By Mark Hallum
The city Department of Transportation announced Wednesday morning it would begin the first phase of sweeping changes to Northern Boulevard, also known as the “new boulevard of death” after redesigns were made to Queens Boulevard.
The agency will begin the public comment period in three design workshops in October to stem the number of deaths, already four in 2018 alone along the corridor from Queensboro Plaza to the Grand Central Parkway.
The improvements to the boulevard will be accompanied by stronger NYPD enforcement of traffic laws, according to NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan.
“Since the de Blasio Administration launched Vision Zero in early 2014, we have made many roadway safety improvements along Northern Boulevard each year, but tragically, this work has not been enough,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said. “So today DOT and NYPD are standing together on Walk-to-School Day to announce a strong new enforcement effort. And we will kick off our first work shop next week with residents, elected officials, and other stakeholders to hear their ideas about how we can make Northern Boulevard safer.”
The Wednesday morning news conference on Northern Boulevard and Broadway in Woodside was attended by City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), who spoke of a long history of fatalities predating Vision Zero.
“It was five years ago that an 8-year-old boy was run over by a truck trying to cross to cross the street to go to school at PS 152 just a few blocks away,” Van Bramer said. “We also know that Northern Boulevard has been dangerous for a long time, it didn’t just start to happen… the Queens Boulevard redesign, which is one of the most unqualified success stories of Vision Zero where we have not had a death since that redesign was implemented. But that redesign had these community discussions, and by doing that here, hopefully we will have the very same success. Zero deaths in four to five years.”
Make Queens Safer co-founder Cristina Furlong is in support of DOT creating a “grand boulevard” with center islands on Northern providing community spaces, especially in Jackson Heights. She favors the city agency avoiding community board approval to expedite improvements.
“Eight schools and over 12,000 kids are zoned to cross that street, some of them middle school where they are going to school by themselves, and we would just like it to not look like a speed zone to the drivers,” Furlong said. “We painstakingly have to start from page one every time we go to a community board because they want to talk about parking and all these issues we hear over and over again, and what we’re hoping is that DOT and the mayor are going to come up with some kind of flow-through plan so we’re not getting all the push-back and delays from community boards.”
Furlong pointed to the improvements made to Queens Boulevard where DOT went through each community board along its span and that the proven methods employed by the Vision Zero initiative should be a “standard treatment.”
State Assemblyman Michael DenDekker (D-East Elmhurst) also voiced support for a Vision Zero project to improve conditions along the corridor which spans the length of Queens and well into Nassau County.
“The death toll along Northern Boulevard is simply unacceptable,” City Councilman Francisco Moya (D-Corona) said. “With ten deaths along the 11-mile stretch since 2017, it’s abundantly clear that this thoroughfare is indeed the ‘new boulevard of death.’ Thank you to the Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and the mayor’s office for taking this crisis seriously and implementing a similar process used to transform Queens Boulevard, which has recorded three straight years without a fatal pedestrian collision and saw a 35 percent reduction in injuries in 2017.”
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall