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.