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.

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