Representatives from DOT proposed several crosswalk, parking and loading zones improvements at last week's Community Board 6 meeting.
For some time now, the agency has received feedback from the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce and the CB6 Transportation Committee regarding which of their proposed measures would best suit the area.
For instance, while they originally proposed a street design that would move angled parking on 70th Road to the west side of the street and define a commercial loading zone for restaurants along the east side, the community feedback has encouraged DOT to scratch that idea.
But there are several proposals they hope to test to help ease congestion, balance curb space, open up parking spaces and provide safer crossings.
“We know that there’s a lot going on on Austin Street,” said DOT project manager Matt Garcia. “If you have to find a parking spot, it’s really difficult. If you’re a pedestrian, it’s difficult to cross Austin Street because there are so many long blocks and a lack of places where you can safely cross.”
DOT utilized a time-lapse camera at several places along the corridor, recording the traffic patterns for a week. It showed tremendous congestion caused by double-parked trucks and cars forced to go around them.
One suggestion is 12 new 60-foot loading zones from Monday through Friday between 7 and 11 a.m., which would provide 36 spaces for trucks for a 30-minute limit.
Between 11 a.m. and 1 p.m., there would be eight loading zones providing 24 spaces, and between 1 and 4 p.m. there would be three loading zones with nine spaces. The goal, according to Garcia, is to limit space to promote deliveries during off-peak hours.
“We want to dedicate commercial space at the curb so trucks can do their deliveries and keep moving,” Garcia said. “Because customer parking is so important to the businesses on Austin Street, these commercial spaces at the curb will revert back to passenger parking as the day progresses.
“It’s really difficult to restrict trucks from coming when they come, we don’t have any control over that,” he added. “So on the one hand, it’s difficult for us to target them at a certain time period, but the DOT’s new off-hours program encourages truck drivers to deliver in times of lower demand.”
Barry Rothenburg, a real estate developer and property owner with about 100 feet of store frontage on Austin Street that includes Sephora and Shake Shack, said he is against the idea because people won’t know when it’s okay to park on the street.
“Once those signs are up, no one will park there,” Rothenburg said. “People have a fear of it and it will effectively kill the street.”
Both Rothenburg and members of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce said they’d like to see more parking included in the proposals.
Current meters only allow for two-hour parking, but due to Austin Street’s nightlife, including restaurants and a nearby movie theater, DOT want to allow longer parking
“Some people need more than two hours,” Garcia said. “The idea is that if you want the third hour you can have it at a higher rate of $2, and if you don’t want the extra hour everything stays the same.”
To create turnover and prevent people from parking and leaving their cars overnight, the DOT is looking to expand current evening meter hours from 7 to 10 p.m.
To make things safer for pedestrians, DOT is proposing dedicated crossings at four intersections that don’t have stop signs or stop lights. Improvements include daylighting, high visibility crosswalk markings, ADA compliant pedestrian ramps, and pedestrian warning signs.
The proposed intersections are at Austin Street and 70th and 72nd avenues and 72nd and 71st roads.
DOT hopes to observe how the traffic and parking situations fare during a six-month period. After six months, the DOT will gather its own data and listen to the community’s feedback, as well before presenting their findings.
“We feel like this collection of proposals will start to chip away at the problems on Austin Street,” Garcia said. “We want to see how this works.”