Street safety advocates form coalition to fix Northern Boulevard

Street safety advocates form coalition to fix Northern Boulevard
Courtesy of Juan Restrepo
By Bill Parry

A coalition of street safety advocates gathered last Saturday at The Queensboro, a Jackson Heights restaurant that sits on Northern Boulevard near 80th Street, along the corridor that has seen four pedestrian fatalities in 2018 alone.

The activists, including Make Queens Safer co-founder Cristina Furlong and Transportation Alternatives Queens Committee chairman Macartney Morris, have an online petition with nearly 1,000 signatures that will go to Mayor Bill de Blasio and elected officials in each district along the route that runs from Long Island City to Bayside, calling for a comprehensive redesign from the city Department of Transportation to “transform Northern Boulevard from the most dangerous highway in Queens into a livable and safe Main Street.”

The carnage on the recently dubbed “Boulevard of Death” is evident in the statistics, which show that 18 people have been killed along the thoroughfare in the last five years — including 16 pedestrians — while 404 pedestrians and cyclists have been injured on the major roadway, according to NYPD collision data.

“I have no doubt that the [city Department of Transportation] considers the Northern Boulevard corridor a priority area for safety improvements,” Furlong said. “We’re asking the DOT to create a complete project that consolidates the process of street redesign, making it less driven by actions of individual community boards or elected officials. As a matter of public safety, the DOT should have more autonomy to implement new designs and safety measures. The plan needs to address school safety specifically.”

Furlong noted that there are nine schools along Northern Boulevard with a combined student body of more than 12,000.

“The best way to begin is to open up a project portal similar to what they did on Queens Boulevard,” Furlong said. “To date, it seems the approach to Northern is always a reflex reaction to a pedestrian tragedy and doesn’t do enough to redesign the corridor for all users. Too much of the road space is dedicated to single passenger vehicles.”

Last week, the DOT announced it would study additional traffic safety improvements from 56th Street to 114th Street to be completed this fall.

“Since Vision Zero’s launch in early 2014 the de Blasio administration and the DOT have taken an aggressive approach to bringing roadway safety improvements each year to Northern Boulevard, one of the city’s most challenging corridors,” a DOT spokeswoman said. “But tragically, we are still seeing too much loss of life and so DOT pledges to redouble our efforts to make Northern Boulevard safer, including in engaging with the local community on a vision for a comprehensive redesign.”

The study will investigate adding improvements such as signal timing modifications, pedestrian islands, additional left-turn calming and other measures, according to the DOT.

Morris said the effort needs to be better.

“The era of piecemeal safety fixes for another boulevard simply must come to an end. If Mayor de Blasio and the DOT are serious about ending deaths and reducing injuries on Queens new ‘Boulevard of Death,’ they will loudly commit to a wholesale redesign of the road,” Morris said. “We should focus on moving people safely not on moving cars and trucks quickly. There are no small or easy fixes for Northern; it will require political leadership, hard choices and a genuine commitment to a new paradigm in how we view the streets of Queens. How many more lives will be lost at the altar of ‘Level of Service.’”

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