It was a celebratory bike ride more than a decade in the making.
Transportation Alternatives volunteers, elected officials and supporters gathered in Sunnyside and rode all the way to Borough Hall on Sunday, Nov. 14, on the Queens Boulevard protected bike lane they advocated for, and asked for more to be done to protect cyclists.
“This celebration belongs to the countless activists who over the course of a decade have participated in rallies, events, collected petitions, and stood up for undoing the destructive legacy of the ‘Boulevard of Death,’” Transportation Alternatives senior organizer Juan Restrepo said. “Through your activism, fewer families along the boulevard will know the torment that is losing a loved one to traffic violence. Mayor-elect Adams will look at extending this project to its original endpoint, Jamaica Avenue in Jamaica.”
The extension of the project into Jamaica would fulfill the vision of Lizi Rahman who rode along with the activists. She held a portrait of her son Asif, a poet, rapper and artist who was struck and killed on the boulevard by a reckless truck driver in 2008 as he rode his bike home from work.
“Part of me is very sad and part of me is very happy,” Rahman said. “After he died, I started this campaign. From now on, more people in the future, they will be safe, so that’s a happy feeling for me. I’m sure he’s smiling in heaven and he is happy, too.”
TA also called on the city to co-name a street in honor of Rahman who was 22 years old when he died from his injuries in Elmhurst. State Senator John Liu rode along and spoke of Asif, who would have been 30 had he survived the collision.
“Many years after Asif Rahman was killed on Queens Boulevard, cementing its notoriety as the ‘Boulevard of Death,’ the grief and pain is still felt by his family and community,” Liu said. “We honor his memory with the completion of this bike lane, an important milestone in the continuing transformation of Queens Boulevard into the boulevard of life, and look forward to seeing more improvements and reconstruction of other thoroughfares into more human-friendly zones.”
The city began installing the safety infrastructure along the corridor in Woodside beginning in 2015 including protected bike lanes, pedestrian paths, and improved crosswalks and intersections. As a result, and its recent expansion into Forest Hills and Kew Gardens, injuries have declined by 19%, while pedestrian fatalities and injuries declined by 24%.
“I am grateful to the city for taking the necessary steps to address the traffic safety crisis on Queens Boulevard,” Assemblyman Andrew Hevesi said. “The safety redesigns on Queens Boulevard including wider pedestrian crossings and expanded medians will help prevent further tragedy from befalling others in our community.”
Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer was an early advocate of the Queens Boulevard reconstruction and called for bike lanes on Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenue in Sunnyside after cyclist Gelasio Reyes was killed by a drunk driver in April 2017 at 43rd Avenue and 39th Street.
“From Skillman and 43rd Avenue to the very first phase of Queens Boulevard, which established protected bike lanes on what was then known as the ‘Boulevard of Death,’ helping to transform it to a boulevard of life, we have fought arm-in-arm for the street-changing successes we have achieved,” Van Bramer said. “There are few things I am more proud of during my time in the Council than my advocacy to make our streets safer in western Queens.”
The ride ended at Borough Hall where the activists celebrated their achievements with a rally.
“Bicycle riding is fun, healthy and environmentally-friendly activity that we all should be doing our utmost to encourage,” Queens Borough President Donovan Richards said. “The best thing we can do to promote bike riding is to create conditions where cyclists can ride safely and confidently throughout our borough and city. The Queens Boulevard protected bike lane will do a great deal to promote secure and enjoyable bike riding, so I commend all of our partners, both inside and outside of government, who help keep Queens Boulevard safer every day.”