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Another Utopia Pkwy Crash Shows What Happens When Drivers are Allowed to Speed on Unsafe Roads

Area residents have been asking for fixes for years.

12:00 AM EST on December 26, 2023

Photo: Citizen|

Post-crash.

A recent crash in eastern Queens is spotlighting the dangerous street conditions activists long have warned about — and which the city hasn’t fixed.

That's not the lede of this story. That's the exact lede of a September 2019 Streetsblog story about a crash on Underhill Avenue — but it might as well be the lede of today's post, which is about another high-speed crash very nearby on Utopia Parkway where residents have long been urging the Department of Transportation to make roadways safer.

First, see the Sunday afternoon crash as broadcast by ABC7, but posted to instagram by @bukhariancommunity:

The white car in this crash was heading eastbound on Peck Avenue, a side street intersected by wide and fast Utopia Parkway. The blue car that collided with the white car was heading northbound on the two-lane roadway, driven by a 20-year-old who was clearly speeding. The impact sent both cars into Kissena Corridor Park, with the white car turned upside-down, CBS2 reported.

The NYPD had no information on the crash, which suggests that the collision did not cause a fatality. WABC reported that the 72-year-old female driver of the white car was critically injured.

"People who live around here say this area is known for speeding," the local channel added. (Some homeowners near this crash site have placed large boulders in front of their homes, for example, to protect their property from crashes. And a speed camera on Utopia Parkway very close to the crash site nabbed 15 speeders per day between July 1, 2020 and June 30, 2021, before the cameras were on 24-hours-a-day, Streetsblog reported.)

How Streetsblog covered a 2019 crash.Click to read

Members of both Community Board 11 and 8 have asked DOT for fixes on and near Utopia Parkway, where this year alone there have been 61 reported crashes, injuring 27 people, in just the 2.6 miles between the Grand Central Parkway and Northern Boulevard.

"We told you so!" ran the headline of a 2019 article in Streetsblog reporting on a crash that badly injured a cyclist at 188th Street and Underhill Avenue nearby, where there is only an unprotected lane. The story, by Eastern Queens Greenway activist John Kelly, was unsparing in its assessment of city efforts. The crash, he wrote, "illustrates multiple failures of our system."

The roadway still lacks a protected bike lane.

Kelly said he didn't blame DOT, which he said is "hamstrung by local apathy" of the local community boards and "conservative politicians and community board members." (Kelly, who until recently was on CB11, said almost the exact same in an interview on Monday.)

Indeed, almost three years to the day after the September 2019 crash, Community Board 11 voted down a DOT plan to build protected bike lanes in a five-square-mile wedge of Bayside and Oakland Gardens between the Cross Island and Utopia parkways. DOT said it would go ahead anyway, but that plan itself had been less robust than community members wanted. The DOT did, for instance, add a protected bike lane on the south side of 53rd Avenue, but not on the north side.

"We wanted a protected bike lane network, but that's not what we got," Kelly said. "If I was biking on Utopia with my daughter at the time of that crash, we'd be dead." (And the portion of Utopia Parkway in Flushing where a driver mowed down 17-year-old Madeline Sershen in 2018 also hasn't been made safer.)

Safe roadways are especially important in this area of Queens because the city's "Destination Greenways" plan is being rolled out in individual segments — segments that are happening elsewhere first, Kelly said.

Cyclist Ben Turner, who was hit by a driver in 2017 in the same area, has long been pushing a plan called "Complete Utopia," citing the nearby parks and "high-density educational institutions like St John's University and Francis Lewis High School."

In March 2021, CB11 requested a study for a complete street, but nothing has happened.

"It's almost three years later and there's a lack of leadership, which I suspect goes up to the top," Turner told Streetsblog on Monday. "Mayor Adams has not made street safety a priority."

But Turner also blamed the city's approach to street safety projects, citing the aforementioned partial bike network. "They move in such a piecemeal fashion, with a few blocks here and a few blocks there, that they still anger many drivers who complain about losing 'parking,' but they never generate the support they could get because the piecemeal projects aren't as good as they could be."

The DOT did not respond to a request for comment on Christmas Day.

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