Alternative transportation activists are revving up their campaign to make Queens Boulevard safer and more accessible for bikers, pedestrians and subway and bus riders.
To push for changes on the “Boulevard of Death,” several dozen people braved the snow and sleet Saturday to join Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Activists Committee for a march along the major thoroughfare from Elmhurst to Forest Hills.
“Our goal is to bring a complete street [design] to Queens Boulevard,” said Celia Castellan, who serves as the lead organizer for TA’s Zero on Queens Boulevard campaign, aimed at eliminating pedestrian fatalities.
Castellan said the group organized the march partly in response to the deaths of two men who had been walking on the sidewalk near Broadway Nov. 11 when police said they were fatally struck by a car. Participants in the Winter Wander march paused at the site of the fatal accident.
“We once again had to realize the numbing and totally unacceptable truth that our streets are not safe enough for the people who use them,” Castellan said.
The boulevard earned its nickname from the number of people who have died in traffic accidents. In 1997, a record-high 18 people were killed, according to the city Department of Transportation. In 2011, that figure fell to zero, but two people died last year.
The DOT said safety is the agency’s top priority and noted that traffic fatalities in Queens have fallen 35 percent in the last 10 years.
Over the past decade, countdown signals have been installed at more than 60 intersections on Queens Boulevard, the speed limit has been lowered from 35 to 30 mph and the intersection with Union Turnpike in Kew Gardens has been redesigned, according to the DOT.
“While there are no plans for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard at this time, it is important to note that Queens Boulevard combines particularly intense vehicular traffic with a high volume of pedestrians,” DOT spokeswoman Nicole Garcia said.
Red light cameras, electronic boards showing cars’ speed, 46,000 feet of pedestrian fencing, high-visibility crosswalks, updated signs and several street closures to vehicles have also been part of improvements on the 7-mile boulevard, according to the agency.
But advocates said the changes like fences on the medians between lanes and longer countdown-clock timing mainly prevent pedestrians from jaywalking.
“It doesn’t really provide a safe haven for pedestrians to find a respite in the middle of their long 12-to-14 lane walk,” Castellan said.
The Queens Activist Committee, made up of about 30 to 40 people, has so far collected more than 2,000 signatures from people in favor of pedestrian improvements, bike infrastructure and select bus service. Elected officials, including City Council members Daniel Dromm (D-Jackson Heights) and Karen Koslowitz (D-Forest Hills), have also pledged their support along with more than 40 coalitions like Woodside on the Move, organizers said.
Dromm met with the group in front of Queens Center Mall and told participants that he has pledged capital funds for road improvements in the past, helped to create pedestrian plazas and rallied with advocates.
“Everybody has a horror story about Queens Boulevard and people want to see a different street,” said Rego Park resident and committee member Peter Beadle, who said he was pushing for protected bike lanes installed in medians on the roadway.
Beadle choked up while speaking Saturday about how he worried about the safety of his 12-year-old son.
Sunnyside resident Jeff Guyton said light sequences should be changed to allow walkers more time to cross side streets leading into the boulevard.
“Pedestrians need to have a time when they can walk,” he said.
The next step for the Transportation Alternatives group is to solicit suggestions from community members about other ways to improve Queens Boulevard.
“Nowhere in this conversation are we saying we are the experts,” Castellan said. “We are going to the community boards in the next few months with an idea or a vision for the street.”
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