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Envisioning a Safer Queens Boulevard Where People Want to Walk

A safer Queens Boulevard isn't just about tweaks at the intersections. It's about making it a place where people want to walk. Images: Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

A safer Queens Boulevard isn’t just about tweaks at the intersections. It’s about making it a place where people want to walk. Image: Massengale & Co LLC and Urban Advantage for Transportation Alternatives

While safety improvements have saved lives on Queens Boulevard since the late 1990s, when it was routine for more than a dozen people to be killed in a single year, the “Boulevard of Death” remains one of New York City’s most dangerous streets. As DOT prepares to launch a comprehensive safety overhaul in the coming months, advocates have published some ideas about how to redesign Queens Boulevard for the Vision Zero era.

Architect John Massengale worked with photo-rendering firm Urban Advantage to produce a new vision of Queens Boulevard, published in the fall issue of Transportation Alternatives’ Reclaim magazine. Massengale explains the process:

The images do not reflect the standard DOT approach of focusing primarily on the intersections. Traffic engineers do that because the intersections are where traffic comes into conflict, with itself and with pedestrians and cyclists. Instead, the vision begins with making places where people want to be, and that naturally changes the emphasis to the space between the intersections.

Queens Boulevard cuts a 200-foot wide slice across Queens and remains a deadly street, ranked second in the borough for pedestrian deaths last year by Tri-State Transportation Campaign [PDF]. It used to be worse: Over the years, DOT has responded to advocacy for a safer Queens Boulevard with proposals like wider pedestrian islands at crosswalks, neckdowns, more crossing time, and turn restrictions, which have reduced fatalities significantly. While DOT added some mid-block changes like new on-street parking or pedestrian fences, intersections remained the focus of safety interventions, which didn’t necessarily enhance the pedestrian environment.

To transform Queens Boulevard for the Vision Zero era, Massengale focused on turning a 60-foot right of way on each side of the street into “a place where pedestrians are comfortable.” This, he says, will set the tone for drivers as they approach intersections. Massengale recommends wider, planted medians with narrower, slower general traffic lanes and protected bike lanes on the service roads.

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Queens DA Richard Brown on Driver Who Killed Allison Liao: Accidents Happen

The lead vehicular crimes prosecutor for Queens District Attorney Richard Brown (pictured) says a motorist who was cited by NYPD for failure to yield and careless driving, and who tested positive for alcohol, “had a green light” when he killed 3-year-old Allison Liao and injured her grandmother by striking them in a crosswalk. Brown’s office filed no charges. Photos via WNYC and Queens DA’s office

A letter from District Attorney Richard Brown’s office explaining why no charges were filed against the driver who killed 3-year-old Allison Liao offers disturbing insight into the mindset of prosecutors charged with holding motorists accountable for serious traffic crashes in Queens.

The crash was captured on video. On the afternoon of October 6, 2013, Allison was walking hand in hand with her grandmother in a crosswalk at Main Street and Cherry Avenue in Flushing when the driver approached from behind and to their right. The motorist turned directly into them, striking both with the front corner of his SUV and pulling Allison under the left wheels. Her grandmother, Chin Hua Liao, was injured.

Police summonsed Ahmad Abu-Zayedeh for failure to yield and careless driving. Neither NYPD nor Brown filed criminal charges against him, despite concluding that Allison and Chin Hua had the right of way.

According to a civil suit filed by Chin Hua and Allison’s father, Hsi-Pei Liao, Abu-Zayedeh told police he had consumed two glasses of wine before the crash. Abu-Zayedeh tested positive for alcohol in his bloodstream, the suit says, but his BAC threshold was below the .08 legal limit for driving.

Even with video evidence, unless a driver is drunk, New York City prosecutors rarely charge for injuring and killing pedestrians and cyclists. Brown, for example, filed no charges against a motorist who drove onto a Maspeth sidewalk and hit five children, one of whom died shortly after the crash.

A December 2013 letter to City Council Member Peter Koo from Charles A. Testagrossa [PDF], the assistant district attorney who supervises investigations and prosecutions of fatal crashes in Queens, says the DA didn’t prosecute the driver who killed Allison Liao because he had a green light and stayed at the scene.

Wrote Testagrossa:

As you know, the accident occurred as Allison crossed Main Street in a crosswalk with her grandmother. The motorist who struck her had a valid driver’s license and a green light to make a left turn. The driver remained on the scene and waited for police to arrive. The driver was administered two breathalyzer tests (PBTs) on the scene and the results of the test did not rise to the level of impairment. In fact, the PBT readings were such that, pursuant to Vehicle and Traffic Law (VTL) Sect. 1195(2)(b), they were “prima facie evidence that the ability of such person to operate a motor vehicle was not impaired by the consumption of alcohol and that such person was not in an intoxicated condition.” Additionally, there was no evidence of excessive speed or phone usage at the time of the collision.

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Julissa Ferreras Joins Corona Residents in Planning for a Safer 111th Street

111th Street is a barrier to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Local residents, advocates, and Council Member Julissa Ferreras want to change that. Image: Google Maps

111th Street is a barrier to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park. Local residents, advocates, and Council Member Julissa Ferreras want to change that. Image: Google Maps

Residents and community groups in Corona are working to tame traffic on an extra-wide street that separates their neighborhood from the largest park in Queens. They’re backed by a council member who, in addition to putting aside funds for the project, is asking the city to bring bike lanes and traffic calming to the rest of her district.

Flushing Meadows-Corona Park is surrounded almost entirely by highways, making access from surrounding neighborhoods difficult. One section of the park, home to the New York Hall of Science, crosses the Grand Central Parkway and extends to 111th Street. Corona residents must cross the street to get to the park. Even though it’s not an arterial road, 111th is designed like one, with up to three lanes in each direction and a center median.

“It’s a legacy of the planning for the World’s Fair,” said Jose Serrano, a community organizer at the Queens Museum, which is located within the park. ”It’s a legacy of a fair that was meant to be a regional destination, and not necessarily about planning for connectivity between the park and the local community.”

Earlier this year, the Queens Museum began working with Immigrant Movement International, Make the Road New York, and Transportation Alternatives to hear what local residents have to say about street safety. In July, the groups hosted a Vision Zero workshop to gather feedback.

“What stood out overwhelmingly was that neighbors wanted to see big-time change on 111th Street, both for pedestrians and for cyclists,” said Celia Castellan of Transportation Alternatives. “It connects everyone to Flushing Meadows-Corona Park.”

“We have a beautiful park here in Queens,” said Cristina Camacho, a member of Make the Road. “The people who live along 111th Street, they were having a lot of concerns about their children.”

In September, the groups organized a daffodil planting on the 111th Street median. At the event, they asked for more feedback on how residents thought the street should be designed. There were lots of ideas, from more stop lights and crosswalks to a protected bike lane. Some residents suggested converting the northbound lanes to a bike and pedestrian zone that could also have space for vendors, Serrano said.

Their ideas could become a reality. In fiscal year 2014, Council Member Julissa Ferreras allocated $2.7 million in discretionary capital funds to a redesign of 111th Street. On Thursday, she is meeting with DOT to get an update on how the money could be spent.

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First Look: Woodhaven BRT Could Set New Standard for NYC Busways

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In one option, “Concept 2,” buses would run in dedicated lanes next to through traffic, keeping local traffic, drop-offs, and deliveries to service lanes and out of the way of buses. Image: NYC DOT

NYC DOT and the MTA have developed three design concepts for Select Bus Service on Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard in southeast Queens, and two of them go further than previous SBS routes to keep cars from slowing down buses [PDF]. All of the options include some measures to shorten crossing distances for pedestrians on one of the city’s widest and most dangerous streets.

The Woodhaven SBS project, which covers a 14.4-mile corridor running from the Rockaways to Woodside, is the biggest street redesign effort in NYC right now. All the City Council members along the route have said they want big changes, and the concepts on display last night indicate that DOT and the MTA can deliver.

Agency representatives showed the three designs at an open house in Ozone Park where residents could leave written comments on posterboards. City Council Member Eric Ulrich told me he liked what he saw, and bus riders and transit advocates were especially keen on “Concept 2″ and “Concept 3,” which would create clearer paths for buses. Here’s a rundown of how each option would work.

Image: NYC DOT

Image: NYC DOT

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Martin Srodin, 46, Killed by Semi Truck Driver in Glendale Crosswalk

Martin Srodin, whose path is indicated in white, was killed by a trucker making a left turn in Glendale this morning. Semi truck drivers have killed at least eight NYC pedestrians since January 2012. Image: Google Maps

Martin Srodin, whose path is indicated in white, was killed by a trucker making a left turn in Glendale this morning. Semi truck drivers have killed at least eight NYC pedestrians since January 2012. Image: Google Maps

A truck driver killed a pedestrian in Glendale this morning. Police had filed no charges as of this afternoon. It is unclear if the truck was legally allowed to operate on city streets.

At approximately 6:07 a.m., 46-year-old Martin Srodin was crossing 80th Street at Cooper Avenue when the driver of a semi truck ran him over with a rear trailer tire, according to NYPD. Police said Srodin was walking west to east on Cooper as the truck driver, also eastbound on Cooper, was turning left onto 80th Street.

Srodin, who lived a few blocks away from the crash site, suffered trauma to the body, an NYPD spokesperson said. He was declared dead at Elmhurst Hospital.

NYPD did not have information on who had the right of way, and said the Collision Investigation Squad was working the crash. The truck driver, a 64-year-old man, was not immediately charged or summonsed.

There is a left turn lane from eastbound Cooper Avenue at 80th Street, according to a recent Google Maps image, and what appears to be a dedicated left turn signal. If the pedestrian had a walk signal, the driver should by law be charged under Section 19-190, which makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way.

Photos published by the Post show police administering a breath test to the driver at the scene. Photos also indicate the truck has New York plates, but it appears the truck does not have cab-mounted crossover mirrors, which give truck drivers a view of what’s directly in front of them. Though it’s unclear if the mirrors would have prevented this crash, they are required by law for trucks weighing over 26,000 pounds that are registered in New York State and operated in New York City.

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Council Members Line Up in Support of Woodhaven Bus Rapid Transit

Council Member Donovan Richards calls for center-running Bus Rapid Transit on Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards at City Hall this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Council Member Donovan Richards calls for center-running Bus Rapid Transit on Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards at City Hall this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Council Member Donovan Richards stood on the steps of City Hall this morning, asking DOT to move ahead with full-fledged Bus Rapid Transit on Woodhaven Boulevard and Cross Bay Boulevard. Six other Queens council members have joined Richards on a letter to DOT and the MTA asking for center-running bus lanes, station-like bus shelters, and pedestrian safety improvements.

In addition to Richards, council members Eric Ulrich, Elizabeth Crowley, Karen Koslowitz, Julissa Ferreras, Daniel Dromm, and Jimmy Van Bramer – whose districts all include the potential BRT route — want DOT and the MTA to “consider implementing full-featured Bus Rapid Transit” on Woodhaven [PDF]. There is now a united front of support for BRT from city elected officials in advance of the anticipated rollout of a bus improvement plan from DOT and MTA this fall.

The agencies have been hosting workshops in the area and have already outlined a first phase that includes minor bus upgrades. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg has said the budget for future phases of the project will be significant, and Richards hopes the city uses those funds to create a robust BRT line. “We look forward to a full-fledged BRT service in Queens,” he said. “We’re closer than many of us anticipated to pulling this off now.”

That’s due in no small part to the work of the Riders Alliance, which has spent months organizing bus riders. Stephanie Veras, a Woodhaven resident who volunteers with Riders Alliance, relies on buses to get to Queens Center Mall and to access the subway. Too often the bus is slow and unreliable, she said. Veras presented 5,000 petition signatures she and other volunteers had gathered in favor of center-running BRT. “It’s about time that Queens get better buses,” she said. ”Queens bus riders deserve better.”

Richards said he endured long bus rides on Woodhaven when commuting to Vaughn College of Aeronautics in Elmhurst as a student. Better buses can create better economic opportunities, Richards said, especially for residents in his transit-starved district. ”We stand with those families who have had a hard time just connecting to the other side of Queens,” he said. “This is an economic justice issue. This is an environmental justice issue.”

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The Case for Driving as Fast as You Want in a School Zone

If you’re wondering who complains about a wrist-tap fine for speeding through a school zone during school hours — the type of person who has Council Member Mark Weprin sweating bullets over the city’s new 25 mph speed limit — check out this Times Ledger op-ed from one Bob Friedrich, an Eastern Queens eminence who believes NYC’s small and constrained speed camera program is a government conspiracy to balance the city budget on the backs of working stiffs who just want to ignore traffic laws without interference.

Friedrich is president of the Glen Oaks Village co-op and a ”civic leader,” according to his bio line. There’s a reason “traffic safety expert” is not one of his bona fides, but what he lacks in knowledge he more than makes up for in unsubstantiated hyperbole.

Friedrich cuts to the chase straight away. ”Since school is now open, these speed cameras have been operational, and I have encountered dozens of people who have received a $50 ‘no-point’ speeding summonses from the city,” he writes. “These unfortunate motorists were ticketed for driving 10 mph over the posted speed limit where these one-armed bandits were waiting for them.”

Points to Friedrich for total ideological purity. By acknowledging that drivers are traveling in school zones at speeds that dramatically increase their chances of killing someone, then making clear that he has no problem with that, he establishes himself as a hardcore believer in the entitlement to do whatever you want when you’re behind the wheel. This is essential, as it sets readers up for the nuttiness to come.

And here it is, next graf: “Most serious accidents are caused by drinking or road rage recklessness. Speed cameras will neither decrease nor halt this behavior.”

Boom. With remarkable economy Friedrich proves he has no idea that the most common cause of deadly crashes in NYC is, in fact, speeding. And data showing that lower speeds reduce crashes and casualties? The word you’re looking for is “Fuhgeddaboudit.”

But the following paragraph is where Friedrich really lets loose. It’s so good we have to indent it.

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Rumor Mill: Safety Overhaul in the Works for the “Boulevard of Death”

Word on the street is that Queens Boulevard could be the first major arterial redesign initiated by Polly Trottenberg’s DOT.

DOT is preparing to launch an effort to redesign Queens Boulevard. Photo: gaspi/Flickr

DOT is reportedly preparing to launch an effort to redesign Queens Boulevard. Photo: gaspi/Flickr

At a Friday panel on transportation equity organized by the Congress for the New Urbanism, architect John Massengale said he is working with Transportation Alternatives on conceptual designs that will spark conversation before DOT hosts workshops about the project. ”The idea is that side lanes on the multi-lane boulevard become much, much slower,” Massengale said. The basic framework he envisions would include wider sidewalks and a protected bike lane next to the sidewalk.

DOT has not responded to a request for comment, but a source familiar with the project confirmed that the agency will soon reach out to elected officials and community boards about remaking what’s long been known as the “Boulevard of Death.” Update: ”Safety on Queens Boulevard is a priority for DOT,” an agency spokesperson said in a statement. “We continue to engage elected officials, community boards and other local stakeholders in the coming months in a conversation about Queens Boulevard safety.”

While fatalities on Queens Boulevard dropped after changes made more than a decade ago, the street still ranks as one of the borough’s most dangerous streets. In May, DOT added Queens Boulevard to its arterial Slow Zone program, but did not lower its speed limit to 25 mph.

Volunteers at TA have spent years building support for a safer Queens Boulevard, with a united front of council members and growing interest from community boards along the street.

Massengale said New York will have to continue breaking new ground on street design to eliminate traffic deaths. “These new arterials, they have cut fatalities,” Massengale said, referring to NYC DOT’s protected bike lane and arterial traffic calming projects. “But this design is not going to get to zero, because the only way to get to zero is to slow the cars way down.” Even recently redesigned streets like Second Avenue, he said, don’t have design speeds that match the city’s impending 25 mph speed limit.

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NYPD Does Not Apply Vision Zero Law in Fatal Elmhurst Crosswalk Collision

Melania Ward was struck by an MTA bus driver as she crossed Astoria Boulevard in Elmhurst. The red arrow represents the movement of the driver and the white arrow the movement of the victim, according to NYPD. Image: Google Maps

Melania Ward was struck by an MTA bus driver as she crossed Astoria Boulevard at 80th Street in Elmhurst. The red arrow represents the movement of the driver and the white arrow the movement of the victim, according to information released by NYPD. Image: Google Maps

An MTA bus driver killed a pedestrian in Queens last night. As with a fatal August crash in Manhattan, NYPD did not apply charges against the driver under a new Vision Zero law, despite information that suggests the victim had the right of way.

Melania Ward, 55, was hit by the driver of the Q47 she’d been riding after she exited the bus at Astoria Boulevard and 80th Street, according to the Daily News. The crash happened at around 10 p.m. NYPD told Gothamist the victim was “crossing Astoria Boulevard, south to north, in the marked intersection, when a Q47 MTA bus, traveling north on 80th Street, proceeded to make a right turn onto eastbound Astoria Boulevard.”

From the Daily News:

The woman was apparently run over by the front tire of the bus, witnesses said.

“She was sitting next to me on the bus,” said Jan Lim, 27, who ran over to the woman as she lay under the midsection of the bus.

“She was crying. I said don’t fall asleep, keep breathing,” Lim said.

Ward was pronounced dead at Elmhurst General Hospital.

Unless the bus driver had an exclusive signal phase, based on NYPD’s account of the crash, Ward would have had the right of way. NYPD told Gothamist the department “could not say” if this was the case, and no charges were filed.

A new city law makes it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians or cyclists who have the right of way. Intro 238, now known as Section 19-190, took effect on August 22, but 60 days after the bill was signed by Mayor de Blasio, a spokesperson for the mayor said NYPD wasn’t ready to enforce it.

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First Phase of Woodhaven Bus Upgrades Coming This Fall. Then What?

Select Bus Service on Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards is coming to Queens in two phases. The first round, due early this fall, will bring nearly two miles of painted bus lanes and a road diet for service roads along more than a mile of Woodhaven Boulevard [PDF]. DOT has said it will release a design for the second phase later this fall.

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The first phase of bus upgrades on Woodhaven Boulevard calls for two stretches of bus lanes. Map: NYC DOT

We don’t know yet whether DOT will start to make good on Bill de Blasio’s campaign promise to build “world-class” Bus Rapid Transit. But a 2009 study of Woodhaven Boulevard offers a taste of the most basic BRT improvements the agency could propose, plus a cautionary tale for advocates.

The route DOT and the MTA are studying for SBS stretches nearly 14 miles from Woodside to the Rockaways, with the initial improvements focusing on a shorter stretch of Woodhaven Boulevard.

The agency will be adding offset bus lanes, running in each direction next to the parking lane, from Eliot Avenue to Metropolitan Avenue — about 1.4 miles, or one-tenth of the total project corridor. These lanes will be in effect only during rush hours, from 7 to 10 a.m. and from 4 to 7 p.m. The southern end of the new bus lanes is immediately north of a bridge over Long Island Rail Road tracks, where Woodhaven has three car lanes in each direction. By reducing the number of general traffic lanes north of this pinch point to the same number as the bridge, DOT can demonstrate how Woodhaven functions during rush hours with less space for cars and more for bus riders.

The second section of bus lanes covers slightly more than a half-mile in Ozone Park. There, curbside bus-only lanes will replace parking as Woodhaven and Cross Bay Boulevards approach the complex intersection of Rockaway Boulevard and Liberty Avenue, where many bus riders transfer to the A train. Like the bus lanes north of Metropolitan, these lanes will be in effect from 7 to 10 a.m. and 4 to 7 p.m., except for the final block of each approach, where the lanes will be for buses only between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m.

According to DOT’s presentations, the agency expects the first phase to improve bus speeds by about 10 percent [PDF] on the sections with bus lanes. The bus lanes are unlikely to be camera-enforced, since state law allowing the use of cameras restricts them to just one Select Bus Service route in Queens, and DOT has already said that it will use cameras on the M60 SBS route, which runs through Astoria to LaGuardia Airport.

Advocates said the first round of improvements make sense as an incremental step on the way to something bigger. “Eventually, everyone could benefit from comprehensive solutions like center-median bus lanes and off-board fare collection. But it won’t happen overnight,” said Jess Nizar, senior organizer at the Riders Alliance. “Bus-only lanes are one step to making commutes faster for both bus riders and drivers.”

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