Thursday, July 19, 2012

Queens, King of Gridlock

We have been commenting for the past three years about the traffic nightmare that the original Willets Point development will generate-80,00 car and truck trips a day according to EDC's own house consultants. But Willets Point 2.0 has the capacity to be even worse since it is so heavily laden with auto-dependent box stores. Adding the new traffic to the old-and it's fair to do since the city plans to eventually develop all 62 acres of the Iron Triangle-will create absolutely unmanageable conditions on local roads and highways.

This prognosis deserves some context-and such context is supplied by the Queens Tribune's story about how horrendous the traffic is in the borough:

"Any Queens resident with access to an automobile probably knows that driving vertically through the borough in a timely fashion is almost impossible. The most striking aspect of the dreaded Van Wyck Expressway, spanning south from John F. Kennedy Airport up to Northern Boulevard in Flushing, is not necessarily the perpetual gridlock that makes it the only highway to show up twice in INRIX’s latest list of the country’s top 10 most congested highway corridors. Most startling, perhaps, is the lack of bleating car horns. Automobiles crawling down the Van Wyck’s 9.3 miles understand that honking a horn is completely pointless. There is simply nowhere to go."

But it is directly to the Van Wyck that the city wants to go to relieve local traffic congestion coming from any new development at Willets Point-and it is the Federal Highway Authority-responding we can only surmise to political pressure-that approved the proposed ramps, ignoring all of its criteria about the degradation of the Van Wyck that would inevitably result.

The Tribune cites our own Brian Ketcham concerning the follow that will follow:

"Brian Ketcham, a transportation engineer known for defeating the Koch-era Westway, saw a ticking traffic bomb in the potential development of Willets Point. A traffic interchange built for the proposed shopping malls, along with other attractions, could dump between 1,000 and 3,000 additional vehicles an hour on the Van Wyck, lowering average vehicular speeds to as little as 5 mph, according to Ketcham’s calculations. With lanes a foot narrower than the standard 12 feet, the Van Wyck is especially vulnerable to any uptick in traffic."

Another thought to ponder is that the EDC consultants actually low balled the number of vehicular trips that the development would generate-assigning incredibly high percentages of trips to mass transit. But mass transit is, as the Tribune reports, totally insufficient-especially if you want to travel north to south:

"Any traffic salvation comes at a cost that the cash-strapped MTA likely cannot pay. All traffic experts agree a vastly improved subway system could save Queens from its gridlock woes, but with the MTA committed to finishing the Second Avenue subway line and building a LIRR extension to Grand Central Station, Queens’ roadways will likely remain clogged. When the MTA approved its latest budget in 2011, it had a $68 million deficit."

So while our befuddled transportation commissioner-with the mayor's blessing-seeks to make Manhattan an auto-free zone, she and Hizzoner are doing all that they can to make Queens roads impassable. This is another compelling reason why the Willets Point Mets Mall is simply not good public policy.