Rebooting NYC’s “Boulevard of Death”

With thanks to Stan Hohnholz~From New York City comes this transformational story about Queens Boulevard,  a street where an appalling 18 pedestrian deaths occurred in 1997, and where a total of 186 people have died since 1990. This street in Queens was understandably called the “Boulevard of Death” and as the New York Times observes it looked that way too, with a road width of up to 300 feet and twelve lanes of vehicular traffic for pedestrians to cross.  Pedestrians often got stranded on narrow medians trying to cross the street.  In comparison many Manhattan streets are just 70 feet wide, with side streets off major streets being only 30 feet wide.
But there has been a major change~since 2014 not one pedestrian or cyclist has been killed on the seven mile stretch of this boulevard. Mayor de Blasio had an “ambitious Vision Zero campaign to eliminate traffic deaths citywide through a host of enforcement measures and safety improvements, including redesigning streets and re-timing walk signals to give pedestrians a head start in crosswalks.”  
Queens Boulevard was also the demonstration street to mitigate traffic deaths for other New York City streets. Pedestrian walk signals were lengthened to 60 seconds from previous standards of 32 to 50 seconds. Curb extensions were installed to shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians, refuge medians were widened, and barriers installed to protect pedestrians on them. Additional crosswalks were added, and fencing installed.
The 12 car lanes of traffic were reconfigured for six lanes of through traffic in each direction, with two bus lanes and two parking lanes. CCTV cameras were installed to ticket vehicle drivers going through red lights. Despite these changes eight people died on the street in 2013. Six of these deaths were pedestrians crossing the street. When de Blasio became Mayor in 2014 he ignored city traffic engineers and lowered the speed on the boulevard from 30 miles an hour (48 kph)  to 25 miles per hour (30kph). And that made all the difference. “The average speed midday along the boulevard dropped to 25.6 miles per hour for the eastbound lane in 2016 from 28.7 miles per hour in 2014. The average speed for the westbound lane dropped to 27.3 miles per hour from 31.5 miles per hour during that period.”
A redesign of the boulevard to include bike lanes, more crosswalks and median refuge areas cost four million dollars. Cameras are set up to ticket vehicles speeding near schools.  And an ambitious 255 million dollar project will commence in 2019 to add a linear park, tree-lined bike and walking paths and benches along this street. Slowing the vehicular speed made the difference in turning this boulevard into a potential amenity. And some residents complain that congestion has increased, and bringing bike lanes means that cyclists and pedestrian conflicts increase. But the numbers don’t lie. Congestion slows speed, and saves lives. The YouTube video below or here  has Ryan Russo from the New York Department of Transportation providing a more in-depth look at Queens Boulevard and some of the changes that have made it safer for all road users.


Published by Sandy James Planner

Vancouverite! City planner, writer, former master gardener, perpetual public space champion. I'm interested in pace, space and place. Micromobility and accessibility, best environments for free range kids. She/her. Dogs. I really walk a lot. Editor~ Viewpoint Vancouver Urbanism/Insight/Evolution Managing Director of Walk Metro Vancouver, www.walkmetrovan. Twitter: @sandyjamesplan My current writing:

6 thoughts on “Rebooting NYC’s “Boulevard of Death”

  1. Queens Boulevard is equivalent to Lougheed Highway or King George Boulevard, so this is no small feat. Imagine the apocalyptic howls of protest if Surrey or Burnaby even hinted at reducing the number of vehicle lanes there. The province would be forced to introduce legislation to prohibit it.
    Even with Mayor Bloomberg and JSK as the head of DOT, Queens Boulevard improvements were always a bridge too far. Couldn’t inconvenience those motorists just because some dumb pedestrians kept getting themselves killed. It’s good to see the legwork and buy-in that went into these changes. And good to see my old boss Ann Marie Doherty still getting it done.
    So there is hope for those intransigent corridors. Maybe not so many of us to have to die to retain driving convenience. I’m curious: where would PT readers like to see similar treatments?


    1. Yes, it’s a beast; and only seems to make sense as a partly-built portion of an arterial roadway once planned to cut through Pacific Spirit Park to Marine Drive. I’d put good money down that median speeds are closer to 70k/hr than 50k/hr. Good spot.


    2. Re streets for upgrading, I also vote for Broadway post subway. This is a great opportunity to turn Broadway into a people friendly street. Pender could use some work as could Dunsmuir west of Hornby. Also Powell east of the railway overpass.


  2. There’s a house at the confluence of Nootka and Boyd that has been penetrated a few times. The owner finally built about ten massive concrete planters and planted trees. Can’t imagine living there, though he seems pretty chill.
    Nootka gets quite a few crashes – mostly boy racers getting intimate with lamp poles. The street is curvy and these wankers lose control.
    There’s the killing; then there’s the maiming. In this province, annually, about 280 pedestrians dead and 79,000 injured. War on the car?
    My almost daily nemesis, Kingsway, would rate higher on the murder scale, but it’s so inhospitable to cyclists and pedestrians that there are few victims to attack.
    New York’s “broken window” approach was successful at turning the city around. Graffiti was dealt with promptly. A similar approach could be used to tame motordom. Thumping speakers? Impound and remove. Noisy exhausts? Off. Racing on streets? Impound and five year suspension. Kill or injure someone, or drive into someone’s house? Severe penalties. Cost of all the first responders and property damage – borne by the perps.
    Take the thrill out of street racing. Make it as unsexy as drinking and driving.
    Eating ice cream, or burgers while driving? Six month suspension. Texting, or on the phone? One year.
    Fines are useful, but they’re not public. If the boy racer’s bone-headed buddies see his rice rocket mothballed and him walking, it will have more impact than him mouthing off about the fine he paid or the points on his license.


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google photo

You are commenting using your Google account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s

%d bloggers like this: