Northern Boulevard has become “the new Boulevard of Death,” according to a petition started by local activist and co-founder of Make Queens Safer Cristina Furlong in an effort to expedite safety improvements on the roadway.
The #FixNorthernBlvd petition, which has 250 signatures, and a number of recent pedestrian deaths, including that of a 70-year-old man, have spurred the Department of Transportation (DOT) to announce that early steps to redesign Northern Boulevard will be taken.
“You would think that the death of somebody would be enough evidence that there needs to be change,” said Juan Restrepo, Queens Organizer for Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit organization focused on improving the accessibility and safety of New York City streets for bikers, pedestrians and public transit. “But that isn’t true.”
The nonprofit is responsible for pushing the campaign #FixNorthernBlvd started circulating Furlong’s petition on Queens social media pages last week.
The term “Boulevard of Death” was first used nearly two decades ago to describe Queens Boulevard, which also saw numerous pedestrian fatalities and deadly traffic accidents. Public attention spurred the city to make various changes to slow vehicles down and make it safer for drivers and pedestrians alike to travel the roadway.
Four pedestrians have been killed Northern Boulevard this year, nine since 2017 and 19 since 2009, according to the petition. A number of deaths on Northern Boulevard have been of small children.
On April 28, 9-year-old Giovanni Ampuero was killed while crossing the boulevard with his mother, making him the sixth child to be killed on Northern Boulevard since 2013. Both mother and son were in the crosswalk and had right of way.
“We were just two blocks away when Giovanni got killed. It really traumatized the neighborhood,” said Jackson Heights resident Rebecca Ortman.
“I am scared for my sixth-grade son who will need to commute down Northern in a year’s time,” she added.
A number of Queens residents believe that the city should install more speed cameras and pedestrian medians and allow the light to give pedestrians more time to walk.
Transportation Alternatives believes that the boulevard has been optimized for “the convenience of drivers,” citing the prevalence of auto dealers showcasing inventory on sidewalks, oversized trucks using the street illegally and reckless driving.
Another staggering statistic that they mention is that 404 cyclists and pedestrians have been injured on Northern Boulevard.
The DOT stated in an email that since the launch of Vision Zero in early 2014, the city has improved roadway safety. But further improvements need to be made. An additional study of potential traffic safety improvements from 56th to 114th streets — a 2.6-mile stretch of the boulevard running through Woodside, Jackson Heights and Corona — is expected to be completed this fall.
“The study will investigate adding improvements such as signal timing modifications, pedestrian islands, additional left turn calming, and other measures,” the DOT statement said. “Additional left turn calming” refers to the installation of new barriers to make drivers be more cautious when turning left.
According to the DOT, pedestrian islands will be added to a 22-block stretch of the boulevard with the highest concentration of recent pedestrian fatalities, between 70th and 92nd streets. Additional pedestrian islands will be installed “in the coming years” at the corners of Northern Boulevard and 36th Street, 37th Street, 37th Avenue, 41st Street, 46th Street, 47th Street, 49th Street and 50th Street.
Future plans for next year include creating additional pedestrian islands, curb extensions and two reconstructed triangle between Newtown Road and Broadway.
You can sign the #FixNorthernBlvd petition here.