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Bike Lanes Left Out of Community Board's Approval of Queens Boulevard Fixes

By Katie Honan | May 11, 2016 8:59am
 Cyclists turned their backs to the board after a plan to overhaul Queens Boulevard was passed without bike lanes.
Cyclists turned their backs to the board after a plan to overhaul Queens Boulevard was passed without bike lanes.
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DNAinfo/Katie Honan

ELMHURST — A second wave of safety fixes to Queens Boulevard was approved Tuesday night by Community Board 4, but local cyclists were outraged to find out bike lanes wouldn't be part of the plan.

Following a presentation from the Department of Transportation, the board's chairman, Lou Walker, put through a motion to vote on the plan, without including bike lanes that had been part of the first phase, which also included pedestrian islands and traffic-calming measures.

"I don't think Queens Boulevard is necessarily the place for a bike lane," Walker said, suggesting other streets like Woodside and Grand avenues.

"This is not a park, this is a very heavily traveled vehicular roadway."

The modified vote — which is only advisory for the DOT— was approved by the board 31-1, with two abstentions. It impacts Queens Boulevard from 74th Street to Eliot Avenue.

As board members discussed their thoughts on the plan, dozens of local cyclists held up signs in support of a safer Queens Boulevard, waving their hands in lieu of applause, which was forbidden during discussions.

Most of the members who spoke agreed that something major had to be done to improve Queens Boulevard. But they weren't unified about whether to include bike lanes in the plan or not.

Others were concerned about the loss of 88 parking spots, especially with the residential construction boom on Queens Boulevard.

After the board pushed through the amended vote, many cyclists turned their backs to show disappointment. 

"When I'm lying dead in the street you'll have yourselves to blame," Justin Bailey, 30, screamed at the members before leaving.

He lives on Queens Boulevard and said the whole process is a "failure of democracy."

"This is what happens when people spend too much time thinking they have power over others. This is what happens when people believe what they hear," he said.

Some of the board members in favor of the complete overhaul, including the bike lanes, objected. At least one member, Al Perna, walked out of the meeting.

"I'm asking for you guys to vote for this, it needs to be done," he said, citing his experience with a volunteer ambulance corps, where he sees injured pedestrians and cyclists on Queens Boulevard every day.

The first phase of the Queens Boulevard overhaul passed Community Board 2 in 2015, and was implemented last summer.

The DOT's full plan is to improve the entire boulevard, known as the "Boulevard of Death" for its dangerous roadways.

A DOT spokesman said the board meeting "reflected what we have heard in thousands of conversations with residents while developing this project — it is time to address the safety issues along this part of Queens Boulevard."

They began outreach on the project in November, contacting businesses and residents for feedback.

Ryan Russo, deputy commissioner for the DOT, acknowledged the strong feelings over the changes but said they'd continue to gather input.

While the community board vote is advisory, he would not say whether the DOT would move forward with the project as designed.

Work was scheduled to begin over the summer, according to the proposal.

"We really understand and empathize. The streets are people's front doors. It's the street they see every day, and what we proposed is a significant and dramatic change for those streets," Russo said after the vote.

"We think it's a significant and dramatic change for the better."