Summer 2002, p.17

Put Ped Safety First on Queens Boulevard
"Maintain Boulevard Traffic At Current Levels" Or Save Pedestrians?

Wouldn't it be nice to feel safe crossing Queens Blvd?The pedestrian carnage on the "boulevard of death" and the tabloid war that brought it to the public's attention in late 2000 are now fading memories. The Department of Transportation and Police Department have made big strides. The police have sharply increased traffic enforcement and the DOT has installed extensive pedestrian safety engineering. As a result, pedestrian deaths have dropped from an average of nine a year to three in 2001.

The DOT hopes to build on its pedestrian safety success and is conducting traffic studies on the 4.2 mile section of Queens Boulevard from Van Dam Street in Long Island City to the eastbound service road of the LIE in Elmhurst. The agency is also looking at the stretch of the Boulevard between Union Turnpike in Kew Gardens to Hillside Avenue in Jamaica.

Unfortunately, the project's stated goals raise concerns that the DOT may not be doing all that it can to keep pedestrians safe on Queens Boulevard. According to the DOT, the study has two goals:

  • To improve pedestrian safety
  • To maintain traffic operations at current levels

One of the big lessons of the disaster on Queens Boulevard is that improving conditions for pedestrians can require reducing traffic capacity. In early 2001, responding to unflattering publicity and a wave of pedestrian deaths, Commissioner Iris Weinshall changed traffic signals to give walkers more time to cross the boulevard. Her choice to put the well-being of walkers over maximizing traffic capacity was bitterly opposed by traffic engineers, who predicted horrendous traffic jams. No such jams were created and lives were saved.

Weinshall needs to keep an eye on Queens Boulevard to make sure that her traffic engineers are not taking the DOT back into the bad old days on Queens Boulevard.
Queens Boulevard should not be just a major arterial for cars, where pedestrians are just an afterthought. Now is the time to start figuring out how Queens Boulevard will look, feel and function in 10 to 20 years.

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