Construction Begins on First Phase of Transforming Queens Blvd

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller
Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

The redesign of Queens Boulevard, long one of New York’s most notorious death traps, is underway.

“Queens Boulevard is tragically legendary. We all became used to the phrase ‘the Boulevard of Death,’” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference this morning marking the start of construction. “That is a phrase we want to banish from the lexicon. So work has begun. Work has begun to remake Queens Boulevard into the Boulevard of Life.”

The first phase of the project includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and expanded pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]
The first phase includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and more pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The redesign [PDF], which builds upon changes made more than a decade ago, adds protected bike lanes, expands pedestrian space, and redesigns ramps to reduce speeds on the boulevard, which has claimed the lives of 185 New Yorkers since 1990. “The actions that are being taken to save lives here on Queens Boulevard should have been taken long ago,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to change the whole configuration of Queens Boulevard to make traffic move more slowly and more smoothly.”

Lizi Rahman’s son Asif was killed while bicycling home from work on Queens Boulevard in 2008. She was the first person to speak at today’s press conference. “After his death, when I visited the site, I was shocked to see that there was no bike lane on Queens Boulevard. And I couldn’t help thinking if there was a bike lane, my son would still be alive,” she said. In the years after Asif’s death, Lizi kept asking officials for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard. “There were times when I was discouraged,” she said. “I almost gave up.”

“A lot of times change doesn’t happen because there isn’t enough willingness to challenge the status quo, to challenge bureaucracies,” de Blasio said. “It’s unacceptable to have any street known as the Boulevard of Death.”

The project that began construction this week is just the first phase of a multi-year effort. After rumors last fall that the de Blasio administration would make Queens Boulevard a top priority, DOT hosted its first workshop for the project in January. In March, DOT unveiled the first phase of its proposal, covering 1.3 miles between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street. After some minor tweaks, it received a unanimous vote of support from Community Board 2 in June.

“We were so gratified when we got unanimous support for the project to go ahead,” said Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. “It really gave us the momentum we need.” Trottenberg said she anticipates work on this first segment, which relies mostly on paint and minor concrete work, will be complete by October.

Ultimately, the street will be completely reconstructed and these “operational” changes will be cast in concrete, with work beginning on this first segment in 2017.

The de Blasio administration has committed $100 million to the full-scale rebuild of Queens Boulevard as part of its $250 million Vision Zero Great Streets program targeting four dangerous arterial streets: Queens Boulevard, Atlantic Avenue, the Grand Concourse, and Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn.

Future phases of the Queens Boulevard project will cover areas to the east. DOT could begin working with Community Board 4, which covers Queens Boulevard between 73rd Street and Eliot Avenue, as early as this fall. Next year, the agency will likely start working to redesign Queens Boulevard from Eliot Avenue to Jamaica Avenue.