Queens Boulevard Resets the Bar

Lizi Rahman was anxious every day that her son Asif rode his bike to his job as a cashier at Trader Joe’s. When she told him so, Asif showed his mother the map of all the bike lanes in New York City. In a bike lane, he told his mother, I’m safe.

It wasn’t long after that conversation that he was killed by a truck driver on Queens Boulevard. When Lizi Rahman visited the site of the crash, she was shocked to find that there was no bike lane there.

“I asked, if bike lanes make a street safer, why are there no bike lanes on Queens Boulevard?” Rahman told Reclaim. She devoted herself to a campaign for a bike lane on the dangerous corridor, long known as the Boulevard of Death. For years, everyone from the DOT to Mayor Bloomberg told Rahman that fixing Queens Boulevard would be impossible. This summer, she introduced Mayor Bill de Blasio at a press conference to unveil his plan to overhaul the street.

It begins with the City of New York admitting to a longstanding open secret: Queens Boulevard is horribly dangerous, and fixable.

The four-stage, $100 million redesign, which began this summer with the installation of protected bike lanes, median crosswalks and more space for walking from Roosevelt Avenue to 73rd Street, means more than the end of the Boulevard of Death. It’s a seminal shift in City policy addressing street safety. It begins with the City of New York admitting to a longstanding open secret: Queens Boulevard is horribly dangerous, and fixable.

The reason for secrecy was serious. For decades, City officials passed the buck on Queens Boulevard with stopgaps: pedestrian fences, morbid warning signs, extended crossing times, and circuitous bike routes that pretended cyclists could avoid the integral route. At the same time, 23 people were killed on Queens Boulevard in just the last six years. In the 90s, an average of 10 pedestrians a year died crossing the street. Admitting the dangers of Queens Boulevard is akin to admitting to generations of negligence toward public safety. If Queens Boulevard can be made safer, then no dangerous street in New York is “too big to fix.”

Mayor de Blasio’s plan for Queens Boulevard is like a new kidney after decades of dialysis.

Mayor de Blasio’s plan for Queens Boulevard is like a new kidney after decades of dialysis. No more halfhearted efforts or temporary solutions; for the first time ever, the City has dedicated real political and financial capital to fixing the most dangerous street in New York.

“The plan for Queens Boulevard is a long time coming, but it raises the question: What’s next?” says TransAlt Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro. “Plans for Atlantic Avenue and 4th Avenue are unimpressive. Countless streets earmarked as dangerous by the DOT don’t even have a plan. It’s this administration’s job to find the money and staff to keep New Yorkers safe. We know other streets are dangerous. When will they get the Queens Boulevard treatment?”

After her son was killed, Lizi Rahman spent seven years advocating to fix Queens Boulevard. The model street she helped create will reset the bar for how the City fixes dangerous streets. The big question now for Rahman and other TransAlt activists is how to ensure what’s happening in Queens becomes the new normal.

“I fought for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard because it could have saved my son’s life, and I didn’t want another mother to have to go through this” Rahman told Reclaim. “But it could have happened on any dangerous street. I want to know when the rest will be fixed, too.”