By Emily Drooby
Utopia Parkway, a five-mile road that stretches through Queens, is filled with businesses, a major Catholic University and schools, all along the street. But it’s also known to locals as a danger.
“I usually try to avoid this street,” said local resident Dominique Giroux. “I usually only walk down it if I’m coming back…it’s just busy. There’s a lot of cars making turns without looking for pedestrians.”
Another local, Christopher Carbonell, echoed Dominique’s statement.
“A lot of speeding, especially when I drive around here looking for parking, or whatever,” said Christopher. “They would burn rubber…they have to do something about it.”
Finally, some relief is coming for walkers and bikers. Ben Turner is a big reason why. He’s collected more than 1,000 signatures to get a “complete street” study in the area. The avid biker knows the dangers this road brings all too well.
Back in 2017, he was struck by a car while riding down a side street right off the parkway. Ben recalled the accident and the injuries.
“The driver started and hit me and I flew over the windshield,” he said, “and my head hit the windshield, cracking it, and I was taken to the hospital.”
He said he’s lucky he’s here today to retell the story. Others were not.
Back in August of 2019, Currents News did a story on Madeline Sershen. The 17-year-old St. Francis Prep honor student was struck and killed on Utopia Parkway by a car. Her aunt, Rita Barravecchio has been fighting for safer streets ever since.
Now thanks to Ben, there’s some hope for the families like Rita’s who have known the pain unsafe streets can cause.
After presenting all of his findings to Queens Community Board 11, they unanimously voted to approve the study request. That means that the Dept. of Transportation (DOT) will do an assessment and come up with ways to make the parkway safer.
“They look at things,” Ben said, “like better pedestrian crossing at streets, traffic calming measures, so that drivers are moving at slower speeds.”
The DOT found that the streets they’ve redesigned with the “complete street study” have had a 20 percent reduction in injuries.
While it’s not yet clear exactly what they’ll suggest, it’s the first major step in fixing the street.
“I was so happy…” Rita said of the vote, “…any step that’s going to help prevent tragedies such as the loss of my niece is a step in the right direction.”
To people like Ben, Rita, and the thousand others who signed that petition, it’s a step that represents hope for safer streets.