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Avella asks DOT to rethink Whitestone street change

State Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) has joined a group of Whitestone residents in requesting that the city Department of Transportation re-evaluate a plan to change two road segments in their neighborhood from two-way to one-way traffic patterns.

The streets at issue are 11th and 12th avenues between 152nd and 154th streets, which Community Board 7 voted last year to support changing from two-way to one-way routes.

Eugene Kelty, chairman of CB 7, said he believes the board secured the support of residents at a public hearing in October, and that the city was ready to move ahead with the plan, but in recent weeks dozens of neighbors have come together to say they oppose the changes.

The purpose of the proposal was to decrease congestion on the blocks and to make the streets safer for schoolchildren at PS 193, at 152-20 11th Ave., Kelty said, and the board made a recommendation to the DOT that it implement the changes.

“I don’t like one-way streets, but my feeling is if it provides safety for the people, makes plenty of room for the cars to travel and maximizes parking, then I am in support of it,” Kelty said.

But many in the community do not share his views.

Audrey Neilan, a ´╗┐resident of 12th Road, located a block away from 12th Avenue, and a neighbor got wind of the proposed changes and set up a petition to oppose altering the traffic flow on the two avenues, where traffic can back up for 30 minutes on school mornings and afternoons. By last week they had gathered about 60 signatures in opposition to the plan — a number equal to more than 80 percent of residents of the affected blocks, Avella said.

“The community board feels it’s going to be safer for the children´╗┐ when they get out of school, but I don’t see how it’s going to be safer because the people are going to just go around the cars anyway,” Neilan said.

DOT spokeswoman Nicole Garcia backed up Kelty, saying that changing the roads to one-way will calm traffic and make the two avenues safer.

Avella caught wind of the petition last week and sent a letter Feb. 25 to Maura McCarthy, the Queens commissioner for the DOT, requesting that the department reassess its options for the roads.

“Given the opposition to the one-way conversion, I request that you stop any and all efforts in this regard and instead re-evaluate the area to see what other traffic improvements can be made to help alleviate traffic congestion,” he wrote.

Neilan said local community members were only notified about the October hearing a few days beforehand, and that they deserve to be granted a new hearing with more notice given to all concerned parties.

Avella said he hopes the DOT will undertake a full traffic study of the area and evaluate all possible alternatives — such as speed bumps or traffic-calming devices — in consultation with area residents.

“In this case, it appears that the DOT and CB 7 moved forward without having a real sense of the homeowners’ wishes,” he said Friday. “I hope the DOT will respond not only to whether or not they’ll stop the implementation, which I think they will. I think they will because if they don’t and they go forward with it, then we’ll try to make them undo it.

Kelty said safety comes first and that if the city deems the changes necessary for residents’ protection, they will likely move forward despite any community protestations.

“If DOT determines this is a safety factor because it’s near a school, they’re going to do the one-ways anyhow,” he said. “They’ll override us no matter what.”

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

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