March 3, By Hannah Wulkan
The Department of Transportation unveiled new safety improvements on Northern Boulevard today, announcing the continuing efforts to increase pedestrian, bicycle and vehicle safety along the busy corridor.
The DOT revealed specific improvements to the five-way intersection at Northern Boulevard and 48th Street, an area that saw two serious pedestrian injuries between 2010 and 2014.
“Northern Boulevard is busy, it is noisy, there are pedestrians, cyclists and automobiles coming from lots of different places, going to lots of different places and in many different directions. It’s an important corridor, and in the past has been a dangerous corridor, and we all have an obligation to make it safer,” said Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer.
As part of the ongoing $1 million upgrade to Northern Boulevard under the City’s Vision Zero initiative, the DOT installed a new pedestrian island in the center of Northern Boulevard with new crosswalks across, to prevent pedestrians from crossing the major throughway unsafely.
It also added a curb extension at 34th Avenue and 48th Street to shorten the crossing distance, marked two moving lanes on 48th Street south of the intersection, and reversed 48th Street to be one way northbound from Northern Boulevard to Broadway to help facilitate bus traffic through the intersection.
The Vision Zero initiative kicked off in 2014 with Northern Boulevard listed as a “priority corridor” after 8-year-old Noshat Nahian was hit and killed at the intersection of Northern Boulevard and 61st Street while walking to school in Woodside.
“That tragedy got the vision zero effort going and made us all focus so tremendously on this important life changing work,” said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “Northern Boulevard is critical to Queens and the safety of the tens of thousands of people who live near it and travel on it every day, and it’s part of what is really at the heart of Vision Zero.”
“Part of what we’re doing here is making sure that no one dies,” Van Bramer added. “We want to be proactive and protect people before any more serious injuries or deaths occur.”
The efforts on Northern Boulevard started about a year ago and will ultimately span several miles from Broadway to Honeywell Avenue over the next few years, and will include the installation of 14 other similar pedestrian islands, as well as more median extensions and other safety measures that are in the process of being implemented.
“Our board takes our responsibility to the community very seriously, and safety is the number one aspect,” said Community Board 1 District Manager Florence Koulouris, whose district borders the Boulevard on the northern side of the street. “DOT has come up with a plan that we believe will be a much better flow for everyone, and that all of the people of this district will be safe, drivers, pedestrians and bicycle riders.”
Following the implementation of the Vision Zero plan in 2014, the City saw three successive years of record-low traffic fatalities. Mayor Bill de Blasio announced in January that he would allocate an additional $400 million to Vision Zero, bringing the total investment in street safety up to $1.6 billion over the next five years.
“Changes like these change the fabric of our neighborhood,” said Transportation Alternatives activist Juan Restrepo, who recalled growing up in Astoria and struggling to cross four lanes of traffic on Northern Boulevard to visit the stores across the way. “We need to encourage our residents to visit our shops and to feel safe in doing so, and projects like these and the additional medians that are going to be implemented is only going to encourage that.”