Queens Boulevard is a major thoroughfare that runs throughout a large section of central Queens and ends at the 59th Street Bridge which connects Queens to Manhattan. When I was in grade school, it also served as a barometer of sorts for how much autonomy your friends had or how little their parent’s cared about their well-being and safety. Here’s why.
Queens Boulevard was so dangerous that the locals affectionately referred to it as “The Boulevard of Death” or “The Human Bowling Alley.” Every year you would hear stories about someone who was mowed down while trying to cross the gauntlet of traffic lanes and islands that made up this road.
Most of the parents had strict rules when it came to getting across Queens Boulevard. Many allowed their kids to get from one side of the boulevard to the other by crossing via the underpass available at the G train subway stop. It’s questionable whether this was actually a safer option, because the subway system in the 1970’s was pretty seedy and smelly, but several parents believed crossing underground was the lesser of two evils.
Either because no rule had ever been put in place by my parents regarding Queens Boulevard, or because they already had two kids that had survived it, I started crossing it on my own at age eight. Sometimes kids with the “no crossing rule” crossed anyway in an act of defiance, but that always seemed to backfire as their parents ultimately found out. It was like there was some sort of invisible parent safety patrol or network of parents that secretly transmitted information about their kids’ whereabouts via Morse code or smoke signals (which was the closest thing to text messaging in the 70’s).
Despite the fact that I was allowed to cross Queens Boulevard, I didn’t take the mission lightly. We would start gearing up for the journey across about a block before we got there, plotting how we would make it across the multiple lanes without having to stop on one of the islands due to a red light. Sneakers were mandatory and even once I was in high school and was parading around in my Candies, even I considered this unsuitable footwear for a trip across Queens Boulevard.
Once we arrived at the street crossing we would press the button to signal that we wanted to cross the street (which I have since learned is one of the biggest mind-f@$% out there, since pressing that button has no correlation to when the light changes). Once the light turned green, you would grab your friend’s hand and run as fast as you could, trying to get to the other side which was pointless because making it across on one light was as likely as winning the lottery. You were then forced to wait on the island until the light changed again, which from an eight-year old’s perspective, took hours.
You may be wondering, what was so great about Queens Boulevard anyway, and why were we willing to risk our lives to cross it. Well, if you lived on the north side of Queens Boulevard, you had to cross it to get to Instant Pants, Baskin Robbins or the jewelry shop once your mom said you were old enough to have your ears pierced. (interesting side note-my mom thought it was safe to cross Queens Boulevard at age eight, but getting my ears pierced was deemed unsafe before age 11). If you lived on the south side of the boulevard, you had a more important reason to cross the boulevard which was to get to Alexander’s department store, which was one of the best places for records, toys, and even pickles which were served in their restaurant.
In recent years, the city of New York has put in new measures to improve the safety of Queens Boulevard, and 2011 marked the first year where zero fatalities occurred from pedestrian crossings. Recently, the city put in new traffic lights with timers to let pedestrians know how much time they have left before the light turns red. I’m on the fence as to whether this makes the boulevard safer or not. When I see the light, I am immediately drawn back to my eight year old much nimbler self and I often assume that seven seconds is plenty of time to cross from start to finish. But I’ve successfully made it across every time, even in my high-heeled shoes.