Westmoreland Association Position on new Traffic Configuration at LIRR Grade Crossing
November 21, 2010
Hon. Maura McCarthy
Queens Borough Commissioner
NYC Department of Transportation
120-55 Queens Boulevard, 2nd Floor
Kew Gardens NY 11424
Dear Commissioner McCarthy:
The Westmoreland Association is a homeowners association representing the Westmoreland area of Little Neck in northeastern Queens. We write today to express our concerns about the new traffic pattern recently instituted by the New York City Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) at the grade crossing adjacent to the Little Neck station of the Long Island Railroad (LIRR).
As you know, our organization held a meeting on November 15 at which the new traffic configuration was discussed. I am sorry that you were not able to send a NYCDOT representative to the meeting, but I appreciate your taking the time to speak with me by telephone earlier that evening. I shared with the attendees the information you provided to me about NYCDOT’s plans for further adjustments to the configuration and signage.We had a large turnout for the meeting. Attendees came from the Westmoreland section of Little Neck, which this Association represents (bounded generally by Northern Blvd. on the south; Little Neck Parkway on the west; the LIRR on the north; and Nassau Road on the east); and also from the portion of Little Neck north of the LIRR and the portion of Douglaston north of the LIRR. These latter two neighborhoods are actually the areas most directly affected by the new traffic pattern. In addition, a representative of City Councilman Dan Halloran (John Mulvey) and the District Manager for Community Board 11 (Susan Seinfeld) also attended our meeting.
I believe it is fair to say that among the attendees the virtually unanimous and strongly held views about the new configuration were negative. Many concerns were expressed, and examples of specific problems were given. After more than 90 minutes of discussion, our guests from the non-Westmoreland communities departed and the members of the Westmoreland Association then voted unanimously to authorize me to write you this letter expressing our specific concerns and requests. These fall into two categories – procedural and substantive.
We are very disappointed that these significant changes, which directly affect literally thousands of people on a daily basis, were never once discussed with the community before being implemented. You will recall that you attended a meeting of our organization over a year ago at which the installation of new crossing gates and institution of a quiet zone were discussed. At that meeting there was also discussion of establishing better control of the entry to the LIRR parking lot (which has been carried out), but there was no mention of any significant configuration changes of the sort that have now been established. We are also advised that Community Board 11 was unaware of plans to carry out these changes.
We believe it is essential that NYCDOT hold a public meeting in our community in the very near future to hear directly from the residents about their concerns, and to inform decisions about possible further adjustments.
The establishment of the fixed median structure on the north side of the LIRR has, in our judgment, created more problems than it has solved. We understand this construction to be another step in an effort that has extended over the past several years to eliminate the left turn from Little Neck Parkway (LNP) northbound onto Sandhill Road westbound. You told me that the purpose is to avoid the possibility that a car waiting to make that turn could get stuck on the tracks when the gates come down. To our knowledge there has never been such an accident between a vehicle and a train over the past century or more. More to the point, however, we believe there are alternative and better ways to address this safety issue. For example, signs could be installed on the south side of the LIRR tracks requiring all northbound vehicles (whether going straight or turning left) to come to a full stop before crossing the tracks. That would add assurance that drivers turning left would first check to confirm Sandhill Road is “open” before making the turn. A stop sign could also be installed just a few yards further south, on the south side of the intersection of LNP and 39th Road. Thus, drivers would have to stop a short distance before arriving at the tracks, and then again at the tracks. They would therefore arrive at the tracks at a slow speed, instead of at full speed.
A particularly irksome and indeed dangerous effect of the new configuration is that those wishing to turn left onto Sandhill Road must now proceed north on Little Neck Parkway some distance beyond the tracks, and then make a U-turn. The road is not wide enough for such a turn to be made in one movement; drivers must make a three-point turn to effectuate the U-turn motion. During that time they block traffic in both directions; in particular, the can cause a backup in the northbound direction that can leave a driver “stranded” on the tracks – precisely the kind of hazard that the new configuration is supposed to prevent! Many drivers making the turn now use the driveways of either the Armenian Center on the east, or the private residences on the west, which is an irritant to the residents. They also block the sidewalk on the west side of Little Neck Parkway while making those turns.
A number of attendees indicated that they have observed left turns being made into Sandhill Road despite the new configuration. The drivers apparently turn left by crossing to the north of the flexible plastic bollards that have been installed immediately south of the raised concrete median. While this is an illegal movement, it is not uncommon.
Many people noted that the restriction on left turns was, during the past few years, limited to the morning and afternoon rush hours. By contrast, with the new configuration the restriction is permanent and around the clock. Local residents, for whom Sandhill Road is one of only two roads into the portion of Douglaston north of the LIRR, find this extremely inconvenient. Residents of the portion of Little Neck north of the LIRR are similarly inconvenienced by the inability to turn left from Sandhill Road onto LNP northbound.
Residents were concerned that trucks making deliveries to the delicatessen at the corner of Sandhill & LNP now block the now much narrower roadway southbound on LNP.
Residents were concerned that snow plows will leave banks of snow on the sides of the north- and southbound lanes, further narrowing the effective width of those now divided lanes.
A number of individuals noted that because the sidewalk on the east side of LNP north of the LIRR ends abruptly about 20 feet north of the tracks, pedestrians coming south towards the station are forced to walk in the roadway. Because the northbound lane is now so narrow (because of the raised median structure), there will be conflicts and possibly accidents with these pedestrians.
Other complaints and concerns were also voiced.
As noted above, we believe it is essential that you hold a public meeting in the community to hear first hand about residents’ concerns, and to consider whether and how to redesign the traffic pattern at this location in a way that better addresses the needs of the residents while adequately addressing safety issues.
Thank you for your consideration. We look forward to your response.
cc: Hon. Dan Halloran, New York City Council
Susan Seinfeld, Community Board 11