A Battle For Safety On Queens Blvd.
By RICHARD SCHACK
It was the early morning hours of the last
day of 1999 and Forest Hills resident Daniel Freeman was on his way home, only he had to
cross Queens Boulevard and Ascan Avenue among hundreds of cars. About 200 feet from one
curb and not quite reaching the other side, the 26-year-old was hit and killed by a car in
the westbound lane, that just kept on going.
Changes being implemented will widen islands on the
Boulevard to increase pedestrian safety.
Tribune Photo by Liz Goff
In memory of Freeman and the many
others who have lost their lives attempting to cross Queens Boulevard considered
possibly the most deadly street in the city over two dozen people marched along the
strip this week, demanding safety.
The residents held signs as they marched in
the summer-like heat and then rested in the shade to tell passers-by what they feared. The
signs were remembrances for all of the pedestrians hurt on the strip and the 63 who have
died there since 1993, according to Councilwoman Karen Koslowitzs office.
MOST DANGEROUS ROADWAY IN THE CITY?
With daily traffic of over
100,000 vehicles, Queens Boulevard is the most heavily trafficked roadway in all five
boroughs. Along with that notoriety comes the distinction of also being the most
accident-prone roadway in the city.
Dozens of Forest Hills residents walked and pushed
their carts down Queens Boulevard last weekend demanding increased safety on the roadway.
Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
According to Koslowitz, 112th
precinct statistics regarding Queens Boulevard show there have been over 1,030 documented
pedestrian and motorist injuries suffered on the Boulevard in the last seven years.
There are a number of reasons for the
alarming statistics. Besides the enormous volume of traffic, Queens Boulevard is the
widest intersection in the city from sidewalk to sidewalk. In addition, the surrounding
areas of Forest Hills and Rego Park contain the largest senior population in New York
State, and the timing of lights makes it difficults for seniors to travel the span in
time, local residents say.
The Boulevard includes a total of 10 lanes,
with an average of 33 seconds between traffic signals. Pedestrians are often left to wait
for the next light at the safety islands spaced between the two sidewalks. Some try to
beat out the cars, rather than waiting.
A senior marcher on May 7 chronicles her experience.
Tribune Photo by Ira Cohen
Many of the crosswalks are not
handicapped-accessible because of structural changes made in the mid-1980s and the
"islands" or meridians are considered dangerous by some because of their width.
The Forest Hills Action League, organizers
of this weeks march, add to their complaints the charge that a Department of
Transportation (DOT) study says that 70 percent of motorists on the mainline are speeding,
as are over half of those on the side roads. The DOT could not confirm the figure at
However, the Citys Department of
Transportation (DOT) and the Borough Presidents Office have recently completed
traffic studies of Queens Boulevard and a number of recommendations are being made which
they hope will increase the safety of the strip.
Over three million dollars
has been allocated to improve safety on Queens Boulevard, granted by the Borough
Presidents Office and Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz. Some of the measures have
already been undertaken.
The money, which will widen medians,
increase signals and add extra traffic lights among other initiatives, was earmarked by
Koslowitz and Shulman back in 1994. "There is no excuse for how long the DOT has
taken to complete their study. We dont need a study - we need
action," charged Senator Dan Hevesi. "Who knows how many accidents and deaths
could have been prevented on Queens Boulevard if something had been done sooner?"
According to a DOT spokesperson, the years
it has taken for the safety measures to become reality is typical procedure, and part of
the city process that must first be completed. While the money was awarded in 1994, it had
to be added to the DOTs budget and then a Request For Proposal (RFP) had to be
filed, which would set the stage for the procedures. The study was initiated in January of
1997, and the final report on the study was done in September of 1999.
Forest Hills Action League Co-President
Norbert Chwat commented, "All we want to do is be able to cross Queens Boulevard
without having to worry about being killed." His wife and Co-President Estelle Chwat
added, "Until something major is done this is a sad story, seemingly without
There are two phases to the
plan funded by Shulman and Koslowitz to improve safety on the boulevard. The first phase
has already begun, and will reportedly be completed in June by the Department of Design
Phase one involves improving the areas
between 67th and 70th Avenues. The next phase will make changes from 70th Road to Union
Three signalized crosswalks will be placed
in the mid-block with the first, located on 69th Avenue, already placed. Two more will be
placed at 68th and 70th Avenues. There are hopes this will make things safer for those who
decide to j-walk, which many often do because of the often long stretch in between
The medians will be widened to five feet at
left turn crossings. Two medians, located at 67th Road and 108th Street, will be extended
for improved safety.
There has been discussion of lengthening
signal times and placing barriers on the medians to discourage J-walking, but no plans are
in place at this time.
Pedestrian ramp modifications will be
undertaken at eight locations, including three on 67th Road and 102 Street and five on
A left-turn bay extension is being
considered for Yellowstone Blvd. going eastbound, but it will depend on subway vent
relocations, according to the Borough Presidents office. High visibility crosswalk
upgrades will also be placed on all legs of Yellowstone, as well as 67th Road, 68th
Avenue, and 70th Avenue.
Along with the traffic
safety improvements currently being undertaken, the Borough Presidents Office has a
Traffic Safety Task Force focusing on preventing pedestrian injuries and fatalities on
major roadways, with a special emphasis on Queens Boulevard.
The Task Force also includes an educational
program to advise both motorists and pedestrians on various safety issues, including
senior and school outreach.
"We try to do whatever we can not only
to improve safety, but to spread awareness," said Dan Andrews, spokesperson for
Borough President Claire Shulman. "On Queens Boulevard or any other dangerous roadway
in Queens," concluded Andrews, "one more pedestrian losing their life is one
more too many."
Joseph Hennessey, chairperson of Forest
Hills and Rego Parks Community Board 6, lost a friend on Queens Boulevard a number
of years ago, and he is relieved that additional safety measures are finally becoming a
reality. "You have to live close to here to really know just how dangerous it
is," he said, "It was imperative something was to be done. Something had to