Flagger flop! Union laborers pulled from Ave. U

Union flaggers can be found outside of the Lows on Avenue U seven days a week -- whether there's construction going on or not..

Move over flaggers, here comes something sturdier.

Construction workers masquerading as traffic enforcement agents stationed outside the new Lowe’s megastore have been pulled off Avenue U and will soon be replaced with plastic traffic bollards, more signs and, possibly, a temporary stoplight.

The changes follow a meeting between the city, police, Lowe’s and state Sen. Carl Kruger, who claimed drivers have been having “altercations” with the union flagmen.

“We can no longer allow these construction workers to be directing traffic,” Kruger explained. “If there is construction on the street, then they should be there, but in the long run they can’t be the ones directing traffic.”

Police say they have no reports of fights between the flagmen and the motoring public. Kruger said he’s heard of incidents when drivers yelled and cursed at the flagmen, but nothing that could be elevated to a crime.

The flagmen were taken off Avenue U late last week. They can now be found directing traffic from inside the Lowe’s parking lot.

“Legally, they should only be on Lowe’s property and only between the hours of 9 am and 4 pm,” said Captain Patricia McDonald, the executive officer of the 63rd Precinct, who said her officers will be upping traffic enforcement measures in the area until the city erects plastic bollards down the middle of Avenue U.

The bollards should prevent motorists from making a left turn as they exit Lowe’s and stop them from rolling across a double yellow line from E. 56th Street as they make their way into Lowe’s, she explained.

There was also talk of erecting a temporary stoplight, but that “could be months off” said McDonald.

Actual traffic enforcement agents have not been brought in because the city’s Department of Transportation had not requested them. While these agents are under the auspices of the NYPD, the Department of Transportation is the agency that gives them their marching orders, McDonald explained.

A spokeswoman for the city’s Department of Transportation said a study is being conducted to see “if the location meets the criteria for a traffic signal.” There are also plans to “install a quick curb that will restrict left turns, thereby helping enhance safety and ease traffic flow.”

The Mill Basin construction-home decor Goliath opened on July 29, but, as predicted by many outraged Mill Basin residents and community leaders, the city did not take any steps to mitigate additional traffic along the congested strip, despite Community Board 18 estimates that the new store would attract between 2,500 to 3,500 vehicles to the area.

Lowe’s ceremonial board had just been cut — marking the store’s official opening — when members of the Local 731 labor union dressed in hard hats and reflective vests popped up directing traffic on Avenue U.

Yet their appearance drew nothing but confusion since flagmen usually direct traffic around construction sites. For the most part, all the construction at Lowe’s has been completed.

The contractor who built Lowe’s was still doing some pipe work, and had ripped up a small portion of Avenue U, but the flagmen were on the thoroughfare all day, whether work was being done or not.

When we visited Lowe’s on Aug. 8, three union flagmen were directing traffic outside Lowe’s. A folded pizza box with the words “Turn Here” was the only sign directing motorists.

There was no construction work being done, but flagmen were moving traffic up and down Avenue U as well as in and out of Lowe’s. They also halted traffic so pedestrians could walk across the street.

Drivers mostly obeyed them, although some motorists grew impatient and jumped the line to make U-turns, sending flagmen scrambling.

“People have to know that they have to listen and respect us,” explained flagman Frank Cavalluzzi, who said he’s trained and licensed to direct traffic. “If they hit us, it’s like hitting a peace officer. We’re only here for the safety of the people.”

When contacted, a spokesman for Lowe’s laid the placement of the flagmen on Avenue U at the city’s feet, saying the Department of Transportation requested they be put there to help control the flow of traffic.

“It was part of the evaluation of the traffic conditions there,” Lowe’s spokesman Gerard Littlejohn said.

The city’s Department of Transportation refuted Lowe’s statement, claiming that the flagmen were there while work was being done on the driveway.

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