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Jackson Heights Assembly Candidate Unveils Plan to Transform Deadly Northern Boulevard

Assembly Member Jessica González-Rojas back in 2020 when she was running for her seat. Photo: Julianne Cuba

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An insurgent — and car-free! — Assembly candidate from Queens wants to transform deadly Northern Boulevard into a 14th Street-style busway to help break the district's car culture that the incumbent lawmaker seems to favor.

The candidate, Jessica González-Rojas, blasted veteran Assembly Member Michael DenDekker as a do-nothing pol who has failed to stop the carnage on the highway-style roadway that tears through several neighborhoods.

“We cannot accept this any longer, it is time for a major change to improve Northern Boulevard,” said González-Rojas, executive director of the National Latina Institute, who is running for the 34th District seat, which includes Jackson Heights and Corona. “It runs straight through our community and is a dangerous roadway that has earned the title the boulevard of death.”

On Monday morning, González-Rojas announced her proposal at 80th Street and Northern Boulevard — where 11-year-old Miguel Torres was killed by a hit-and-run dump truck driver in 2012, and just one avenue over from where the driver of a Jeep hit and seriously injured a 12-year-old boy last year.

Her plan — which specifically calls for restricting traffic to just emergency vehicles, delivery trucks, buses and bikes along Northern Boulevard between 114th Street and Queens Plaza — also includes establishing a select bus service for speeding up bus times, creating a protected bike lane, and planting trees in a concrete median.

Nearly two dozen schools are within walking distance of Northern Boulevard, which forces youngsters to play a daily game of Frogger just to get to school, said González-Rojas.

“Several children were killed by cars just crossing this street on the way to school," she said.

In the 34th Assembly District, there have been a total of 6,244 crashes since 2017, causing 1,785 injuries, including 404 to pedestrians and 222 cyclists; and seven fatalities, including five pedestrians, according to Crash Mapper  — and four of those pedestrian fatalities occurred on Northern Boulevard, between 70th and 93rd streets, where there have also been 595 crashes, causing 150 injuries, including 43 to pedestrians and eight to cyclists since 2017.

DenDekker's controversial record on street-safety makes him unfit to represent the community any longer, said González-Rojas, referencing his bill that would have required cyclists to get a license, and the time he blamed a pedestrian for his own death, calling for laws and education campaigns to stop “distracted pedestrians.”

DenDekker has since told Streetsblog that he would not reintroduce legislation requiring licenses for cyclists, and even sponsored another bill last year that called for camera enforcement to keep drivers out of protected bike lanes.

But the district is the epitome of car culture — its residents need someone willing to fight tooth and nail to break it, not waver between the two, said González-Rojas. 

"He is very supportive of car culture. He's been noted in critiquing pedestrians for their own deaths. We need something more visionary," said González-Rojas. 

The district also includes the controversial Travers Park and 78th Street debacle, where locals and safe-streets advocate had won a commitment from the city to close a single residential street to car traffic, only to see a politically connected local car dealership steal back a quarter of the block to move their cars around. The dealership is owned by Howard Koeppel, who has long been cozy with politicians such as Mayor Giuliani and Queens power broker Joe Crowley, the former congressman.

The Parks Department has refused to discuss the matter, even though it had signed off on banning cars on the entirety of 78th Street between 34th Avenue and Northern Boulevard to create a seamless play area linking the Garden School, Travers Parks, and Staunton Field.

Like Crowley, DenDekker is also still a friend of the car industry — he's accepted $3,500 in contributions from the Automobile Dealers of NY PAC since 2011, including most recently a check for $500 last January, according to campaign finance records.

DenDekker accepted just one $250 contribution from Koeppel in 2011, the records show.

González-Rojas, who has accepted zero dollars from the auto industry, according to campaign finance records, says she is not taking any corporate PAC money, including from real estate or the fossil fuel industry, according to her campaign director. 

DenDekker said he is proud of his commitment to street safety, and would welcome anything to make the dangerous boulevard safer, he said, noting that the Department of Transportation is expected to finish a study on redesigning Northern Boulevard.

"I believe everything and anything is on the table when it comes to pedestrian safety, our community's environment, and increasing the effectiveness of public transportation," he said.

DenDekker's spokesman George Hadjiconstantinou added that the incumbent has a track record of writing legislation to improve safety for pedestrians, including prohibiting traffic control signals from displaying a green light for traffic while a pedestrian-control signal indicates walk for the pedestrian, increasing the number of school crossings guards, and suspending the registrations of vehicles that get a combination of five camera violations within a year.

But his legislative record also includes a victim-blaming bill to prohibit the use of electronic devices while crossing the street — a common practice the city has said does not contribute to traffic fatalities.

González-Rojas is also running against another safe-streets advocate in the Democratic primary — former Manhattan prosecutor, Nuala O’Doherty Naranjo, who has emerged as a leading advocate for better bus service in Jackson Heights.

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