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DOT’s Safety Plan for 21st Street in Astoria Leaves Everyone Wanting More

A street safety plan for 21st Street in western Queens has left elected officials asking for more from DOT.

Since 2009, five people have died on 21st Street in Astoria. Map: DOT

Since 2009, five people have been killed on 21st Street in Astoria. Map: DOT

The plan covers approximately two miles of 21st Street between the Queensboro Bridge and Triboro Bridge. In terms of safety, the street ranks in the bottom third of Queens’ roads. There were five fatalities on 21st Street from 2009 to 2015, including two pedestrians and one cyclist, according to DOT [PDF]. From 2009 to 2013, there were 14 serious injuries, including five pedestrians and one cyclist.

DOT’s plan doesn’t measure up to the danger on 21st Street.

The agency is proposing adding LED lights, which are already in the process of being phased in citywide, to improve nighttime visibility. It will also refresh the street’s paint, adding high-visibility zebra markings to existing crosswalks and installing a new stripe along the curbside parking lane to reduce speeding.

Earlier this month, DOT added leading pedestrian intervals, which give pedestrians a seven-second head start, to 10 intersections. An LPI was already in place at 21st Street and Broadway.

A total of 12 painted curb extensions will be added to nine intersections to shorten crossing distances. Council Member Costa Constantinides says his office will pay the Doe Fund to maintain the painted neckdowns, which could be candidates for capital upgrades funded through the council district’s participatory budgeting process. DOT also says it is seeking funds for capital upgrades to the neckdowns.

One spot that isn’t getting much attention from DOT is the complex intersection of Astoria Boulevard, 27th Avenue, and 21st Street. The Department of City Planning’s western Queens transportation study recommended neckdowns and pedestrian islands for the intersection, but they do not appear in DOT’s plan.

21st Street has long stretches without traffic signals or marked crosswalks, and DOT plans to install a new traffic signal at 29th Avenue. The intersections at 28th Avenue, 30th Road, 33rd Avenue, and 39th Avenue, however, did not meet DOT’s requirements for new signals.

Assembly Member Aravella Simotas, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, and State Senator Michael Gianaris all had the same fundamental message: The plan is a good start, but they want more. “It wasn’t everything we were looking to get,” Constantinides said. “There is definitely more that can be done on 21st Street.”

While the elected officials seem most focused on securing additional traffic lights, signals don’t necessarily make a street safer. Steve Scofield, a Transportation Alternatives volunteer who grew up on 21st Street in the 1950s, said bike lanes and pedestrian islands could be included as part of a road diet. “There’s frequently just one lane of moving traffic,” he said, “and you’re just weaving back and forth between double parkers and left turners.”

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NYPD: No Charges for Driver Who Killed Man in Brooklyn Crosswalk

NYPD filed no charges against the driver who killed Martin Hernandez Tufino as he crossed the street in a crosswalk. 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

NYPD filed no charges against the driver who killed Martin Hernandez Tufino as he crossed the street in a crosswalk. 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

NYPD said charges probably won’t be filed against the driver of a private bus who ran over and killed a man in a Brooklyn crosswalk, though it appears the victim was crossing with the right of way.

Police said Martin Hernandez Tufino, 64, was crossing Avenue M north to south at around 2:11 p.m. Friday when the driver struck him with a Freightliner bus while turning right from Coney Island Avenue, according to Gothamist.

From the Daily News:

The man was in the crosswalk and was caught under the bus’s front wheels. He suffered a massive head injury, horrified witnesses told police.

He died at the scene.

Though Tufino was in a marked crosswalk and would presumably have had the right of way, anonymous police sources told the Daily News “no charges were expected.”

It would not be unusual for the driver in this case to avoid penalty. Since the Right of Way Law took effect last August, motorists have injured and killed thousands of New York City pedestrians, yet as of this month NYPD had applied the law just 17 times.

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Eastern Queens Electeds Want Bus Lanes. Will DOT Deliver?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support Bus Rapid Transit, including separated bus lanes, in their districts. Does DOT?

These 11 elected officials from eastern Queens support bus lanes in their districts. Does DOT?

Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz have taken up the cause of opposing bus lanes for Select Bus Service in their eastern Queens districts. While the pair has gotten a lot of attention, they are outnumbered by almost a dozen city, state, and federal elected officials along the route urging the city to be bolder with its bus service upgrades.

“As elected officials who represent communities in Eastern Queens, we write in support of a Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) corridor that would improve commuter, vehicular, and pedestrian transportation in a portion of a city that is a transit desert: the Flushing-Jamaica area,” begins the letter electeds sent last month to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and New York City Transit President Carmen Bianco [PDF].

The letter was signed by Congressmember Grace Meng; State Senators Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., Leroy Comrie, and Toby Ann Stavisky; Assembly Members Vivian Cook, Ron Kim, Nily Rozic, William Scarborough, and David Weprin; and Council Members Peter Koo and Paul Vallone.

Many of these officials are from districts that overlap with neighborhoods represented by Lancman and Simanowitz.

The electeds ask specifically for bus lanes, including “protected lanes where physically feasible” and urge big changes to improve trips for tens of thousands of bus riders in their districts. “We believe there would be substantial public support for BRT,” they write. “Full-featured BRT can be successfully implemented in Eastern Queens.”

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Diversity Plaza Wishes You a Happy Valentine’s Day

In preparation for Valentine’s Day, the Neighborhood Plaza Partnership set up a camera in Jackson Heights’ Diversity Plaza to learn how to say “I love you” in some of the 138 languages spoken in Queens.

Diversity Plaza lives up to its name.  In the video you’ll hear Farsi, Bangla, Hungarian, Italian, Urdu, Basaa, and Tibetan.

Located in the heart of a busy Jackson Heights retail district just one block from a major bus and subway hub, the plaza has been adopted by local business owners, including some who opposed it at first. In the last two years it has hosted an Eid-ul-Fitr celebration during Ramadan and even an outdoor meeting of Community Board 3.

The Neighborhood Plaza Partnership provides technical and financial assistance to organizations that maintain plazas in low-income communities.

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Bus Lane Foes Lancman and Simanowitz: Car Dependence Is a Fact of Life

Image: NYC DOT

Most of the delays for riders on the Q44 bus occur while the vehicle is in motion, indicating that dedicated bus lanes would help clear a path for faster service. Image: NYC DOT [PDF]

What happens when you hold a meeting about better bus service but bus riders don’t show up?

Residents of Kew Gardens Hills packed an open house last night in a near-panic about the carmageddon they fear if bus lanes are installed on Main Street in their neighborhood. While the crowd last night was big and boisterous, very few regular bus riders turned up. Residents of other neighborhoods along the route who would benefit most from bus lanes — a key component of Select Bus Service plans — were also scarce last night.

In the absence of a pro-transit constituency, City Council Member Rory Lancman and Assembly Member Michael Simanowitz fed the crowd’s perception that giving more street space to buses would cause a traffic disaster. The SBS supporters who did attend said transit riders should get a chance to weigh in before decisions get made. However, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who was in attendance, seemed prepared to back off bus lane plans for the neighborhood already.

DOT has been mulling Select Bus Service between Flushing and Jamaica for routes on Main Street, Kissena Boulevard, Parsons Boulevard, and 164th Street. Last night, the agency narrowed its focus to the Q44, which carries 28,700 riders each day. The route travels between Jamaica and the Bronx Zoo, following Main Street through Flushing.

The project will upgrade limited-stop Q44 service to a full SBS route, including off-board fare payment, traffic signals that hold a green light for buses, and pedestrian safety upgrades at key intersections, all of which were well-received at last night’s meeting [PDF].

DOT has already added bus lanes to some streets in downtown Jamaica and is bringing centralized control of traffic signals to downtown Flushing. While DOT has not laid out where it would add new bus lanes, the specter of dedicating street space to transit was too much for some Kew Gardens Hills residents to bear. “It’s a disaster,” said Community Board 8 transportation committee member Carolann Foley. “You lose a whole lane going down Main Street, so the traffic is going to be crazy.”

Rory Lancman and Michael Simanowitz don’t think anything can change the car dependence of their districts.

DOT and the MTA have now added bus lanes to more than half a dozen major streets for SBS routes. Nowhere has carmaggedon ensued. On Webster Avenue in the Bronx, for instance, general traffic moves just as fast as it did before, but now the tens of thousands of people who ride buses every day get where they’re going faster.

Lancman and Simanowitz, however, view traffic as an unstoppable force of nature. “The bus ridership in the neighborhoods that I represent is not very significant,” said Lancman, who has helped lead the bus lane opposition with Simanowitz and local civic associations. “In my district, better bus service is not going to make up for people losing parking spaces… People are not going to suddenly get on a bus and shop on Main Street and lug their groceries home.”

“There are a lot of cars, and there are going to be more cars,” Simanowitz said. “We’re not going to get cars off the street just by putting in an express bus lane. It’s a fact of life. The cars are here.”

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Big Turnout for DOT’s First Queens Boulevard Safety Workshop

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Change is coming to the most feared street in New York.

More than 100 people turned out last night to tell NYC DOT how they want to improve safety on Queens Boulevard. Known as the Boulevard of Death for its appalling record of traffic fatalities and injuries, Queens Boulevard functions as a surface-level highway running through more than seven miles of densely settled neighborhoods. DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced last week that it would be a Vision Zero priority in 2015, and Wednesday’s meeting kicked off what advocates hope will be a comprehensive yet expeditious process to redesign the street for safe walking and biking and effective transit.

Queens Boulevard remains one of the deadliest streets in the city, even after signal timing changes and other adjustments led to major reductions in pedestrian deaths about 15 years ago. In 2013 alone, six pedestrians were killed on the street, reports the Times Ledger.

Streetsblog couldn’t attend last night, so we reached out to Queens residents this morning to get their take on the event. There’s a lot of excitement for what DOT has set in motion, as well as a sense that the agency has to act swiftly and decisively to keep the momentum going.

Last night’s workshop focused on the segment of Queens Boulevard in Woodside, from Roosevelt Avenue to 73rd Street. Grouped together at 12 tables, participants were briefed by DOT staff on the agency’s street design toolkit and then each group got to work imagining how those safety improvements could apply to this stretch of Queens Boulevard. At a separate event on the Upper West Side last night, Trottenberg said those ideas will inform short-term fixes for now, with more workshops to follow for other sections, the idea being to piece together a permanent safety overhaul for the whole corridor.

Our contacts remarked on how the different perspectives at the workshop converged around similar ideas. “There was a cross-section of users of the street at the workshop, including people who walk, bike, drive, and take buses, and all who spoke mentioned feeling unsafe on the Boulevard as it is currently designed,” said Transportation Alternatives volunteer Rachel Beadle. “Participants at EVERY break-out table were asking for bike lanes, bus lanes, and safer pedestrian crossings.”

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Pulaski Bridge Bike Path Now Scheduled to Open by End of 2015

This time next year, cyclists and pedestrians will no longer share the same cramped path on the Pulaski Bridge. Image: DOT [PDF]

This time next year, cyclists and pedestrians will no longer share the same cramped path on the Pulaski Bridge. Last year, DOT said the project would be done by now. Image: DOT [PDF]

About a year behind schedule, a major project to improve walking and biking between Queens and Brooklyn is set to move forward in 2015.

The project, originally scheduled to be complete this year, will convert one southbound car lane on the Pulaski Bridge into a protected bike lane, giving more breathing room to pedestrians on what is now a shared-use path and calming traffic headed toward deadly McGuinness Boulevard in Brooklyn. Now that a construction contract has been signed and a design is in place [PDF], DOT told an audience in Long Island City last night that the new pathway will open in 2015, but maybe not until the end of the year.

In attendance was Assembly Member Joe Lentol, who urged DOT in late 2012 to study a protected bike lane on the Pulaski. “I’m here because I want to see this project through to its conclusion just like you do,” he told the audience. “I’m very excited seeing this started. We’d hoped that it would’ve been completed by now.”

When the project was first announced at the end of 2013, DOT staff said construction would take a few months and it would open by late 2014. And last month, Deputy Commissioner for Bridges Bob Collyer told the City Council that he anticipated the project would be complete in the spring. But now, with final approvals in hand, the latest word from DOT is that the contractor will start the job in April and wrap later in the year, no sooner than October. The contractor is required to finish work by the end of 2015.

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Teen Driver Kills Senior on Street With No Sidewalks, NYPD Blames Victim

Ignascio Andal, whose path is indicated in white, was killed by a driver on a street with no sidewalks in Jamaica Estates. NYPD said "no criminality is suspected." Motorists have killed at least three pedestrians this year in the 107th Precinct. Image: Google Maps

Ignascio Andal, whose path is indicated in white, was killed by a driver on a street with no sidewalks in Jamaica Estates. NYPD said “no criminality is suspected.” Motorists have killed at least three pedestrians this year in the 107th Precinct. Image: Google Maps

A teenage driver ran over a senior on a street with no sidewalks Sunday, and NYPD cast blame on the victim. The crash occurred in a police precinct where motorists have killed at least three pedestrians in 2014.

At around 3 p.m. yesterday, 84-year-old Ignascio Andal was walking westbound on Wicklow Place when a 17-year-old driver in a 2013 Mazda hit him after turning right from 188th Street, according to NYPD.

The Daily News published photos, taken after dark, which indicate Andal was pushing a four-wheeled cart.

Wicklow Place is a suburban-style residential street with no sidewalks that forms a T intersection with 188th Street. NYPD had no information on who had the right of way, how fast the driver was going, or what prevented him from seeing the victim — nothing pertaining to the driver’s actions other than his direction of travel. NYPD said Andal was “in the middle of the roadway.” Andal was declared dead on arrival at New York Hospital Queens.

NYPD told Streetsblog the investigation is ongoing, but said “no criminality is suspected.” According to the Daily News, “cops say that the 17-year-old driver is not being charged with a crime.”

According to crash data compiled by Streetsblog, Andal was at least the third pedestrian killed by a driver this year in the 107th Precinct, where as of October officers had summonsed 157 drivers for failing to yield to pedestrians in 2014, and issued 523 speeding tickets. All three fatalities happened in the City Council district represented by Rory Lancman.

To voice your concerns about neighborhood traffic safety directly to Captain Paul A. Valerga, the commanding officer of the 107th Precinct, go to the next precinct community council meeting. The 107th Precinct council meetings happen at 8 p.m. on the fourth Tuesday of the month at precinct, 71-01 Parsons Boulevard. Call 718-969-5973 for information. The 107th Precinct is also on Twitter.

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A 90-Second Appeal to Fix Woodhaven Boulevard With BRT

The BRT for NYC coalition recently released this short video that succinctly makes the case for change on Woodhaven Boulevard in southeast Queens. If you haven’t personally experienced Woodhaven as a pedestrian or bus rider, it’s a good introduction to what’s at stake as NYC DOT and the MTA move forward with a project to improve transit service and street safety along more than 14 miles of this major corridor.

Improving travel times and reliability for the tens of thousands of people who ride the bus on Woodhaven every day will have to go hand in hand with improvements to the pedestrian environment. As you can see in the video, Woodhaven is so wide that people have to run to reach the other side of the street. All of the design options that NYC DOT has shown add more space for walking.

With Donovan Richards, Eric Ulrich, and every other City Council member whose district touches the project on the record supporting major changes, there’s a chance to do something bold and great on Woodhaven. The next round of design work for the project may be released early next year.

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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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