Forty years ago, Dolores Quintana said she used to feel bad watching her elderly neighbors attempt to cross nine or 10 bustling lanes of traffic on Woodhaven Boulevard in lightning speed time, quite often with walkers in hand.
Now 84, Quintana is confronting the same boulevard, albeit packed with a few more cars than it had in the 1970s. Traversing the street is “like playing beat the clock,” she said.
She’s not alone. Matthias Kleinhans, 74, is also anxious about crossing Woodhaven Boulevard so that he can visit the Forest Park Senior Center. Not long ago, his wife fell in the middle of the street while hurrying to beat the light. Two drivers came to her aid, but the incident could have been avoided, Kleinhans said.
“If it was at least five seconds longer, she could have crossed to safety,” he said. “Woodhaven Boulevard is wide. The light starts blinking and cars start moving before you’re three-quarters of the way across.”
New York State has the third-highest number of pedestrian fatalities in seniors, according to the city council. Despite much ink that has been spilled over Queens Boulevard and its moniker, the “Boulevard of death,” 15 of the 94 pedestrian fatalities that took place in Queens between 2006 and 2008 occurred in Senate District 15, of which seven were individuals over 50. Woodhaven Boulevard is as wide as 10 lanes in some areas and the islands separating the lanes are extremely narrow, barely big enough to fit a wheelchair, walker or baby stroller, said state Sen. Joe Addabbo Jr. (D-Howard Beach).
“No one should have to be an Olympic athlete to cross Woodhaven Boulevard,” said Addabbo, who held a press conference about pedestrian safety at the corner of Woodhaven Boulevard and 89th Avenue last Thursday morning alongside Assemblyman Mike Miller (D-Woodhaven), Community Board 9 District Manager Mary Ann Carey, Forest Park Senior Center Director Donna Caltabiano, AARP executives and several local seniors.
The meeting place was chosen because it is located within a two-block radius of Forest Park Senior Center, PS 306, which has over 220 students, and PS 60 with over 1,200 students.
“Residents have come to complain that at 85th and 86th streets, they don’t have enough time to cross to get to the library,” Miller said. “We need a Complete Streets policy that recognizes older residents to make our community safer, healthier and a better place to live.”
Caltabiano, a Republican candidate for the 38th Assembly seat now held by Miller, said something as simple as increasing the timing of lights would allow her seniors to feel more comfortable walking to the center. “It’s very difficult for seniors to cross this street,” she said.
AARP’s Create the Good joined with its partners and volunteers last week to survey hundreds of dangerous intersections and streets across the city in an effort to demonstrate to policymakers the need for Complete Streets legislation — which both Addabbo and Miller are sponsoring in the Senate and Assembly.
The bill would require the state to approach road design while keeping in mind the needs of pedestrians, bicyclists, people with disabilities and public transportation users. The legislation also proposes changes that include increasing the width of medians, lane shoulders and crosswalks, as well as implementing count-down clocks and adjusting the timing of lights — an option that wouldn’t cost the state a dime, Addabbo said.
According to studies, the standard amount of time a pedestrian has to cross a street is one second for every four feet, though that average has recently dropped even further to one second for every three-and-a-half feet, said William Stoner, associate state director of Livable Communities at AARP. At Woodhaven Boulevard and Myrtle Avenue, a pedestrian has just 35 seconds to cross the 120-foot-wide intersection, Miller said.
“Too often our roads are built for cars to go as fast as possible without consideration for pedestrians,” Stoner said. “In communities like these, you could recommend three feet per second because of seniors and children. It costs nothing.”
The Department of Transporation began meeting with elected officials, experts and residents in 2008 to discuss traffic volume, roadway alignment and other issues that affect Woodhaven Boulevard between Queens Boulevard and Liberty Avenue. Although the Woodhaven traffic study has yet to be released, Carey said she is still working with the borough commissioner on these problems and hopes DOT will produce solutions and recommendations that can then be presented to Albany to lobby for legislation.
Another glimmer of hope came last week when several members of the city council, including former police office Dan Halloran (R-Whitestone), argued on behalf of passing Intro 120, or the “Saving Lives Through Better Information Bill,” which requires the New York City Police Department to make certain traffic-related statistics available through its website.