Deadly Woodhaven Boulevard and NYC’s Broken Community Board Process
Yesterday morning, a driver struck and killed 13-year-old Jazmine Marin as she walked across Cross Bay Boulevard at 149th Avenue on her way to school. The location is deadly — one other person has been struck and killed there since 2012, and Cross Bay is one of the most dangerous streets in the city. From 2009 to 2013, 17 pedestrians lost their lives on Cross Bay and Woodhaven Boulevard (the name of the same street north of Liberty Avenue) [PDF].
And yet, opponents of DOT’s Woodhaven Boulevard Select Bus Service project — which would create safer conditions by expanding pedestrian space and restricting vehicular turns — continue resist it by claiming pedestrians would be harmed.
To win the support of local Council Member Eric Ulrich, DOT has already scaled back plans for left turn bans in the Woodhaven project — including one at Jamaica Avenue, where more pedestrians were killed between 2009 and 2013 than any other intersection in the city, according to DOT.
While Ulrich is on board now, Queens Community Board 9 remains adamantly against the redesign. Despite the agency’s concessions, all but three CB 9 members voted last week to oppose the project. One person went so far as to say that if any fatalities occurred on the corridor after SBS implementation, “Their blood will be on your hands,” the Queens Chronicle reported.
At the intersection of Cross Bay Boulevard and 149th Avenue, where Martin was killed, the city intends to square off an irregular intersection, expand a pedestrian median, and ban westbound left turns. It’s impossible to say whether those changes would have saved Jazmine Marin’s life, but those types of improvements are proven to reduce the risk of traffic deaths.
To DOT’s credit, the agency is already redesigning the Jamaica Avenue intersection this fall, much to the chagrin of SBS opponents [PDF]. And it looks like the Woodhaven project remains on track to begin next year, despite the wailing from CB 9. “Woodhaven SBS is a safety project that we are implementing,” an agency spokesperson told the Chronicle last week.
Other factors are also dragging out the process of making these major avenues safer. The city’s capital construction bureaucracy moves so slowly that full build-out of the Woodhaven project won’t be complete until sometime in the 2020s.
What’s scary about the influence wielded by intransigent community boards is that they can water down safety projects before they get into that very long construction pipeline. The terrible loss of life on Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards is a reminder that community boards retain this influence even though many of them are in complete denial about what’s causing traffic violence — and how to prevent it.