The Queens thoroughfare has seen close to 20 traffic fatalities in the last decade, many of whom were children crossing the street. Four people died on the corridor this year, and six people last year.
“Obviously we have not seen the kind of results we want to see here on Northern Boulevard,” said Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “We’ve had far too many tragedies, particularly these last couple of years.”
Last Wednesday, on International Walk to School Day, Trottenberg joined NYPD and elected officials to announce a major redesign of Northern Boulevard.
DOT will host three workshops in October, focusing on different parts of the corridor from Queens Plaza to Grand Central Parkway. The agency will collect ideas and input from community members on how to improve the dangerous thoroughfare.
The town halls will be on Monday, October 15, at the Louis Armstrong Middle School in Jackson Heights, Monday, October 22, at PS 151 in Woodside, and Monday, October 29, at PS 166 in Long Island City. All of them run from 6:30 to 8:30 p.m.
“That’s an area where we’re seeing, unfortunately, the most fatalities and crashes,” Trottenberg said. “That’s a 4.5-mile stretch of very challenging roadway. That’s a good place to start, and a lot of work to get that right, we can move further east if we need to.”
Trottenberg noted that Northern Boulevard “functions as a busy highway,” but it’s also a neighborhood street. It faces many challenges, including how narrow it is, the amount of curb cuts and the fact that it feeds actual major highways, which invites speeding.
The DOT has already done a lot of work on the corridor, the commissioner said, such as pedestrian safety islands, leading pedestrian intervals, new crosswalks, banned turns at intersections and new signal poles.
But so far, none of the actions have been comprehensive, spanning the entire boulevard throughout western and central Queens.
“We’re going to have our work cut out for us,” Trottenberg said. “But it’s something we look forward to.”
NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan said officers will begin expanded enforcement on the corridor. From October 1st to Thanksgiving, all five precincts that cover the boulevard –– the 108th, 109th, 111th, 114th and 115th –– will be part of a “High Visibility Enforcement” pilot program.
Chan said that effort will include speed enforcement, hazardous violations, failure to yield to pedestrians and even parking summonses for drivers who double park or obstruct traffic.
DOT and NYPD street teams will also be out on Northern Boulevard to speak to drivers about Vision Zero and the importance of maintaining safe speeds.
“It’s a collective effort,” Chan said.
Elected officials including State Senator Michael Gianaris, Assemblyman Michael DenDekker and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer threw their support behind the redesign and increased enforcement.
Van Bramer said he lost his childhood friend Kevin McGovern at the intersection of 54th Street and Northern Boulevard 25 years ago.
“This is a site that has been dangerous for a long time,” he said.
Officials hope that the Northern Boulevard redesign will be as successful as the remaking of Queens Boulevard, which was the first “Boulevard of Death.” Since Queens Boulevard was redesigned, there have no traffic fatalities.
Trottenberg said after conducting the workshops, DOT will see if there are changes, such as signal timing, that can be implemented before the winter. A broader set of changes would begin in the spring.
Cristina Furlong, co-founder of the group Make Queens Safer, said advocates have hosted too many vigils and memorials for people who’ve been killed. She said this push by the DOT is a good sign for the community that the agency is serious about this.
“Nobody knows the community better, and see what can be changed and fixed, than our neighbors who are here on this street everyday,” Furlong said. “I encourage them to come out to the workshops.”
On Monday, locals weighed in and shared their suggestions for improvements. Brian Zumba, a Corona resident who lives on Northern Boulevard, said his group wanted wider sidewalks and more benches. He also pushed for an education campaign.
“We should ask parents of children that go to school on Northern Boulevard and see what they want to put in to make it safer as well,” he said, “and also to teach them how to navigate safely whether as a pedestrian or as a driver.”
Tim Kesecker said he also agreed with the idea of an education campaign, especially for pedestrians.
“People get across that street by jaywalking,” he said. “I see that now and I’m probably guilty of it myself, but I see that and that seems like a good initiative, as just a root-level thing to do.”
(Meghan Sackman contributed reporting to this article.)