A heavy flow of truck traffic through a residential and local commercial district led to the need for a bypass study, and truck route re-designation with associated infrastructure upgrades.
Planning Guide Strategies Discussed:
The New York City DOT commissioned a study of the truck activity within the Maspeth area of Queens, New York. The study findings supported the need to design and implement strategies to improve traffic circulation, alter truck routing, and enhance safety in the industrial and residential neighborhoods bounded by Grand Avenue, the Queens-Midtown Expressway (commonly referred to as the Long Island Expressway, I-495), and the Brooklyn Queens Expressway (I-278) (See Figure 34). After completion of the study, the New York City DOT worked closely with the local community and stakeholders to implement the recommendations, including a truck-route redesignation and the removal of intersection constraints along the new truck route.
Conditions Prior to Implementation
Maspeth is a community in central/southern Queens that has a mix of commercial districts, local shops, residential neighborhoods, and industrial/warehousing facilities. The area also falls within two community boards: Queens Community Board 2 in the north, and Queens Community Board 5 in the south. At the beginning of the New York City DOT study, Grand Avenue served as a major truck route in Community Board 5, given its direct connection between the industrialized areas of Maspeth and the Queens-Midtown Expressway, despite traversing through predominately residential and light commercial land uses close to the Interstate (see Figure 35).
The conflict between the heavy truck traffic and the local commercial and residential land uses along the Grand Avenue corridor was the main issue to be addressed by a potential truck-route redesignation project. The challenge was to find a more acceptable alternate truck route in terms of adjacent land uses that would not negatively impact truck travel times. Cost was also a factor, as was the input from multiple stakeholders, including both residents and local business owners.
The goals of the study were to (a) identify and recommend a solution based on existing conditions analyses, (b) develop and implement conceptual plans, and (c) assess the effects of the roadway changes. These goals were undertaken in a multiphase process.
In Phase I, the existing conditions and issues were identified. The identification involved extensive advance data collection, including a truck origin/destination survey. Multiple opportunities for public and stakeholder involvement were also used, including: three open houses (one for the general public, two for industries), seven presentations to community boards and committees, and 15 site visits (11 with business stakeholders, four with civic groups). The following key issues were identified by stakeholders:
- Cut-through and off-route trucks
- Accidents, safety, trucks hitting parked cars
- Air/noise pollution
- Bypass feedback
- Enforcement issues
- Suggested changes to traffic operation
In Phase II, the analysis from Phase I was furthered, leading to a final recommendation for the proposed truck-route redesignation, including the removal of intersection constraints. The New York City DOT and its team developed innovative tools and solutions to aid in the DM process. Video-based data collection and GPS recorders were used, and a website was developed and deployed to share data among departments; phone apps were used to collect travel time and delay information, and to respond as quickly as possible to any issue identified at any of the public meetings. These methods proved effective in overcoming the project challenges.
The final recommendation advanced from Phase II was to reroute trucks off Grand Avenue on to 58th Street/Maurice Avenue. The new truck route was carefully analyzed and determined to be the best solution despite one key issue: the re-routing would force additional trucks through a complex and potentially unsafe five-legged intersection at Maspeth Avenue/58th Street/56th Terrace/Maurice Avenue (shown in Figure 36). The New York City DOT was concerned that drivers unfamiliar with the intersection might have issues navigating through the complex intersection, which could create an unsafe condition.
As a consequence of this issue, the New York City DOT would not approve the proposed truck-route redesignation unless the constraints posed by this intersection were eliminated and other traffic impacts associated with the proposed re-routing of traffic from Grand Avenue to the Maspeth industrial area were addressed. Multiple options were considered for the normalization of the intersection; the preferred option is shown in Figure 37. The selected option was a low-cost but highly effective option that did not require new roadway construction. It used signing and striping changes to successfully address a number of vehicle and pedestrian operational and safety issues.
Phase III focused on implementing the concept plans developed during Phase II. Detailed comprehensive signage plans, pavement-marking plans, and geometric plans were developed to implement the truck-route redesignation project and construct the intersection improvement project.
Phase IV involved monitoring of the redesignation after implementation. The average weekday street-segment volumes were compared before and after the implementation. A comparison of weekday traffic counts along Maurice Avenue, 58th Street, and Grand Avenue illustrates that an overall decrease occurred in traffic along Grand Avenue in both the northbound and southbound directions.
In addition, the peak-hour truck volumes were compared before and after the implementation of the redesignation project. Overall, truck traffic decreased along Grand Avenue and Borden Avenue and increased along 58th Street and Maurice Avenue (the new truck route). Additionally, truck traffic increased along 55th Drive because of the conversion of Maurice Avenue from a two-way to a one-way roadway. Figure 38 illustrates the shift in truck traffic.
As shown in Figure 39, travel times along the new westbound truck route were approximately 1 to
1.5 minutes longer than the Grand Avenue route during the a.m. and midday periods, but about 20 seconds faster during the peak p.m. hour. In the eastbound direction, the observed travel times were faster on the new route during all three peak-hour conditions. In the westbound direction, the approximately 60- to 90-second increase in overall travel time during the a.m. and midday peaks is comparable to missing a green light at a signalized intersection in the corridor.
Overall, the proposed truck-route redesignation either maintained similar travel speeds in the westbound direction or significantly improved travel speeds in the eastbound direction. Local traffic flows along both Maurice Avenue and 58th Street also improved.
As part of improving the intersection of 58th Street/Maurice Avenue/Maspeth Avenue, the proposed truck-route change required the conversion of multiple two-way streets into one-way streets. The newly created one-way streets have provided opportunities for loading and unloading zones to access local businesses along the bypass. In addition, reduced delays were observed along the bypass, as vehicles can now bypass any double-parked vehicles, improving traffic flows within the Maspeth industrial area (see Figure 40).
The project was approved by all stakeholders in mid-July 2011. The truck-route redesignation was implemented, along with the intersection normalization changes, starting October 1, 2011. Given the nature of the improvements selected, there was no need for a separate funding plan; the installation could be completed under existing maintenance contracts. This project faced the challenge of engaging with numerous stakeholders that often had conflicting viewpoints and goals. This included coordinating with different agencies, including the NYPD, on enforcement matters and with local community boards to deliver an outcome that was suitable to local residents and businesses. Other challenges included limited funding, difficult technical issues (e.g., safety and traffic capacity needs), and a requirement that the team continue working until a feasible and affordable solution was achieved.
Since March 2011, the New York City DOT has coordinated with the NYPD to enforce the new truck-route rules with two goals: (1) to show the community that there is a commitment to changing truck behavior; and (2) to encourage the truck drivers to use the bypass route. Between April 2011 and February 2012, 254 trucks were stopped on Grand Avenue within Community Board 5, and over 375 summonses were issued. Truck drivers were interviewed while they were pulled over, and asked to take a short survey on their knowledge of the bypass route and the origin and destination patterns (see Figure 41). Drivers also were provided with New York City truck-route maps and other regulation information. The results of the surveys indicated that the truck drivers were unaware of the bypass, and based upon the travel time savings and reduced number of signals, the drivers indicated that they would utilize the bypass for future deliveries.
The major lessons learned from this project include:
- Work closely with the local community and stakeholders to identify the critical issues and best possible solutions. Continue working with these groups through the implementation phase.
- Carefully identify and address issues that could arise due to shifting truck routes.
- Consider a variety of low-cost options; sometimes low-cost options can be very effective. They also offer opportunities for quick implementation.
- Persistence is important in a project that involves diverse and outspoken stakeholders.
- Enforcement and education are important to project success. Sufficient resources need to be allocated to these aspects of proposed projects.