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Mayor promotes new signals to help pedestrians

For pedestrians — especially seniors — crossing Queens’ major roads can be harrowing at best and at worst fatal, a fact underscored by the most recent death of a 76-year-old Kew Gardens man crossing Queens Boulevard. Yet Mayor Mike Bloomberg’s new initiative is aimed at making crossing the streets much safer.

Flanked by City Council Speaker Christine Quinn (D-Manhattan) and city Department of Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Bloomberg announced 1,500 intersections across the city would have new signals installed with a countdown of seconds left until the light turns to an static red hand.

Major roads in Queens marked for the new signals include Northern Boulevard from Junction Boulevard to Bowne Street, Queens Boulevard from Van Dam Street to Hillside Avenue, Main Street from Queens Boulevard to Northern Boulevard, Woodhaven Boulevard from Queens Boulevard to Rockaway Boulevard and Jamaica Avenue from 172nd Street to 257th Street.

Queens Boulevard is considered the most dangerous of these streets in Queens and has been nicknamed “The Boulevard of Death.” Septugenarian Richard Borchers, who was hit by a Department of Corrections vehicle at 5:30 a.m. on Aug. 6 while crossing the 80th Road intersection, became the latest fatality.

The mayor discussed the signals Monday at the intersection of 108th Street and Northern Boulevard in Corona, which already has one of these devices.

“New York City is a city of and for pedestrians,” Quinn said. “We want to make sure ... people feel as safe as they possibly can walking the streets.”

Bloomberg said the city is currently safer then ever. A press release from his office said pedestrian fatalities last year were down 20 percent since 2001.

“It really is dramatically better,” Bloomberg said.

But he said the new initiative would make the city even safer, especially for seniors, who constitute 12 percent of the population and 38 percent of pedestrian fatalities.

“As our city’s population is growing, it is also growing older,” Bloomberg said.

The roads marked for the new signals — 250 of which would be installed this month — were chosen based on a report titled the Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan, which found that most pedestrian fatalities or serious injury accidents occurred along multilane streets and avenues.

Among other findings, the report said 80 percent of serious crashes with pedestrians involve male drivers, while 79 percent of these crashes occurred in private vehicles. Driver inattention accounted for 36 percent of the crashes in which pedestrians were killed or seriously injured, and pedestrians were 10 times more likely to die in accidents than the driver, it said.

“This is the largest pedestrian safety study in our nation’s history,” Sadik-Khan said.

In a pilot program begun last year where countdown signals were installed at 24 intersections across, the city found the same number of pedestrians remained in the crosswalk when the light turned solid red on smaller roads but fewer pedestrians remained on wider intersections, the mayor’s office said. A similar program in 2006, which was smaller and lacked video monitoring, proved inconclusive.

Police Department Chief of Transportation James Tuller, state Sen. Jose Peralta (D-Jackson Heights) and City Council members James Vacca (D-Bronx), Jessica Lapin (D-Manhattan) and Julissa Ferreras (D-East Elmhurst) attended the news conference.

Peralta said he was pleased at the new signal at Northern Boulevard and 108th Street, which he said was ideal since the intersection is near A Child’s Place and a community center.

“It’s very apropos to put it here,” Peralta said. “We don’t want Northern Boulevard to become like Queens Boulevard.”

Reach reporter Rebecca Henely by e-mail at rhenely@cnglocal.com or by phone at 718-260-4564.

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