By Bill Parry
Nearly 50 protesters rallied at the steps of Borough Hall for swift action in the redesign of Queens Boulevard Saturday.
The march came days after Mayor Bill de Blasio announced that the Department of Transportation would spend $100 million to reconstruct the so-called Boulevard of Death, as part of the city capital budget that includes $250 million to transform four high crash arterial roads into safe streets.
“My dream in life is to not call Queens Boulevard the Boulevard of Death,” City Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills) said at the rally. “It is time to start putting real money into this initiative so that we can see results sooner. Let’s stop using Queens Boulevard as a highway and start bringing it back as a pathway for our community.
Koslowitz, who has lived in the area for 53 years, told the crowd about her first term on the City Council in the ‘90s when nearly 100 people were killed on the roadway during a 10-year span. “I made it my mission to change that, and over time we have seen a dramatic decrease in death,” Koslowitz said. “However, that doesn’t mean our work is done.”
DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg told a City Council budget hearing March 5 that work would begin at the western end of the boulevard this year, near the intersection of Queens Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue, and then move east toward 73rd Avenue. This follows a January workshop at PS 11 in Woodside where nearly 100 residents and merchants called for calmed service roads, improved crossings, the addition of a protected bike lane and beautification.
“We want to try and envision something more grand,” Trottenberg said. “Something that makes it a more livable street, that looks at greenery, that looks at bus lanes, bike lanes, you name it.” Construction plans are not yet finalized, she added, and will be contingent on feedback from the community.
“It is important that our city continue to make strategic capital investments into our transportation infrastructure in western Queens,” City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) said. Much of the 7.2 mile corridor runs through his and state Sen. Michael Gianaris’ (D-Astoria) district.
“This major funding commitment is welcome news for all who have known Queens Boulevard as the Boulevard of Death for too long,” Gianaris said. “We have worked to solve this problem for years and though I wish improvements would have happened sooner, I’m glad to see that steps are being taken to make this dangerous street safer. I will continue to work with DOT and our community to ensure Queens Boulevard fixes are put in place quickly and effectively as possible.”
The question of when the work would begin, and how long it would take to complete, had one protester at the Borough Hall rally worried.
Cristina Furlong, a co-founder of Make Queens Safer, said, “It sounds like a huge substantial number, but we’re concerned about the time line. If it’s $100 million spread out over 50 years, we’ll have some concerns.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr