With a citywide spotlight on the need for safer streets, attention also turned to the long-awaited completion of the Queens Boulevard redesign.
Nearly two years since the project was announced, Forest Hills residents are still waiting on a 1.2-mile stretch of bike lanes from Yellowstone Boulevard to Union Turnpike.
Safety advocates, community leaders and concerned locals joined Transportation Alternatives and Families for Safe Streets at a rally in MacDonald Park on Saturday to protest Mayor Bill de Blasio’s consideration of an alternate plan.
Outrage over what protesters are calling a stall in the project erupted in the aftermath of a February 19th town hall with the mayor at JHS 190 Russell Sage. Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz appealed for the consideration of a new design that would spare more than 200 parking spaces.
“I am not against bike lanes,” said Koslowitz. “What I am not for are the bike lanes along Queens Boulevard that are taking away hundreds of parking spots.”
Though the councilwoman has yet to disclose the particulars of her proposal, she did indicate being in favor of protected bike lanes on the main stretch of Queens Boulevard rather than the service road.
De Blasio reassured residents that the city would finish the job, one way or another.
He charged a thorough review of Koslowitz’s suggestion to Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who earlier that day announced a schedule for the fourth phase of the 7.5-mile revamp of Queens Boulevard from Sunnyside to Kew Gardens.
According to DOT, implementation of phase four is set to begin this summer, with full implementation expected by the end of 2020 - nearly five years after the redesign first started.
Saturday’s protest gave a platform to New Yorkers who have lost loved ones to accidents on Queens Boulevard, as well as community members working to make the roadway safer for the thousands of seniors, students and commuters who cross the street by foot and bike every day.
“We are no longer waiting for this crucial piece of safety infrastructure to be built,” rally organizers said in a statement. “Together, we will rally demanding the city not consider any unsafe, untested alternatives, and continue the redesign shown to reduce fatalities and crashes on Queens Boulevard.”
Activists temporarily blocked off part of the thoroughfare in question calling for speedier progress, while supporters on Twitter using the hashtag #FinishQueensBlvd demanded the mayor “stop playing politics” and “put lives over parking.”
In an appearance on WNYC’s “The Brian Lehrer Show,” de Blasio said he does not anticipate any delays in DOT’s work to install protected bike lanes, shorten pedestrian crossings and implement other traffic safety measures on the final stretch of Queens Boulevard.
According to the mayor, a parking-friendly alternative is being considered on the same recently released schedule.
The event over the weekend came just three days after de Blasio signed the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement bill into law, the most recent piece in his administration’s Vision Zero street safety plan.
Passed with an overwhelming majority in the City Council, the new law allows the city to seize and impound vehicles with more than 15 school speed camera or more than five red light camera violations in one year.
An exemption will be granted only if the registered owner or operator of the vehicle completes a driver accountability course.
“Let’s first make a priority of the safety of our people,” de Blasio said at the February 26th bill signing. “If you’re a driver and you put your fellow New Yorkers in danger, we’re getting you the hell off the road. We are taking your vehicle. Period.”
Trottenberg then went into details about DOT’s plans to work with the sheriff, Law Department and OATH in order to target roughly 5,000 of the city’s most dangerous drivers, giving them a “real education” on how reckless speeding endangers human lives.
She says that if drivers refuse to comply, the department will begin to seize vehicles.
At the same time, Trottenberg revealed that 60 speed cameras are being installed on city streets per month, a measure she expects to have “a powerful effect on people’s behavior.”
The mayor also addressed the redesign plans for Queens Boulevard before signing the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement bill into law.
“We will continue that mission soon,” he stated.
During February’s town hall, the mayor also heard from a visually impaired woman who has been fruitlessly asking the city to install an audio pedestrian signal on the corner of Queens Boulevard and Continental Avenue for years.
“To cross Queens Boulevard when you can't see well or can’t see at all is pretty terrifying,” the resident said. “The alternative to that is to go through the subway, which is also dangerous.”
De Blasio passed the concern to Trottenberg, who assured that the audio signal will be installed within one month.