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Queens Boulevard may get overpass: DOT

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DOT spokesman Tom Cocola did not wish to reveal specifics about the projects until they have been further discussed with transportation experts and key members of the community, but he assured the people of Queens that the DOT is still working diligently to make the notoriously dangerous boulevard safer.

"They could be relatively ambitious engineering projects," Cocola said. "They are engineering enhancements that would take conversations with effective community boards, the borough president, etcetera."

A list of planned improvements for Queens Boulevard, including additional pedestrian fencing, traffic signal extensions and signage was announced by the DOT on Jan. 8 following Mayor Michael Bloomberg's State of the City address in Long Island City. But the more ambitious changes were not revealed because the agency did not want to spark unwarranted controversy, Cocola said.

"The cat came out of the bag a bit with the State of the City address, when the mayor announced we would continue to work on Queens Boulevard, so we agreed to announce some things that we know we can get going on." Cocola said.

"The basic issue here is we wanted to tell the people, specifically the people of Queens that we will never say we have solved Queens Boulevard. We're encouraged by the progress we've made over the last three years, but we are the first to realize that there's more to be done."

According to DOT plans, the city will begin making improvements to the outer sections of Queens Boulevard between the Long Island Expressway and Van Dam Street and from Union Turnpike to Hillside Avenue beginning in May.

The improvements will be similar to safety measures that have been installed on Queens Boulevard between the Long Island Expressway and Union Turnpike beginning in 2001.

In addition to putting in more fencing along medians to discourage jay walking, lengthening traffic signals and installing no-U-turn signs, new stripes will be painted along certain segments of the boulevard to help guide vehicles turning through wide intersections and service roads between 50th Street, and the LIE will be narrowed by installing curbside parking.

A section of 48th Street, between Queens Boulevard and 47th Avenue may be converted from two-way to one-way southbound, if the change is granted approval by Community Board 2, DOT officials said.

Estelle Chwat, the co-president of the Forest Hills Action League, a group that has continually pushed for safety improvements along Queens Boulevard since eighth-grader Sofia Livijev was killed on the thoroughfare in 2001, said she is not satisfied with the plans for improvements announced by the DOT on Jan. 8.

"It is just exactly what we have down here, which is the fences and some lighting and maybe some signs," Chwat said. "With all the improvements, there are still 83 instant deaths (since 1993), and we don't know how many died from injures nor how many are lying crippled."

Queens Boulevard had 72 pedestrian deaths from 1993 to 2000, or an average of 10.2 deaths per year. In 2001, when the DOT began implementing changes, the number of deaths dropped to four, followed by two in 2002 and five last year.

The boulevard is 7.2 miles long, extending from Long Island City to Jamaica.

According to Chwat, police records from the 112th Precinct show that 200 to 300 people have been injured every month on Queens Boulevard within the past year. Though police keep follow-up records on the medical conditions of people injured in accidents for a month following their injuries, Chwat said she was unable to obtain those records through a Freedom of Information Act request.

John Kaehny, the director of Transportation Alternatives, an advocacy group for bicyclists and pedestrians, said he perceives Queens Boulevard as significantly safer since the DOT began implementing changes, but the fundamental nature of the boulevard is still intimidating.

"Our sense is that injures have declined significantly on Queens Boulevard because of the measures that the DOT and police have taken, but as it is now, it doesn't provide good service to the people and it's still not a great place to walk," Kaehny said.

Kaehny suggested that with funding the boulevard could be "scrapped and built from the ground up," similar to the way the Grand Concourse in the Bronx was overhauled five years ago.

Reach reporter Tien-Shun Lee by e-mail at news@timesledger.com, or call 718-229-0300, ext. 155.

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