By Joe Anuta
About 50 people gathered in Sunnyside Saturday morning to discuss what many Queens neighborhoods consider taboo: bike lanes.
Residents of the area listened to a presentation from the city and then broke into small groups to pour over maps of Queens, marking their bike route wishlist by highlighting thoroughfares with markers.
“I don’t feel comfortable taking my kids on my bike,” said avid cyclist Christopher Stone, who lives in Jackson Heights and bikes to work in Manhattan.
Stone’s call for more bike lanes in Queens echoed many of the other bikers at the meeting. Since people are going to bike anyway, dedicated lanes would make things safer for cyclists and motorists alike by avoiding accidents.
The city Department of Transportation organized the meeting after being approached by Community Board 2 and City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside), himself a cyclist and the first lawmaker to hold a bike lane forum in Queens.
Steve Scofield, who was a bike messenger in the 1970s, said he has seen an explosion of cyclists since the old days and that bike lanes could be a way to encourage would-be cyclists to get out of the house.
Queens has been slow to adopt bike lanes, according to a 1997 plan called the city Bicycle Master Plan, which was designed to make the entire city accessible on two wheels.
The Queens portion of the report shows links between the waterfront facing the East River to Flushing Meadows Corona Park via Skillman and 34th avenues. From the park, the city envisioned another bike corridor connecting downtown Flushing to downtown Jamaica via Parsons Boulevard and 164th Street.
Greenways, which are dedicated to non-motorized forms of transportation, were also envisioned running along many of the major roads in the borough, including the Grand Central and Cross Island parkways and the Whitestone and Van Wyck expressways.
Yet a comparison with a map of current bike routes shows that much of the city’s plan was never implemented.
While Manhattan now closely resembles the city’s 1993 plan, and Brooklyn to a lesser extent, the plan in Queens has been implemented in disconnected patches.
Bike lanes in Forest Park in Ridgewood and Glendale simply stop at the eastern edge of the park, providing cyclists no protected route to reach the comparatively well-served western edge of the borough.
Downtown Flushing and Jamaica are not connected by a bike lane, and several greenways were never connected to each other.
The disconnect stems largely from backlash the DOT received from communities who do not want the lanes.
“Usually the majority of the people are against them,” said Joe Femenia, chairman of Community Board 7’s Transportation Committee. “For starters, we have enough traffic as it is.”
Femenia said the father east in Queens one goes, the less support for bike lanes there is due to more people relying on cars and the distance from other biking destinations like Manhattan.
Some people ride bikes for recreation, but otherwise the lanes already in place are rarely used, he said.
After the city implemented some of the plan’s routes, the agency now makes sure to get community approval before laying one ounce of paint on the roadway, according to Queens DOT Commissioner Maura McCarthy.
“As the community wants them, we build out,” she said at the meeting.
But the bike lane excitement in CB 2 already seems to be spreading.
Several members of CB 5 were in attendance and said they hoped to hold a similar meeting for their neighborhoods.
“We want to see how things are running here,” said Don Passantino, who sits on CB 5’s Transportation Committee.
Reach reporter Joe Anuta by e-mail at email@example.com or by phone at 718-260-4566.