July 13, 2015 By Jackie Strawbridge
After a 21-year-old woman was killed in a hit-and-run last month, long-simmering discomfort with the roads around Astoria Park has grown into an urgent call for action.
In the early morning of June 27, Betty DiBiasio was struck in a marked crosswalk at Ditmars Boulevard and 19th Street by a driver who blew through a stop sign, according to the Queens District Attorney.
City data shows dozens of traffic collisions around the park since 2012, with especially dangerous intersections including Shore Boulevard at Astoria Park South and 21st Street at Ditmars Boulevard.
“I keep on advocating that we do need to see some changes on those streets,” Astoria Park Alliance co-chair Martha Lopez-Gilpin said. Because it is a quiet neighborhood, she explained, drivers are inclined to zoom down the streets.
“It’s just too tempting,” she said. “We’ve all seen it, we’ve experienced it.”
Days after DiBiasio’s death, the Old Astoria Neighborhood Association sent a letter to the Department of Transportation asking for traffic calming measures on an upper boundary of the park: Ditmars Boulevard from Shore Boulevard to 21st Street.
Councilman Costa Constantinides also took up the cause, releasing an online petition for traffic safety improvements on the streets surrounding Astoria Park.
The Councilman’s petition is available online here, and will remain online throughout the summer, he said.
“We have an area where [there are] lots of families, men, women and children all walking to the park at all hours of the day,” Constantinides said. “And you have an area around it that the cars are rushing.”
Other than noting that the corner of Ditmars Boulevard and 19th Street “definitely” needs a traffic light, Constantinides said he is still determining what precise safety improvements he would like to see installed.
“I’m asking [the Department of Transportation] to do a study there and see what makes sense,” he said. “We really want to make sure that we study the entire network of streets around Astoria Park and come up with a comprehensive plan.”
According to the DOT, the agency will review the area for possible safety enhancements.
A speed hump was installed on Ditmars Boulevard between Shore Boulevard and 19th Street earlier this year.
Echoing the Councilman’s sentiments, Cristina Furlong of the safe streets advocacy group Make Queens Safer said, “Astoria Park is definitely a destination that needs to be prioritized given the traffic of young children and families.”
She suggested increasing pedestrian markings and signage to help with traffic calming.
For Lopez-Gilpin, the park’s eastern and western boundaries are especially problematic. To the east, 19th Street, a narrow two-way road, separates the park from a row of residences. Shore Boulevard runs along the other side of the park against the water.
“19th street can see a lot of road rage. It’s very tight and people get very impatient. And even on Shore Boulevard – the sightlines can be very tricky. People are crossing to go to the water,” she explained. “It’s all pretty scary.
Meanwhile, as Astoria’s population grows, she added that traffic safety measures may only become more urgent.
“We know that as density increases on the peninsula – the Astoria Cove [megaproject], all the development that’s happening – traffic is only going to intensify,” Lopez-Gilpin said.