By Jennifer Warren
A blue-and-orange brigade descended on Queens Boulevard last Thursday.
After an extensive publicity campaign, police and traffic officials waited in the wings of the boulevard to ticket speeders and those illegally parked, while orange-vested transportation agents continued the recent practice of escorting pedestrians across the road.
Traffic agent Sheshona Gaymon, stationed at Yellowstone Boulevard with notepad in hand for the better part of a morning, said she saw a significant decrease in violators.
“Usually you have cars double-parked in the bus stop, but they have checkpoints there, there and there,” she said, pointing north, south and east.
There have been dozens of pedestrian fatalities on Queens Boulevard in the past few years, six of them last year alone. The most recent victim was Sofia Leviyev, a 14-year-old girl from Rego Park who was struck while crossing the boulevard at 67th Avenue in late November.
With agent Gaymon and many of her colleagues reassigned to the area and with the media blitz, Gaymon said most people were not breaking the law. She had issued only five parking tickets during the five hours she had patrolled Queens Boulevard.
“They must've gotten the message,” she said.
But not everyone had.
The forewarned crackdown along Queens Boulevard yielded a total of 1,852 summonses, including 1,148 parking violations, 394 moving violations, 124 court summonses for reckless driving, 126 towed cars, 65 jaywalking tickets, and seven arrests last Thursday during the 12-hour campaign between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m., said police spokeswoman Carmen Menendez.
Walking along the boulevard at mid-day, people on the sidewalks could be heard discussing the influx of patrols.
“I think it's great. It should've happened a long time ago,” one woman said to two friends as she walked west toward Continental Avenue.
A young man waiting patiently on the sidewalk scolded his elderly father for trying to cross 72nd Road against the light. “It says 'Don't Walk,'” he told him while tugging at his arm.
Adding to the uniformed presence, Department of Sanitation workers were reassigned to the boulevard to clear away residual mounds of snow that made it more difficult to negotiate the crosswalks.
Lt. Joe Davids of the 112th Precinct in Forest Hills said the operation went very well and that his precinct, with the help of police from Long Island City, Elmhurst and Highway Patrol Unit 3, was able to dramatically increase police presence.
“We had excellent coverage all throughout Queens North,” he said. “I think the message got out.”
The 112th Precinct alone gave a total of 145 summonses and tickets for the day.
But all along, police were touting the day as an opportunity to educate rather than admonish. On Jan. 24, the night before the crackdown, at a meeting of Community Board 6, the 112th Precinct's new captain, John Essig, told board members “the idea is really to publicize. Enforcement is just one avenue.”
He added, “Right now we want to educate. That's the purpose, not to ticket.”
The day after the ticket blitz, officers from the 112th Precinct and other divisions gathered with state Assemblyman Michael Cohen (D-Forest Hills) and representatives from the city Department of Transportation and community agencies at Rego Park's Lost Battalion Hall, where they instructed seniors on how to cross the boulevard safely.
Albert Belcher, a police officer with Highway 3, warned the older people not to cross the boulevard in mid-block, not to wear dark clothing, especially at night, suggesting instead they bring a flashlight or stick reflective tape to their clothing to make them more visible to motorists. He also warned of drinking and walking.
“That situation is just as deadly as driving and drinking,” he said.
Cohen said motorists' refusal to yield to pedestrians in a crosswalk is purely a “New York City phenomenon.”
During his trips to the state capital in Albany, he said, he noticed that if a person merely stepped off the curb into a crosswalk, cars would stop and give the pedestrian the right of way.
“It's like being on another planet,” he said.
Reach reporter Jennifer Warren by e-mail at Timesledgr@aol.com or call 229-0300, Ext. 155.