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CB11 and DOT to “calm traffic” on Laconia Avenue

It’s been building up for months. Residents have noticed furious speeding on Laconia Avenue, causing danger for pedestrians and also anyone pulling out of their driveway, where visibility is limited. Now, Community Board 11 and the city’s Department of Transportation are planning to do something.

It started with a traffic study, initiated by DOT and brought to the CB for their input. What they found was upsetting: In four years, there have been 54 accidents on Laconia between Burke Avenue and Pelham Parkway North.

“That statistic speaks for itself, it shows something has to be done,” says CB 11 district manager John Fratta. “And we can’t put up speed humps, because the street is huge and wide.”

DOT brought these statistics before the Allerton/Pelham Parkway committee and presented their case. The project area extends from Pelham Parkway North all the way up to 233rd Street, so it falls under the jurisdiction of both the 47th and 49th police precincts.

Following the study and hearings, DOT has come up with a plan to “narrow” the street. The stretch of road in question will now have one lane going north, one going south, and a medium that allows for left turns.

All that means is putting new lines down, and according to Fratta, that’s the key: “The beauty of this is that it’s being done with paint. So in the event it has a negative impact, we can just change it back.” The fact that it is not a complete restructuring of the street also means that the change will happen more quickly. After a final vote on Thursday, May 27 made the idea official, Fratta expects the new lines to show up in a matter of days, not weeks.

Not everyone loves the idea. At an initial meeting, Fratta says, many gripes were made, but based on incorrect information. One woman complained that they were putting bicycle lanes on Laconia Avenue, and railed about the pointlessness of such a move. But that was never DOT’s plan.

Inserting a middle lane for turning is known as “traffic calming.” Joe Thompson, co-chair of the CB’s Olinville section, notes that what might be confusing to some is that now, in addition to the middle turning lane, there will be an extra space of five feet between the outer part of the curb and where the traffic lane begins. “This allows people to get in and out of their car safely, and also get better visibility than we had in the past,” said Thompson. “Once people could see this was a safety issue, most of them were fine with it.”

Laconia Avenue is not a busy road. That, and also the fact that it provides a long straightaway, has led drivers to zoom through traffic lights. DOT realized that motorists were also looking at the lights facing the opposite direction in order to see if they were changing soon, then speeding up in order to make a yellow light. Because of this, Thompson says, the CB fought to also put “blinders” on the traffic lights. This would have make it so that drivers couldn’t see the lights from far away, and wouldn’t speed up. But Fratta says that as it turned out, blinders won’t be possible after all. Drivers might still glance at the opposite light to speed up at a yellow, rather than the legal rule, which is to slow down, and stop unless it is not possible to safely do so.

“Even if we calm the streets, and we have single lanes, that won’t stop the speeding during off-peak hours,” says Thompson. “They’re still going to speed up. But it’s a start.”

Reach Daniel Roberts at (718) 742-3383 or droberts@cnglocal.com

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