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Whitestone homeowners want streets to handle less cars

Residents of a beach-side enclave of Whitestone near the Whitestone Bridge brought their longstanding traffic concerns before Community Board 7 during a heated meeting last week.

When Robert Moses built the Cross Island Parkway in the 1930s, cars taking what is now called the Third Avenue exit were able to enter the quiet neighborhood by 7th Avenue, a 70-foot-wide road Moses built to handle the anticipated traffic in the area.

That changed as the years passed. First, 7th Avenue was blocked from exiting traffic and in 1997 a divider was extended to keep highway traffic off Sixth Avenue.

As such, many residents say 3rd, 4th and 5th avenues have turned into speedways, with parents afraid to let their children play in their yards along the tree-lined streets.

So the Malba Gardens Civic, a group with dozens of members in the immediate area, sent out a poll asking area residents what should be done to address the situation, after which they proposed the city convert 4th and 5th avenues between Whitestone Expressway and 147th Street to one-way.

Maura McCarthy, the city Department of Transportation’s Queens borough commissioner, attended the meeting to respond to the civic’s proposal. She said since an October 2009 meeting when she first heard the concerns, the DOT has done several studies.

The department found that 107 cars passed down 5th Avenue between 2 p.m. and 3 p.m. at an average of 27.9 miles per hour, with 31 percent of drivers speeding. But 3rd Avenue was more affected by traffic problems, the study showed, as 152 vehicles drove on the street between 4 p.m. and 5 p.m. on the day of the study, while only 13 drove on 4th Avenue in the same period. Between 2004 and 2008, six car crashes occurred on 3rd, zero on 4th and two on 5th.

McCarthy said the city would not automatically make changes to the streets based on those statistics and that proposals to install stop signs or traffic lights are untenable as the volumes do not reach required thresholds.

“This is a community decision. DOT would not generally convert these streets based on these traffic volumes,” she said. “I do not believe this is a dangerous condition ... 150 vehicles in an hour and two accidents in four years is not a dangerous condition.”

Alfredo Centola, president of the Malba Gardens Civic, challenged McCarthy, saying he has clocked people driving more than 80 miles per hour on 5th Avenue, which the DOT counted 107 cars driving on in an hour between 2 p.m and 3 p.m., using a baseball radar gun.

“There are 20 kids living on the block, all of whom are under 16, and 12 are under the age of 10,” Centola said. “So when the DOT commissioner says that 107 cars an hour at peak is not unsafe, I take issue with that.”

But some residents of surrounding areas say they would rather see the city put other traffic enforcement measures in place instead of changing 4th and 5th to one-way.

Deborah Markell, president of the Waterside Homeowner’s Association, which includes about 100 new homes at the shore end of 3rd Avenue, said she would like the city to address traffic without converting the streets to one-way. But she sees the potential for animosity between neighboring communities, and said she wants to work together to find an acceptable means of addressing traffic problems.

“I don’t want it to turn into Hatfields and McCoys. I think the entire community at large really would like the same things,” she said. “We’d like better truck enforcement on residential and side streets, and I think speeding is a big issue. I think we need to look at the overall traffic patterns of the Whitestone community.”

CB 7 will send out a poll of its own in the coming weeks, asking area residents to weigh in on the issue.

Reach reporter Connor Adams Sheets by e-mail at csheets@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4538.

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