May 25, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
The Department of Transportation will be presenting a plan next week, long in the works, that seeks to reconfigure a dangerous intersection by LaGuardia Community College.
The presentation will take place on Tuesday, May 29 from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m. at LaGuardia Community College’s Little Theater, located at 31-10 Thomson Ave.
College officials say the plan will focus on the area of Van Dam Street, Thomson Avenue, and Queens Boulevard, a high-traffic location immediately adjacent to the school.
“We are eager to see what the NYC DOT has planned and want to see a plan that prioritizes students’ lives,” said LaGuardia Community College President Gail O. Mellow in a statement. “This meeting will ensure that Long Island City residents, as well as LaGuardia Community College members, have an opportunity to weigh-in on the plan in advance of its implementation. Public dialogue like this is vital for our democracy.”
The redesign to the intersection has already received $17 million in capital funds, as Mayor Bill de Blasio stated in a town hall last year.
The DOT’s presentation next week is also a follow up to its plan, first introduced in early 2016, to redesign a roughly two-block stretch of Thomson Ave., a “Vision Zero” priority area, directly in front of the college.
The plan, presented to Community Board 2’s Transportation Committee in February 2016, called for narrowing the sidewalk by half on Thomson Ave. across the college, and widening the sidewalk flush against the school by seven feet. The agency also proposed widening four of the six travel lanes on the avenue.
While Community Board 2 was supposed to deliberate and vote on the redesign two years ago, the DOT instead went back to the drawing board, said Denise Keehan-Smith, Community Board 2 Chair and head of its Transportation Committee. The board continued to ask for status updates on the project, Keehan-Smith added, and was told by the DOT that the plan was being worked on.
The agency’s 2016 plan, however, did receive push-back from locals and the college itself. Last summer, a petition created by Transportation Alternative volunteers came about demanding that the city “put people first”–or focus on pedestrians and cyclists first–on Thomson Avenue.
Joby Jacob, a biology professor at LaGuardia, Transportation Alternatives volunteer, and creator of the petition, said the DOT’s plan was flawed in its push to expand travel lanes. Widening the lanes, he said, is known to encourage speeding.
“I feel like pedestrians and cyclists are not the priority,” Jacob said.
He, along with other volunteers, came up with an alternative design that includes protected bike lanes, high visibility sidewalks, a reduction in the speed limit, and adding greenery by the school for a full pedestrian experience.
The petition has since received roughly 500 signatures, with LCC President Mellow also standing behind the petition and calling on the DOT to come up with another solution that prioritizes pedestrians and cyclists.
While the DOT’s presentation next week appears to focus on one intersection rather than the two-block stretch laid out in the 2016 redesign proposal, Jacob said he is “anxiously looking forward to it.”
“I just want my students and co-workers to be safe,” he said. “Right now it’s not a fun street to be on as a pedestrian or a cyclist.”
The DOT did not respond to questions on the redesign’s parameters by press time.