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At 12:45 am on May 18, Matthew Jensen — a 58-year-old Greenpoint resident and beloved teacher at P.S. 110 — was struck and killed by a black Rolls Royce at the corner of McGuinness Boulevard and Bayard Street.
The driver sped off and Jensen, who was walking home from his own birthday celebration, was rushed to Woodhull Hospital, where he later died.
The P.S. 110 and Greenpoint communities mourned the loss of a friend, teacher, and neighbor, and now they are demanding action.
Last Thursday, they organized a vigil and rally at McGolrick Park. The event honored Jensen’s life and demanded that the city dedicate funding to redesign McGuinness Boulevard. The event was attended by multiple city officials, including Mayor Bill de Blasio.
“Everyone from PS 110, I’m so sorry that you’re gathered here in pain and mourning, Mathew Jensen wanted to help kids,” de Blasio said before a crowd of approximately 200, including many of Jensen’s former students. “He is gone because of a hit-and-run crash. He is gone because someone killed him and left the scene, and this is what happens too often.”
The mayor reaffirmed his commitment to eliminating traffic fatalities and injuries through the Vision Zero initiative. De Blasio also reiterated his support for the Crash Rights and Safety Act, a state bill designed to reduce traffic deaths.
“We’re going to apply Vision Zero right here, right now on McGuinness Boulevard, because it’s long overdue,” de Blasio continued. “We are putting money in the budget immediately to redesign and fix McGuinness Boulevard once and for all.”
The five-lane roadway is notoriously dangerous for pedestrians and cyclists, and has been the site of at least 411 injuries and three deaths within the past decade. In 2014, McGuinness Boulevard was designated as a “slow zone” with a 25 mph speed limit and delayed traffic signals, yet accidents have continued at a steady rate.
“Every single one of us knows that it could be any one of us killed there,” Assemblywoman Emily Gallagher said. “If we don’t do something, something meaningful, there will be many more who will die on the McGuinness Boulevard.”
“Over the past few days, I’ve received more than 300 emails from our neighbors in support of redesigning McGuinness Boulevard, a notoriously unsafe road,” added State Senator Julia Salazar. “Implementing a plan to transform McGuinness is how we can honor Matthew Jensen’s memory.”
Several streets throughout the five boroughs will be permanently transformed into pedestrian and bike-friendly “Open Boulevards” starting this summer, dramatically expanding the limited street closures that currently exist.
“In a year of dramatic changes to our urban landscape, Open Boulevards will transform New York City’s streets like never before,” said Mayor Bill de Blasio. “The recovery for all of us will come to life on these streets, where small businesses, restaurants, artists, pedestrians, and cyclists will gather to create the kind of destination you can only find in the greatest city in the world.”
Permanent Open Boulevards will be established on stretches of Fifth Avenue in Park Slope and Sunset Park, as well as Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, all of which are already occasionally closed to traffic under the current Open Streets program.
Additionally, a portion of 21st Street in Greenwood will be designated as a permanent Bike Boulevard.
The Open Boulevards program will expand upon the current provisions made for Open Streets by adding more permanent signage, landscaping, and advertising. The streets will be closed to traffic to allow for outdoor dining, performance space, and pedestrian access.
The Open Streets program has been subject to criticism from some business owners who feel the job of placing and removing barricades has unfairly become their responsibility.
Additionally, some Brooklynites bitterly opposed the Open Streets program outright. In Greenpoint, a feud over Open Streets culminated when multiple street barricades were mysteriously stolen and thrown into Newtown Creek