Astoria considers proposal for pedestrian triangle
by Heather Senison
Jun 07, 2012 | 5406 views | 0 0 comments | 53 53 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Astoria resident Nancy Silverman discusses the proposal on a work sheet with others at her table in Astoria World Manor.
Astoria resident Nancy Silverman discusses the proposal on a work sheet with others at her table in Astoria World Manor.
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Either a pedestrian triangle or extended curb cuts may be added to the intersection of Newtown Avenue and 33rd Street, according to a meeting held with the Transportation Department and Astoria residents at the Astoria World Manor last night.

The curb cuts would cost $400,000 and would be part of a school safety program for P.S. 17, officials said at the meeting.

The $75,000 pedestrian triangle would close off Newtown Avenue, which meets 30th Avenue at the tip of a triangular block, between 32nd and 33rd Streets, as part of the NYC Plaza program.

Community responses to the two proposals focused mainly on the pedestrian triangle option. Opponents at the meeting said changes to the intersection aren't necessary and may hinder traffic flow, whereas supporters said a pedestrian triangle will improve the safety and aesthetics of the area.

The Central Astoria Local Development Corporation would partner with the plaza program to oversee the group that takes on the triangle's maintenance, to be selected through a request for proposals process, but is not involved with the financial aspects of the proposal.

The curb cuts or the pedestrian plaza would be ready for spring 2013, according to Transportation Department (DOT) representatives at the meeting.

Vaidila Kungys, a DOT representative, said that Astoria is one of 10 neighborhoods in New York City that most severely lacks open space.

"The City is asking us to improve the amount of open space because we're expecting another million residents, that's like dropping the City of San Francisco into New York City, so it's our mandate to try to find any space where we can make a little more green and a little bit softer city," he said.

But Councilman Peter Vallone Jr. believes that improving pedestrian safety is the most important issue at those intersections, and said at an unrelated event the next day that he wanted to express that further when he briefly visited the meeting.

There are no safe times for pedestrians to cross Newtown Avenue in that area, he said.

“They need to come up with a less severe way of making it safer without closing it down,” Vallone said.

At the meeting, DOT officials said a pedestrian triangle would result in the loss of seven parking spaces along the affected streets, which Vallone and community members who oppose the proposal said would hurt businesses in the area.

“I get complaints from those business owners weekly that we need more parking,” he said.

Kathy Kourkoumelis, who owns several businesses across from the Key Food located on Newtown Avenue, including the United Brothers Food Market and the Bargain Stop, said she pays about $380,000 in taxes to occupy space there.

“We pay such high taxes on 30th Avenue because 30th Avenue's one of the only avenues that has cafes from beginning to end outside, so they can sit outside and people watch,” she said of why visitors don't need a pedestrian plaza.

Her daughter, Joanna Kourkoumelis, echoed others who opposed the proposal, saying that the school is four blocks away so safety measures at 32nd and 33rd Streets aren't necessary.

She added that events can be held at Athens Park which is two blocks away, and as business owners, they haven't seen any car accidents or pedestrians getting hit.

“No evidence on accidents was given to us. It was just a generalization about accidents and people being hit by cars, meanwhile we've never witnessed that or heard of that,” Joanna Kourkoumelis said.

But supporters of the triangle agreed that Astoria needs more open space and increased traffic safety in the area.

According to DOT, the pedestrian triangle would include benches, removeable tables, chairs and umbrellas to be brought inside at night, and added greenery. Currently there is one tree on the block across from the Key Food on Newtown Avenue.

Nancy Silverman, an Astoria resident, said 30th Avenue is already crawling with far more pedestrians than cars.

“I think that Astoria absolutely needs more open space and places for residents to congregate,” she said.

Silverman added that she recently visited a new pedestrian plaza in Jackson Heights and that she was amazed by the amount of people gathered there.

“Anybody can see in that area that there are far more pedestrians than drivers,” she said of 30th Avenue and Newtown, “and I believe that this will bring more people.”
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