Winter 2001, p.32

Queens Boulevard: A Neighborhood Street, Not a Highway

It is time for the department of transportation and its political masters to make a fundamental choice about Queens Boulevard: Continue putting traffic flow first and sacrificing pedestrians, or make the boulevard safe to cross by integrating it into the neighborhoods it divides.

The communities along Queens Boulevard have waited long enough. Three decades ago, they started pleading for pedestrian safety improvements. Since then, more than 300 pedestrians have been killed and 5,000 seriously injured on the highway-like street called "the human bowling alley."

Traffic safety experts know dozens of ways to make Queens Boulevard much safer and easier to walk across. But as long as transportation officials and the Police Department stubbornly clink to their traffic-first mentality, these lifesaving measures will remain unused.

The Transportation Department's latest pedestrian safety efforts are meant to fix some of these problems. But predictably, the improvements are few and far between and aimed more at what the agency views as suicidal pedestrians than at the motorists roaring down the road.

For example, a handful of new crosswalks are proposed along the 7-mile length of the boulevard. Yet pedestrians are chastised for not crossing at crosswalks that can be as far as 900 feet apart.

Indeed, the main feature of the department's safety initiative is placing a fence along the median strip to discourage jaywalking.

What should be done? There are several steps, short-, medium- and long-term.

THE NEXT SIX MONTHS

  • Time traffic signals so cars must drive at or under the legal limit of 30 mph.
  • Increase pedestrian crossing times to meet federal safety guidelines.
  • Install 10 red-light cameras to stop light running.
  • Paint narrower lanes to signal drivers to reduce their speeds.
  • Establish a zero-tolerance week in March, complete with a massive crackdown on speeding.

THE NEXT TWO YEARS

  • Increase the number of pedestrian crosswalks by threefold or fourfold so they are no more than 200 feet apart for the length of the boulevard.
  • Install 10 more red-light cameras.
  • Install temporary curb extensions with steel bollards at every intersection.
  • Place raised crosswalks (on top of speed humps) at the entrance to every crossover where traffic moves from high-speed inner lanes to the slower service road.
  • Install speed humps along the service roads.
  • Lengthen the median farther into intersections
    to slow turning cars.
  • Begin a study for the fundamental redesign of the boulevard similar to the $9 million federally funded study of the Grand Concourse in the Bronx.

THE NEXT 10 YEARS

  • Rebuild Queens Boulevard from the ground up, making it into the Queens Parkway.
  • Integrate the boulevard into the surrounding street grid, substantially narrowing it and installing traffic signals and crosswalks at every intersection.
  • Eliminate the service roads and greatly widen the median into a parkway with gardens, playgrounds and ball courts.
  • Create separate bicycle lanes on the street in both directions.

With trees planted along both sides of the street to emphasize its parkway aspects, Queens Boulevard would be returned to the citizens of Queens, to whom it rightfully belongs.

This opinion piece originally ran in the New York Daily News on December 29, 2000. A relentless crusade by the Daily News led to a City Council hearing on Queens Boulevard. Since then, the DOT announced that the speed on the entire length of boulevard will be 30 mph (some sections were 35mph). DOT will also build neckdowns at some of the slipways where cars merge from the high-speed inner roadway onto the low speed outer lanes. Additionally DOT will install 3 miles of pedestrian fencing and only 3 new crosswalks on the 7-mile street. As we went to press lane January, the police announced a massive zero tolerance week.

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