Another Person Killed By Driver on Northern Boulevard — Queens’s New ‘Boulevard of Death’

Activists call for genuine redesign, though pols ask for much less.

Thanks to fixes to Queens Boulevard, Northern Boulevard, with its many yellow dots for crashes and three red dots for fatalities, has become Queens's new "Boulevard of Death."
Thanks to fixes to Queens Boulevard, Northern Boulevard, with its many yellow dots for crashes and three red dots for fatalities, has become Queens's new "Boulevard of Death."

The latest killing of a pedestrian by a driver on Northern Boulevard on Sunday morning has activists livid that the city has not fixed one of Queens’s most-dangerous roadways.

The 70-year-old man run down near 109th Street is the fourth pedestrian killed by a driver on the new “Boulevard of Death” this year, and the ninth since the start of 2017, according to Transportation Alternatives.

“The city [must] end the carnage and urgently complete a comprehensive redesign of Northern Boulevard in the same way segments of Queens Boulevard, once known as the ‘Boulevard of Death,’ have been redesigned,” the group said in a statement.

The death comes just four months after 9-year-old Giovanni Ampuero was killed by a driver on Northern Boulevard at 70th St. But injury and death are common on the roadway, where 19 pedestrians and cyclists have been killed since 2009.

Make Queens Safer was formed in 2013 after three children were killed by reckless drivers in Jackson Heights that year. Looking at the headlines on the group’s website makes it clear how long this problem has been going on: “Van Bramer: Deadly Northern Boulevard Should Be a Vision Zero Priority” is from 2014 after 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was killed by an unlicensed truck driver; “Jackson Heights leaders push for slow zone on Northern Blvd” is from 2013, after 11-year-old Miguel Torres was killed by a Mack truck at 80th St. and a pedestrian was mowed down by a taxi in a hit-and-run at 82nd St.

A Streetfilms video from that year is another reminder of how little has changed.

“This is a crisis,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said Sunday. “Northern Boulevard does not protect vulnerable street users, especially seniors, children, and the disabled. … Residents along the Northern Boulevard corridor from Long Island City to Bayside are still waiting for the kind of comprehensive, life-saving redesign that Queens Boulevard has undergone in recent years. Due to its car-oriented design and lack of safe accommodation for people, Northern Boulevard remains needlessly deadly for everyone who dares to use it.”

He said the city “has made incremental improvements,” but added that more needs to be done. He called for “safer intersection geometry and protected bike lanes before yet another life is taken. The lack of urgency after nine deaths in less than two years is frankly unacceptable.”

Indeed, local politicians appear to have been calling for fixes on Northern Boulevard, but it’s unclear how strongly they have been pushing. Several Queens electeds, including City Council Members Jimmy Van Bramer and State Senator Jose Peralta, did a “walkthrough” with DOT officials in May after Ampuero became fifth victim under 18 killed on Northern Boulevard since 2012. But after the tour, the politicians asked only for minor changes, including more leading pedestrian intervals and “repainting pedestrian crosswalks,” as Peralta tweeted.

In a candidate questionnaire with Streetsblog earlier this month, Peralta again only pushed for minor changes on Northern, where activists hope for a complete redesign with protected bike lanes — the same improvements that have brought safety for cyclists and pedestrians in many cases, including the former “Boulevard of Death,” Queens Boulevard. In the same questionnaire, Peralta’s challenger in Tuesday’s primary, Jessica Ramos, called for protected lanes on Northern Boulevard, a stark contrast with the incumbent.

Make Queens Safer points out that local political approval, with countless community board meetings, should not be needed given that Vision Zero safety improvements can easily be standardized — and all politicians call for “safety” anyway, yet often block specific measures in their neighborhoods.

A spokesman for DOT did not comment on Sunday night. We will update the story later if we get a response.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t want to be the one to pooh-pooh the idea of protected lanes on Northern Boulevard but where would you put them? Right now you have two not so wide traffic lanes in each direction, plus a not so wide curbside lane which is mostly used for parking but also used for bus stops. Assuming you had the community buy in to get rid of all parking on Northern Boulevard, and relocate the bus stops, you can only get a protected lane by putting in a concrete barrier. Forget a parking protected lane as that would mean one travel lane in each direction for buses, cars, and trucks (Northern is a major truck route). As much as I hate to admit it, you really do need the capacity of two motor traffic lanes in each direction.

    The community, especially the merchants, would never buy into the complete elimination of parking. Even if you do that, the buses stopping in the rightmost traffic lane to serve the relocated bus stops will reduce capacity. The entire situation resembles that on Union Turnpike. This is another street which certainly could use a protected lane but there just isn’t anywhere to fit it (unless you want to narrow the sidewalk to make space for the bike lane).

    At the risk of doing another shameless plug on my bicycle viaduct idea I think the only real answer here is to go above grade. Really how else can we fit a bike lane here? Maybe in some perfect future NYC we’ll reduce traffic enough to be able to make due with one lane each way but for now I’m not seeing that happening.

  • Actually I wouldn’t put protected bike lanes on Northern. I would just put lots of traffic calming and protected intersection treatments, LPIs at every intersection, add islands like they have at every intersection. Cyclists have 34th Avenue which, besides the ridiculous everyday ticketing, is a pretty good route. But there are tons of children that have to go to school via or cross Northern. Let’s make it as good as we can. And perhaps convince NYPD to finally write speeding and failure to yield summons. The only thing I ever see is on Thurs, Fri and Saturday nights sometimes NYPD cruisers come up behind people double-parked and honk at them to move. Yes, just a honk. Not a ticket.

  • Cristina Carnicelli Furlong

    We at Make Queens Safer are saddened to hear of another fatality on Northern Boulevard. Our pledge to the family is that we will continue fighting to fix Northern so that never again will a family have to go through the agony of preventable traffic crashes killing our neighbors.

    There will never be a comprehensive plan for Northern as long as we look at the situation through the lens of individual council members and community boards. It has taken years of painstaking and repetitive action as well as unheard of dedication from countless activists to get Queens Boulevard to the admirable state it’s in now.

    We desperately need a design standard that allows DOT to do a comprehensive study of the boulevard and implement it. Currently, activists such as myself are tasked to go begging around to elected officials, pleading for interest and concern that they merit only as publicity for their own agendas. For example- will there be a comprehensive plan for Northern and Broadway? The former Sports Authority spot is being eyed for a high school. This area is prime spot for kids to bike and take mass transit to school, and it has connector bike routes in every direction. Yet, while the DOE plan lingers, the spot has become another lot for used cars!

    Hotspots along the boulevard begin at 41st ave under the Queensborough Bridge, and extend to the Long Island border. Asking DOT to go Community Board by community board is a long and unruly process that doesn’t educate New Yorkers to understand street design and the need to create better infrastructure. It’s asking DOT to put a bunch of numbers in a fishbowl and hope to pull out one tiny winning element, perhaps LPI’s or better medians. It’s ridiculous and there’s too much at stake.

  • joyauto

    Why must the road always be blamed for traffic deaths? It doesn’t do anything; it just lays there. Drivers are the killers! They are the “Movers of Death.”

  • The idea of allowing parking on our major arterial streets is absurd. There should be no parking at all on Northern Boulevard, Union Turnpike, Myrtle Avenue, Metropolitan Avenue, Central Avenue, Hillside Avenue, Jamaica Avenue, Atlantic Avenue, Rockaway Boulevard. Then there would be plenty of room for bike lanes; and they wouldn’t even have to be protected.

  • Joe R.

    I couldn’t agree more. The more we ban parking, the more room there would be for bike lanes, bus lanes, outdoor cafes, even microhousing. That curbside space is very valuable. Using it for private car storage is about the worst possible thing we can do.

  • Joe R.

    Strictly speaking you’re 100% correct BUT the chance of implementing the logical solution in the form of much stricter driver training is about the same as a sonwball’s chance in hell. People in the US consider driving to be practically a birthright. Ideally, a driver’s license should be as hard to get and keep as a pilot’s license, but good luck getting that through the legislature.

    In the face of this reality, the only alternative is streets with self-enforcing designs which encourage safer driving.

  • Joe R.

    Those are all great suggestions which should be done irrespective of whether or not you put a bike lane on Northern Boulevard.

    However, keep in mind 34th Avenue isn’t a viable through route if you’re coming from points east of Flushing Meadows Park. Northern Boulevard could actually be a viable route from the Queensboro Bridge all the way to the tip of Long Island.

  • joyauto

    They try that at railroad crossings but killer drivers still find a way to go around the gate. But you are right. Nothing is going to change because the gov’t doesn’t want to discourage crashes. Read my book for the truth about traffic “safety.” https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/cfd95762a6a6bbba1dcaf47618ff6c3c9ec94c2fc5dcbf1c4b356b78c76f08b3.jpg

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Following the hit-and-run killing of 17-year-old Ovidio Jaramillo at the intersection of Northern Boulevard and Junction Boulevard last week, local elected officials and DOT Queens Commissioner Nicole Garcia toured Jackson Heights and East Elmhurst streets yesterday with an eye toward safety improvements. Northern and Junction are wide two-way streets, with Northern being especially large. Both are priority corridors […]