NYC’s Vision Zero Campaign Focusing on Making this Dangerous Street Safer for Pedestrians
It’s known as the “Boulevard of Death” and, historically speaking, the name is sadly appropriate. Queens Boulevard is considered one of NYC’s most dangerous roads; in the last 15 years alone, nearly 200 people have died in traffic-related accidents on it, with injury tolls stretching into the thousands. The majority of those losing their lives have been pedestrians, but bicyclists and drivers of motor vehicleshave died along this perilous stretch of road as well.
New York City Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative is aiming to change this devastating trend. As part of a unanimously approved, $100 million project, Vision Zero is focusing on making Queens Boulevard safer for drivers, bikers, and pedestrians. The first phase of the project is dedicated to the section of the boulevard between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street, which measures a little over a mile; the remainder of seven-milelongQueens Boulevard will be improved in phases thereafter. And starting in fiscal year 2018,the entire corridor will be overhauled as part of Vision Zero’s overarching “Great Streets” program.
While the goal of the project is, first and foremost, to reduce the appallingly frequent occurrences of death and injury along this street, another important benefit of the Queens Boulevard improvement project is to infuse a sense of community in the area. Once it’s completely renovated (as part of the abovementioned Great Streets program), the updated Queens Boulevard will feature picturesque plantings, street art, and even places to sit; its improved infrastructure will make traveling between neighborhoods within the borough much easier and more convenient, and may possibly encourage the arrival of new businesses and residents.
During the planning process for this project, the NYC DOT conducted a workshop in January 2015, to elicit critical feedback from the community and to determine the most pressing concerns these community members had regarding the corridor’s current conditions. Several worrying auto- and pedestrian-related “behaviors” were identified as redesign priorities:
Speeding and weaving. No matter how safe a road may purport to be, if its motorists exercise high speedson a regular basis, then it’s bound to become the site of damaging auto accidents. The same is true for weaving cars – road disorganization paves the way for impatient drivers and weaving traffic, which is exceptionally dangerous. Both speeding and weaving are common behaviors on Queens Boulevard.
Aggressive turning and failure to yield. Due to the relative absence of proper road organization, many motorists have fallen into the habit of aggressive driving tactics while navigating Queens Boulevard. Unsafe right- and left-hand turns are commonplace, and put the lives of pedestrians and other drivers in danger.
Rushing through crosswalks. Faced with the exasperating inability to get from one side of the road to another in a timely manner, many pedestrians have resorted to dashing across the crosswalks on Queens Boulevard during the too-short crossing times – setting the stage for dangerous conditions and potential accidents. Elderly or disabled pedestrians and those unable to walk as quickly have found themselves stranded in the middle of the street and in the path of oncoming traffic.
This valuable workshop feedback formed the backbone of the Queens Boulevard redesign. Several key components of the project include:
Safer pedestrian crossings. Far too many people have died simply trying to cross this terrifying street – a fact driven home by signs along the boulevard stating as much. Insufficient crossing times have led pedestrians to try to race across the boulevard, putting themselves in danger of speeding automobiles. Others have felt forced to risk their safety by jaywalking in an attempt to bypass frustratingly short crossing times. The Queens Boulevard redesign will institute pedestrian islands at key intersections, as well as higher-visibility crosswalks and improved signals.
More space and accessibility for pedestrians and cyclists. In addition to protected bicycle lanes and even a separate raised bike path between 67th and 69th streets, pedestrian ramps will be made more accessible, to accommodate those with disabilities.
Updated traffic patterns. From the closure of slip lanes to the reduction of service roads, new rules will be put in place that discourage reckless driving, thereby lowering the risk of automobile accidents and providing a safer atmosphere for those crossing the corridor on bike or on foot.
Queens residents are understandably optimistic about the positive effects this redesign will inspire within their community. But Vision Zero supporters have no intention of stopping with Queens Boulevard. There are plenty of other streets within New York’s five boroughs that are in desperate need of similar measures. Mayor de Blasio has coined the phrase “Boulevard of Life” to describe his hope for the success of the Queens Boulevard redesign.
“Let’s hope that this new and improved Boulevard of Life,” Jay Dankner, senior partner in the law firm of Dankner Milstein said, “will not only reduce the number of accidents on Queens Boulevard, but will also encourage community representatives throughout New York City to approve measures to make their own streets safer and more appealing to drivers, bikers, and pedestrians.
“We would like nothing better,” he added, “than to see a decrease in the frequent calls we get from innocent victims of pedestrian and vehicular accidents on this and similar thoroughfares in our city”.
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