Queens Boulevard workshop draws big crowd

By Bill Parry

Hoping to play a role in changing the “Boulevard of Death,” at least 200 people took part Wednesday in the first-ever Queens Boulevard Safety Workshop at PS 11 in Woodside.

About 50 Department of Transportation officials broke up into small groups to hear residents’ feedback on the redesign of Queens Boulevard as part of the Vision Zero Initiative.

“The mayor made it clear that improving Queens Boulevard is a priority, so the DOT is hosting this safety workshop to hear the community’s concerns and ideas,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said before the event. “This workshop is only the first step in a more comprehensive process to re-imagine and redesign the boulevard as a safer, greener, more attractive corridor for residents and businesses.”

Stephen Bauman joined one of the tables at the workshop.

“I’ve lived in Queens my entire life in Rego Park. I remember open land on either side of the boulevard back in the 1940s. All I want is to be able to safely cross the street. I’m afraid of crossing it nowadays. I’m here hoping we can change that.”

In 2013, six pedestrians died and more than 150 people were injured despite extensive improvements along the boulevard during the last decade. The DOT redesigned roads and sidewalks, installed traffic control signs and signals, and improved crosswalks and roadway geometry. While all the changes brought about a dramatic decrease in pedestrian injuries and fatalities, Queens Boulevard continues to be one of the most dangerous corridors in the city, even with the speed limit lowered from 30 mph to 25 mph.

Angela Stach was out of breath from her bicycle ride from Astoria where she lives. As a volunteer for Transportation Alternatives, the safe streets advocate, she has worked for many years hoping to see a public meeting like this one.

“We’ve been out there weekend after weekend educating the people on how to push for change, so it’s pretty exciting to see momentum pick up,” Stach said. “This is a great first step to getting change on the boulevard.”

The workshop was limited to a stretch of Queens Boulevard from Roosevelt Avenue to 73rd Street.

Philip Papas, a 15-year resident of Jackson Heights, is a volunteer with Ghost Street Memorials, advocates who make the ghost bikes and place them at the scenes of traffic deaths. “Unfortunately, we’ve had to put a lot of those white painted bikes along that boulevard over the years,” Papas said. “I’m hoping for a reduction of speed — that seems easy enough. As for the long range, I’d love to see protected bike lanes along the service roads…that would help a lot.”

The workshop goals were to identify street safety concerns, brainstorm ways to enhance safety, discuss street design solutions and to gather community input. The DOT plans include more pedestrian islands, wider sidewalks, enclosed bike lanes, countdown clocks and more crosswalks.

Peter O’Donnell, district leader at District 30 in Woodside, was somewhat more optimistic the future of Queens Boulevard.

“I’ve seen a lot of bad things happen in the last 50 years,” he said. “What I haven’t seen is good leadership. Instead of fixing it they’ve destroyed it.

He added, “Hopefully, this time they get it right.”

U.S. Rep. Joe Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) could not attend Wednesday’s meeting, but he has been a strong advocate for the redesign of the dangerous roadway since he lost his friend Marion Kurshuk. The 78-year-old Woodside resident was struck and killed by a motorcycle while trying to cross at 58th Street just before Christmas 2013.

“For too long, Queens Boulevard has been one of the most dangerous corridors in our city,” Crowley said. “Many of us have lost a friend, family member or neighbor to the hazardous conditions on this major thoroughfare. I commend the Department of Transportation for putting together this workshop and engaging our community in the process of making Queens Boulevard safer.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr‌y@cng‌local.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.