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Bike Lanes Scarce in Central Queens, Cyclists Say

By Nigel Chiwaya | June 26, 2012 7:19am
This is the city's map for bike lanes in 2012.
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Billy Figueroa

MIDDLE VILLAGE — Getting from Astoria to Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village in a car is easy enough — just get to Queens Boulevard and be on your way.

On a bicycle, it's an entirely different story.

Large parts of the borough have been left out of the city's bike lane expansion program, leaving car drivers and cyclists struggling to co-exist.

That's even more the case now because of an increase in the number of fledgling cycling groups in the borough, according to Transportation Alternatives, a cycling advocacy group.

Of the 66.1 miles of bike lanes added to Queens by the Department of Transportation between 2006 and 2011, not a single new lane was added in central Queens, leaving the area largely devoid of the protective routes that separate and shield cyclists from cars.

The Queens monthly bike ride aims to raise awareness for cycling in the borough.
The Queens monthly bike ride aims to raise awareness for cycling in the borough.
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DNAInfo/Nigel Chiwaya

Lower Manhattan and parts of western Brooklyn, by contrast, are blanketed with the lanes, some of which are protected by a row of parked cars.

That leaves cyclists in Forest Hills, Rego Park, Corona, Middle Village, Maspeth, Ridgewood and Woodside facing a difficult choice — save time by using dangerous main streets such as Queens Boulevard with its express and local lanes, or find a safer — and longer — route.

"Sometimes you have to use those streets, because they're the only way to get from point A to point B," said bicyclist Steve Scofield, of Astoria, who often travels through central Queens.

Despite the lack of bike lanes in the area, biking is increasing in popularity, according to the employees at Spin City Cycles, a bike store on Queens Boulevard and 66th Avenue in Rego Park.

Employee Ioshi Dussek said he and his colleagues have seen in increase in the number of customers from the area coming in for repairs.

"Most people that come here come from Elmhurst or Middle Village," Dussek said. "But there's a lot of new Rego Park customers, too."

In Rego Park, cyclists can be seen riding along Queens Boulevard and up and down 63rd Drive, sharing the road when possible. When it's not, they cope as best they can.

"When it gets crowded, I ride on the sidewalk," said cyclist Alan Obando, of Rego Park, who was riding on the walkway down 63rd Drive at Alderton Street.

"You have to be careful, because if the cops catch you they'll give you a ticket." 

At the end of 63rd Drive, cyclists ride down busy Woodhaven Boulevard, carefully avoiding the cars and trucks that drive up past them.

"Cars don't share the road well," said cyclist Glenda Vargas, of Sunnyside. "They're supposed to share the road with us, but they just jet on by."

Transportation Alternatives officials said they didn't immediately have the updated numbers of Queens cyclists injured while riding, but one bike rider was killed on Union Turnpike last week when he was struck by the opening door of a parked car.

According to NYPD statistics, 64 cyclists were injured and one was killed in Queens in April alone. There were three injured in both the 112th Precinct, which includes Forest Hills and Rego Park, and the 104th Precinct, which includes Middle Village and Maspeth, during the same period.

DOT spokesman Scott Gastel said the agency is working with CB 6 [Forest Hills and Rego Park] and CB 8 [Fresh Meadows, Jamaica Estates] to determine the feasibility of bike lanes in their communities and plans to make presentations about them in the fall.

On one cycling web forum, riders traded stories about their close calls on busy Queens streets and expressed concern over the lack of safety.

"I'm a pretty experienced cyclist, and I think I can handle myself in most traffic situations," one rider wrote. "But being doored is the one thing that I fear the most."

"I commute from LIC to Forest Hills along Queens [Boulevard] three days a week," wrote another.  

"I'm pretty careful but I've had a bunch of near misses in the local lane. For all the investment in bike paths, there's still no decent way to get across Queens."

Because of this, cyclists in the borough are attempting to make some noise. The Queens Committee for Transportation Alternatives organizes a monthly bike ride through the borough.

The organizer, Nancy Silverman, said the purpose of the ride, which stops at various businesses throughout the borough, is two-fold.

"We're trying to raise awareness about cycling in Queens," said Silverman, who lives in Long Island City. "But we're also trying to get local businesses to become bike-friendly."

Silverman explained that companies willing to participate in the bike-friendly business program would get a window sticker and that Transportation Alternatives would help the businesses get bike racks.

The June bike ride met in Juniper Valley Park in Middle Village. For the cyclists on the ride, the trip was tense. 

"Constantly aware," one rider, Michelle Tulcan, replied when asked how she made the trip from Sunnyside to Middle Village.

The ride itself will be risky, too. Though the group planned to ride single-file to increase safety, they would still have to ride down Woodhaven Boulevard, something that makes Silverman uneasy.

"If we could avoid it, we would," she said.