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Queens Boulevard to get new safety changes

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Mayor Bloomberg Monday announced upgraded safety improvements - including new fencing, extended traffic signals, and restructured traffic patterns - to be complete this summer along the eastern and western ends of the infamous boulevard.

"Some people call Queens Boulevard 'the Boulevard of Death,'" Bloomberg said during a news conference in Sunnyside, noting that 72 pedestrians were killed along the 7.1-mile-long stretch from 1993-2000. Five pedestrians died on the boulevard in 2003.

"We're not going to rest as long as New Yorkers are dying on the streets of this city," the mayor said.

But business leaders and state Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan (D-Ridgewood) said two of the changes would squeeze local shops by slashing their customer base.

They said Sunnyside shops along the boulevard would suffer if two crossroads beneath the No. 7 train are closed and if two openings are closed into the municipal parking lot that stretches along the boulevard from 48th to 32 streets.

"If this goes through, the impact to the community will be devastating to the small merchants in the area," said Lily Gadin, owner of Daizies at 39-41 Queens Blvd.

Her upscale Italian restaurant has valet parking on weekends, and will be crushed if the city closes the parking lot entrances at 39th and 43rd streets, she said.

Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce President Gerald Lederman added that the city's Department of Transportation should conduct an economic impact study before implementing the changes. He said that closing the crossroads at the 33rd and 40th streets subway exits was sure to draw street vendors, who would pander their goods in the so-called "pedestrian refuges."

These vendors would add unwanted competition to existing businesses, he said.

"Sunnyside is not a very wealthy community," Lederman said. "And a lot of storekeepers are hanging on by the skin of their teeth."

Assemblywoman Nolan has written city DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall, asking her to consider alternatives ways to improve pedestrian safety along the boulevard, such as stepping up speeding enforcement and installing flashing yellow lights to remind drivers to slow down.

"Both Queens Boulevard and Greenpoint Avenue are the economic and social backbone of our community," Nolan said in the letter. "Any proposal to cut off streets to through traffic and access to parking would have a detrimental effect on the community."

City officials maintain that while the changes might inconvenience motorists, they are worth it to save pedestrians' lives.

DOT spokesman Keith Kalb said the changes would not limit parking in the municipal lot. He said there would still be "ample" access along the lot's 16 blocks, and drivers who want to enter the lot from the closed spots would just have to drive around the block.

"It's a huge lot," he said.

Recent safety measures such as longer cross walking times and fences on medians to deter jaywalking have reduced the number of fatal accidents to 11 in the past three years, he said.

It is hoped that annual fatalities will be reduced to zero with the next stage of improvements to the 3.5-mile stretch from Van Dam Street to the Long Island Expressway, and the one-mile length from Union Turnpike to Hillside Avenue, Bloomberg said.

He dismissed criticism that the safety changes would hurt the area's economy.

"First and foremost, we don't put economics high on the list (of priorities) above protecting citizens of this city," Bloomberg said. However, he added, "we do not anticipate there will be any bad economic impact. Quite the contrary."

Reach reporter Matthew Monks by e-mail at news@timesledger.com or call 718-229-0300, Ext. 156.

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