, adding, “It’s just that nothing is being done about it.”

Attempts to reach the community affairs officer at the 103rd Precinct of the NYPD were unsuccessful.  A request to City Hall for comment was not answered, either, in spite of the Vision Zero implications of the Jamaica residents’ concerns.

The only visible traffic restriction along 170th Street is a ban on commercial trucks taller than 12'11", which must turn east onto Douglas Avenue.  Trucks taller than that cannot clear the LIRR overpass in the background.  Some community residents believe that this traffic sign may implicitly approve the use of 170th Street by shorter, but still large and heavy, commercial trucks.   Source :  Louis Flores

The only visible traffic restriction along 170th Street is a ban on commercial trucks taller than 12'11", which must turn east onto Douglas Avenue.  Trucks taller than that cannot clear the LIRR overpass in the background.  Some community residents believe that this traffic sign may implicitly approve the use of 170th Street by shorter, but still large and heavy, commercial trucks.   Source :  Louis Flores

According to a traffic study of 2010’s top traffic accident intersections in New York City, Mr. Moretti appears to be right to be concerned.  In 2010, the intersection of 169th Street and Homelawn Street, a few blocks away from the two NYCHA senior citizen residence complexes, was the setting for four pedestrian accidents, making that intersection in Jamaica tied for the second-most dangerous intersections in the borough of Queens that year then.  That traffic study identified Hillside Avenue as the designated through truck route, but the traffic study stopped short of noting the issue of commercial traffic using the narrow, residential side streets running parallel to 169th Street.  Within the last few weeks, a bus collided with a car on Hillside Avenue and Merrick Blvd., and a school bus was struck by a speeding car on Liberty Avenue and 183rd Street -- all within a few blocks of 170th Street, confirmation that commercial vehicles are involved in recent traffic accidents in that area.

A representative from the office of Queens Borough President Melinda Katz office told Progress Queens that the office would need to review the possible existence of any legal restrictions on commercial traffic in that neighborhood.  The official promised to provide Progress Queens with an update.

Once more information becomes available, Progress Queens will notify its readers.