Oct. 17, 2018 By Christian Murray
About 75 people turned out for a workshop in Jackson Heights on Monday to put forward their ideas as to how to make Northern Boulevard safer.
The workshop, the first of three to be held by the Department of Transportation, focused primarily on the stretch of Northern Boulevard between 68th Street and the entrance to the Grand Central Parkway. This section of the corridor has seen eight pedestrian deaths from Jan 1, 2012 to Sept. 15, 2018, according to DOT data.
The attendees were briefed on the many challenges the DOT faces in redesigning the stretch. The most limiting is its width, which at 70 feet is about half that of Queens Boulevard. The stretch consists of two moving lanes either way, although a third lane is available for rush-hour traffic.
Meanwhile, the roadway is a truck and bus route. There are also schools and small businesses along the roadway.
“On Queens Boulevard there is a lot more space to work with,” said Alicia Posner, a senior project manager for the DOT. “Northern Boulevard is more confined.”
The DOT has been looking for solutions to make the thoroughfare safer since de Blasio introduced Vision Zero in 2014.
The agency has installed 13 pedestrian safety islands between 75th and 114th Streets since 2015; added 10 crosswalk signals on that stretch that allow people to cross before the light turns green–known as leading pedestrian intervals; banned left turns at four intersections; and installed high-visibility crosswalks.
However, the death toll on the boulevard has continued to mount, with a 9-year-old boy being killed while crossing near 70th Street on April 30, and a 70-year-old man being killed by 109th Street on Sept. 9 this year.
“We are redoubling our efforts,” Nicole Garcia, Queens Commissioner for the DOT, told the attendees. “We are looking for creative ideas.”
There was almost universal support for greater police enforcement; curb extensions to shorten crossing distances; additional pedestrian islands; more leading pedestrian intervals; greenery and beautification; and greater traffic safety education.
Many people were split on whether the DOT should add a protected bicycle lane. Some argued that it would increase safety by slowing traffic down while adding another transportation option. Others feared that it would reduce the number of moving lanes and add to congestion.
Furthermore, some of those who were opposed to adding a bicycle lane, noted that there is a bicycle route going east-west on parallel streets such as 34th, 31st and 32nd Avenues. Those routes, however, do not have protected bike lanes.
“I would like to see a bicycle lane but I can’t see how it can be done,” said Tim Kesecker, a resident who attended the meeting.
Meanwhile, Dia Qirreh, a Jackson Heights resident and an advocate for a protected bicycle lane, said that a lane could be installed. “The DOT just has to be creative.”
Others wanted a bus lane given the number of buses that use the corridor. However, some feared this too would reduce the amount of space for other vehicles.
The DOT said that it would consider the attendees ideas and viewpoints when it puts together its redesign. There has been no timetable released as to when the redesign will take place.
The next workshop will be taking place at P.S. 151 (50-05 31st Ave.) on Oct. 22 between 6:30 p.m. and 8:30 p.m. The final workshop is on Oct. 29 at P.S. 166 (33-09 35th Ave.) from 6:30 p.m. to 8:30 p.m.