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Posts from the "Queens" Category

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Pedestrian Islands Coming to Deadly Northern Boulevard Intersection

The striped median on Northern Boulevard at 61st Street, right, is set to receive concrete pedestrian islands, like those on Hillside Avenue, right. Image: DOT

The striped median on Northern Boulevard at 61st Street, right, is set to receive concrete pedestrian islands, like those on Hillside Avenue, right. Image: DOT

The intersection of Northern Boulevard and 61st Street in Woodside, where an unlicensed truck driver making a left turn through a crosswalk killed 8-year-old Noshat Nahian on his way to school last December, is set for some pedestrian safety fixes after months of work by elected officials and street safety advocates.

Members of Make Queens Safer said they hoped it was the first of many design changes DOT would make to Northern Boulevard, which ranks as one of the most dangerous streets for pedestrians in Queens.

The plan for the 61st Street intersection, first reported by the Daily News, includes the addition of concrete pedestrian islands and the elimination of left turns from westbound Northern Boulevard to southbound 61st Street. It will also adjust signals to increase crossing time for pedestrians and feature new school zone crosswalk markings and signage. DOT has already restricted some on-street parking to “daylight” the intersection’s northeast corner and improve visibility for pedestrians and drivers. Construction is set to begin this month and wrap up within weeks.

Immediately prior to announcing his Vision Zero agenda last January at PS 152, where Nahian was walking to school before he was killed, Mayor Bill de Blasio visited the intersection with Police Commissioner Bill Bratton and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.

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Rockaway Students Want DOT to Use Extra Asphalt for Walking and Biking


Rockaway Freeway, a multi-lane divided road beneath the A train on the Rockaway peninsula, is hardly friendly territory for walking or biking. A group of teens interning with the Rockaway Waterfront Alliance is looking to change that. Their goal: Gather 10,000 signatures on a petition asking DOT to convert some under-used road space, created as part of a traffic-calming project years ago, into a safe place for walking and biking.

“There are two striped buffers that aren’t being used for anything,” said Sebastian Rahman, 15, a sophomore at Scholars Academy in Rockaway Park and an intern with RWA. “People still do use them to get from point A to point B, even though it isn’t really isn’t safe.”

“You have people speeding there,” said intern Kaitlyn Kennedy, 16. “It’s not the safest place to be walking.” A road diet reduced the number of lanes and added the striped buffered areas more than a decade ago, but Rockaway Freeway continues to be a dangerous road: Last December, a teen driver killed one of his passengers and seriously injured another in a late-night crash on the road at Beach 41st Street.

“We saw the Rockaway Freeway as a great opportunity,” Rahman said. After Hurricane Sandy wiped out portions of the boardwalk, he continued, “there was no more connectivity between the east side and the west side of the peninsula.” Together, the student interns have come up with a concept that mixes new planted areas with more space for pedestrians and a dedicated bike path.

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New Vision Zero Details Emerge at Astoria Town Hall

Last night, more than 100 people gathered in Astoria for the latest in a series of Vision Zero town halls bringing together residents,  city officials, elected representatives, and advocates to talk about street safety. New information regarding City Hall’s current thinking about the safety of trucks and large vehicle fleets came to light, and officials also hinted at opening more street safety data to the public.

NYPD and DOT will hand out this flyer at high-crash intersections.

NYPD and DOT will soon start handing out this flyer at high-crash intersections.

While the city continues to flesh out policies, Queens residents affected by traffic violence came to last night’s meeting seeking answers and highlighting areas where the NYPD still needs to improve.

“We haven’t heard from the police yet. It would be nice to find out as much information as possible,” said Satie Ragunath, whose father-in-law Kumar was killed in a hit-and-run while crossing Northern Boulevard earlier this month. “We’d like to know, what can you guys do about accidents that have already happened?”

Deputy Inspector Kevin Maloney, commanding officer of the 114th Precinct, told Streetsblog that the Collision Investigation Squad was unable to find surveillance video of the crash and was broadening its search area, using cameras on nearby blocks in an attempt to identify the hit-and-run driver. “I’ll talk with the detective in charge of that investigation and I’ll be sure he speaks to you,” Maloney told Ragunath.

Chris Vanterpool said he and his 3-year-old son were struck by a turning driver two weeks ago while they were in a crosswalk near their Astoria home. Vanterpool said it was difficult to get information from the precinct after the crash. “I had to make 10 phone calls to get the report number,” he said, and when he wanted to get a copy of the crash report, the precinct required a $10 money order. “It costs $15 at the bank to get a $10 money order,” Vanterpool said.

Maloney, who spoke with Vanterpool about the crash after the forum, told Streetsblog that the precinct tries to focus on speeding, cell phone use, and red light summonses. The five officers in its traffic enforcement division, as well as a handful of patrol officers, are trained to use the three LIDAR speed guns available at the precinct.

“When I was a cop, precinct cops didn’t even shoot radar,” Maloney said. “Since then, the department’s evolved, so it’s something that on the precinct level we take seriously.”

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Who Killed Kumar Ragunath? Police Seek Suspect as Advocates Call for Action

Photo: Jimmy Van Bramer/Twitter

State Senator Michael Gianaris and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer join neighborhood and street safety advocates to call for the arrest of the hit-and-run driver who killed Kumar Ragunath. Photo: Jimmy Van Bramer/Twitter

Kumar Ragunath, 64, came to New York from Guyana in 1987. Five years later, he and his wife bought a house in Jamaica near Richmond Hill. He loved to play cricket and listen to Indian music, and he kept working through his retirement to help fund college for his six grandchildren. Ragunath had been out of work since August, but recently found a job at the Queens Plaza Holiday Inn.

Photo: Nasha Ragunath via DNAinfo

Photo: Nasha Ragunath via DNAinfo

On March 7 at about 10:25 p.m., he was on his way to his second day of work at the hotel when he crossed Northern Boulevard near 40th Road in Long Island City. Ragunath was outside the crosswalk when the driver of a dark-colored Chevy Blazer in the westbound right-hand lane hit him. The driver kept going. Ragunath was taken to Elmhurst Hospital Center, where he was put into a medically-induced coma and died the next day.

Now, police are offering a $2,000 reward for information leading to the arrest of the driver who killed Ragunath. Local elected officials, neighborhood advocates and street safety activists gathered today at the crash site to call for Ragunath’s killer to be brought to justice and for safer streets, especially in the growing Long Island City neighborhood and along Northern Boulevard.

Northern Boulevard has a long record of fatalities and injuries: Last year, 8-year-old Noshat Nahian and 3-year-old Olvin Jahir Figueroa were both killed by drivers on the street. Tri-State Transportation Campaign ranked it as the second most deadly street in Queens for pedestrians. Last month, after a curb-jumping hit-and-run driver seriously injured five people at a Northern Boulevard bus shelter, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer called on DOT to make the street a priority in its Vision Zero initiative. As at last month’s event, Van Bramer was joined by State Senator Michael Gianaris today.

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Fixes Set for Dangerous Jamaica Hills Intersection

A rendering shows expanded pedestrian space on Homelawn and 169th Streets at Hillside Avenue Image: DOT

A rendering shows expanded pedestrian space on Homelawn and 169th Streets at Hillside Avenue. Image: DOT

The intersections surrounding Hillside Avenue, Homelawn Street, and 169th Street in Jamaica Hills are on track for pedestrian safety upgrades this spring after NYC DOT’s plan [PDF] received the support of Queens Community Board 8 last week.

With entrances to the F train on all four corners and bus stops served by 17 routes, the busy commercial area is a magnet for people on foot. But Hillside and Homelawn is also one of the most dangerous intersections in Queens, ranking among the worst one percent in terms of crash frequency. From 2007 to 2011, there were 47 motor vehicle driver and passenger injuries, 34 pedestrian injuries, and two bicyclist injuries at this intersection and the four adjacent ones, according to DOT. A 19-year-old pedestrian was killed in May 2010 at Cedarcroft Road and Homelawn Street, according to data compiled by the Tri-State Transportation campaign.

hillside

Current conditions at the intersection of Hillside, 169th Street, and Homelawn. Image: Google Maps

DOT’s plan adds a concrete pedestrian island and striped crosswalk at Cedarcroft and Homelawn, and will also add concrete pedestrian islands to the existing painted median on Hillside at 169th Place and 170th Street. Crosswalks on Hillside Avenue will be upgraded to high-visibility “zebra” markings. Excess pavement where Homelawn and 169th Street meet Hillside will be converted to curb extensions and an expanded pedestrian triangle, which will now extend to form a median refuge on the north side of Hillside.

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In Queens, Parents Push for Safer Streets Near Schools

After 25-year-old Martha Tibillin-Guamug was killed crossing the street in Jackson Heights last week, the 110th Precinct went on the offensive, writing 200 summonses in 72 hours, including dozens for failure to yield to pedestrians. At a traffic safety town hall on Sunday, residents applauded the effort, then asked the police and DOT to do more.

Martha Tibillin-Guamug, 25, was killed by a bus driver in Jackson Heights last week. Photo: NY Post

Martha Tibillin-Guamug, 25, was killed by a bus driver in Jackson Heights last week. Photo: NY Post

The 110th already has a leg up on most other precincts when it comes to traffic safety — it issued 442 failure-to-yield and nearly 3,000 speeding tickets last year — but at the town hall hosted by Make Queens Safer, Congressman Joseph Crowley, and Assembly Member Francisco Moya, residents said it would take more than a ticket blitz to clamp down on dangerous driving.

Dozens of Queens schools have been designated as priority locations in DOT’s Safe Routes to Schools program, for example, but most have not received street redesigns as a result. From 2004 to 2009, DOT implemented street redesigns in areas surrounding 30 schools citywide. Researchers say these types of traffic calming measures could prevent 210 child injuries annually if the city applies them to all 1,471 elementary and middle schools.

I.S. 230 in Jackson Heights has already been identified as a Safe Routes to Schools priority location. Victoria Medelius, president of the school’s parent-teacher association, said traffic safety efforts shouldn’t happen only after someone dies. ”We have to do more than just issue a summons,” she told Streetsblog.

Medelius said one of her son’s classmates was walking to school with his mother last year when a driver hit and injured him. “It shouldn’t be that way. It wasn’t like that for me growing up,” said Medelius, who grew up in Jackson Heights. “Drivers should be more responsible.”

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Two Events This Weekend Build on Momentum for Safer Queens Streets

Northern Boulevard is one Queens street with plenty of room for pedestrian improvements. Photo: Brad Aaron

Northern Boulevard is one Queens street with plenty of room for pedestrian improvements. Photo: Brad Aaron

There are a couple of events focusing on safer streets in Queens this weekend.

Make Queens Safer will host a pedestrian safety town hall Sunday afternoon, with Congressman Joe Crowley and Assembly Member Francisco Moya. Representatives from the 108th and 115th Precincts were invited to the meeting, along with DOT and the Department of Education.

“Pedestrian safety remains a top priority for our communities,” said Crowley in an emailed statement. “In response to the recent uptick in pedestrian injuries and fatalities, we are holding this town hall to hear from Queens residents and get their input on how to make our streets safer. I am encouraged by the advocacy from Make Queens Safer and I thank the organization and Assemblyman Moya for working with us on this very important issue.”

Queens had the highest number of traffic deaths of the five boroughs in 2013 — 93 people killed, including 52 pedestrians — according to a Transportation Alternatives analysis of NYPD crash data. Six pedestrians died and 152 pedestrians and cyclists were injured last year on Queens Boulevard alone, TA said.

On Saturday, TA will be tabling as part of its ongoing “Zero on Queens Boulevard” campaign, which aims to bring protected bike lanes, pedestrian improvements and Select Bus Service to the 12-lane street.

Northern Boulevard has also been called a “boulevard of death.” Make Queens Safer and TA joined City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and state electeds Thursday to call on Mayor de Blasio to include Northern Boulevard in the first round of Vision Zero safety improvements. “Northern Boulevard stands out as one of the most egregious speedways in Queens,” said Celia Castellan, organizer of TA’s Queens Activist Committee. In addition to engineering improvements on wide boulevards in Queens, Castellan said, the city needs more traffic enforcement and an expanded NYPD Collision Investigation Squad.

Tomorrow’s TA event will be at Queens Boulevard and 71st Avenue, in Forest Hills, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. Sunday’s town hall will be from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m. at the Renaissance Charter School, 35-59 81st Street, in Jackson Heights.

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Eastern Queens Advocates Hope to Turn “Motor Parkway” Into Greenway

A 1944 Hagstrom map shows the former Long Island Motor Parkway route. A section of it, marked here in red, has been added to the state and national registers of historic places and converted to a multi-use path. Neighbors hope to extend the greenway east, in purple. Image from LIMParkway

Union Turnpike, running 10 miles through the midsection of Queens and across the border to Nassau County, is one of the borough’s most unsafe places to walk or bike. Now, a group of eastern Queens residents is looking to extend an existing walking and biking path through state- and city-owned property parallel to the multi-lane road.

Last year, Tri-State Transportation Campaign ranked Union Turnpike as the third-most dangerous road in Queens [PDF]. A particularly treacherous location is near the Cross Island Parkway, where sidewalks disappear and highway ramps take over. Earlier this month, a man was killed while walking in this area. He’s not alone: Pedestrians were killed at this location in 2000 and 2009, according to data compiled by CrashStat.org.

A group of advocates is finding a solution in the Long Island Motor Parkway, built by William Kissam Vanderbilt II in the early 20th century but abandoned just a few decades later as the parallel Grand Central and Northern State parkways opened. In 2002, Vanderbilt’s route was added to the state and national registers of historic places, and a section from Winchester Boulevard to Cunningham Park opened as a bike and pedestrian path.

Across the border, Nassau County hired consultants to prepare a vision plan for converting its section of the route into a shared-use path, but progress since the report was released in 2010 has been slow.

Joby Jacob, a professor who lives in Hollis Hills, has long dreamt of extending the existing Queens pathway east to the Nassau border. Now, he and fellow advocates in eastern Queens have launched an effort, named Motor Parkway East, to make the idea a reality.

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Cuomo Announces $67M for Bike/Ped Projects, Including Pulaski Bridge

Image: NYC DOT

[Editor's note: Streetsblog will not be publishing Monday in observance of Martin Luther King Jr. Day.]

Via the Tri-State Transportation Campaign: Earlier this week Governor Andrew Cuomo announced $67 million in funding for walking and biking infrastructure statewide, after advocates had pressed the state to follow through on the recently passed complete streets law with actual resources. These are federal funds that will be distributed by the state DOT.

One of the local projects that will receive funding is the protected two-way bike lane on the Pulaski Bridge, which will double the amount of space for walking and biking on this increasingly well-used connection between Queens and Brooklyn. The state contribution is $2.5 million, with the remaining $625,000 provided by the city.

NYC DOT revealed the design for the bikeway in December, and Assembly Member Joe Lentol, who has fought for the project since 2012, sent out a press release today with the news that Brooklyn Community Board 1 voted in favor of the plan earlier this week. Lentol says work on the project should begin once the weather warms up and construction season resumes. Here’s his full release:

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For One Reckless Driving Survivor, “Life Looks a Lot Different Than Before”

Traffic fatality numbers usually get the headlines, but as a measure of how safe or dangerous it is to walk and bike, injuries are the more stable metric. Since 2003, according to state DMV data, an average of just under 14,000 people were injured by motorists while walking and biking in the city each year.

Lalita Rao. Photo: Brad Aaron

Lalita Rao, left, with her daughter Amita. Photo: Brad Aaron

Of the 38 pedestrian and cyclist injury crashes in NYC on an average day, few are investigated by NYPD. Not all pedestrian and cyclist injuries are classified as “serious,” but traffic violence disrupts the lives of thousands of victims — and their loved ones — permanently. For every victim’s story the public sees or hears in the press, dozens go untold.

On May 28 of last year, Lalita Rao was walking home from Elmhurst Hospital, where she worked, when she was hit by a school bus driver making a turn. Lalita got up from the pavement and, believing she was not seriously hurt, was prepared to continue on her way. The bus driver, too, was about to leave the scene before a neighbor intervened. Responders arrived, and Lalita was taken back to Elmhurst, where she would undergo emergency brain surgery to save her life.

Lalita, who spoke at the Elmhurst pedestrian injury summit in December, suffered two brain hematomas. “The fact that I am alive is a miracle,” she said. “I never thought my life would change totally like this.”

Before the crash, Lalita ran every day — she’s run the New York marathon. She was a gardening enthusiast and loved to cook. She traveled a lot. After the crash, Lalita had to relearn how to walk, and how to use her arms and hands. She uses a walker now, and even so needs help keeping her balance. She suffered a seizure and may be on seizure medication the rest of her life.

Lalita can’t cook anymore because of her unstable balance. She can no longer tend to her garden. “Instead of going to work,” she said, “I go to rehab twice a day.”

According to Lalita, the driver who hit her was talking on a cell phone. Because of this, and since there were children on the bus at the time of the crash, she said the bus driver lost his job. But he was not arrested for hitting Lalita, and she does not know if he got a traffic ticket. Lalita and her family members said they didn’t hear much from NYPD after the crash.

“Because of a distracted driver,” said Lalita, “I need help for everything. I went from being independent to total dependency.”

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