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City to Revamp Street in Front of LaGuardia College Where Student Died

By Jeanmarie Evelly | February 12, 2016 3:13pm | Updated on February 15, 2016 8:34am
 The city is planning to widen the sidewalk in front of LaGuardia Community College on Thomson Avenue.
The city is planning to widen the sidewalk in front of LaGuardia Community College on Thomson Avenue.
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LONG ISLAND CITY — The city is planning to widen the sidewalk and traffic lanes in front of LaGuardia Community College, where school leaders have called for safety upgrades for years, following the death of a student who was hit by a van there.

The changes would affect Thomson Avenue between Skillman Avenue and Van Dam Street, a busy stretch of roadway that's home to the LaGuardia campus as well as several nearby high schools.

The plan would widen the sidewalk on the south side of Thomson Street in front of the college by six feet, increasing it from 21 to 27 feet across, according to a proposal from the Department of Transportation.

The larger sidewalk would accommodate the large number of pedestrians who use it — as many as 2,000 people during peak hours — and keep it from feeling crowded by the many food carts that park in front of the school, according to the plan.

The sidewalk on the north side of Thomson Avenue, by contrast, would be narrowed from 20 to 10 feet across. That side of the road sees fewer pedestrians, and instead is often used by drivers who illegally park their cars on the sidewalk, the DOT plan says.

The proposal would also add four feet to the roadway on Thomson Avenue, with four of the six traffic lanes widened by one foot each, according to the plan.

Leaders have been calling for traffic changes in the area since at least 2013, after a driver lost control of his minivan and mounted the sidewalk in front of the school, injuring four college students and killing a 16-year-old student of a high school located on the campus.

The DOT made some initial traffic changes on Thomson Avenue that same year, and LaGuardia Community College commissioned their own traffic study in 2014 that suggested several additional ways to make the area safer for students — including widening the sidewalk on Thomson Avenue.

In a statement, LaGuardia Community College President Gail Mellow called the DOT's latest proposal "a great beginning."

"We strongly support widening the sidewalks in front of our campus buildings to reduce crowding during peak hours that can create dangerous situations given the fast moving bridge traffic on the street," she said.

Peter Beadle, a volunteer with transit group Transportation Alternatives, said widening the south sidewalk will be "very helpful," but he's disappointed the plan fails to include bike lanes, especially in light of the city adding a Citi Bike dock on Thomson Avenue last year.

The fact that the plan will widen the roadway for traffic is also a step in the wrong direction, he said. It will increase the distance that pedestrians have to walk to cross the street, and also encourage more trucks to use Thomson Avenue — something that's already a problem there.

"We shouldn't be in the business of accommodating dangerous vehicles on a street that should not be carrying them," he said. "I think we're going backwards."

A DOT spokesman said the widening of the vehicle lanes is necessary to accommodate the high volume of traffic on the street, adding that Thompson Avenue is a priority under the Vision Zero initiative.