Safe streets advocate celebrates national recognition of Queens Boulevard bike lanes

By Bill Parry

When the new bike lanes along Queens Boulevard were recognized as being among the best in the country by the national cycling group People for Bikes, the de Blasio administration and the city Department of Transportation were pleased. The lanes were installed this summer between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street as the first phase of a $100 million reconstruction project and they were selected by People for Bikes because of their location on the notoriously dangerous and heavily trafficked roadway.

“Taming Queens Boulevard has been a top priority for the administration,” Mayor Bill de Blasio spokesman Wiley Norville said. “The project really shows what’s possible when the city, local officials and communities come together to make streets safe. We look forward to finishing the project as soon as possible.”

City DOT Deputy Commissioner for Transportation Planning and Management Ryan Russo said, “We are thrilled that the community-driven Queens Boulevard phase 1 project has been named one of America’s best new bike lanes. Not only has this corridor been made safe for cyclists, we are excited that it is more livable, walkable and even better for motorists.”

When de Blasio came to Woodside in July to announce the $100 million redesign of Queens Boulevard, City Hall selected longtime street safety advocate Lizi Rahman to introduce him. Though she is a Jamaica resident and Queens Boulevard comes nowhere close to her home, in Rahman’s case it comes closer to her heart.

In February 2008, her 22-year-old son Asif, a poet and photographer, was riding his bike to work on Queens Boulevard when he swerved to avoid a double-parked car and was struck and killed by a truck. When she went to the scene of the deadly collision on the boulevard’s service road at 55th Road in Elmhurst, Rahman was “shocked and surprised” to see there were no bike lanes on the boulevard which has six lanes in each direction, while the city was installing bike lanes along single-lane roads.

“I truly believed that day that if there were a bike lane along Queens Boulevard my son would still be alive,” Rahman said. “From that day on I did everything I could to get a bike lane, so that no other mother would feel that pain. I began my advocacy for a bike lane in 2008 but all of my prayers fell on deaf ears year after year.”

Rahman said she never got responses to letters sent to former Mayor Michael Bloomberg or his DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

“Then came Mayor de Blasio and his Vison Zero initiative,” Rahman said. “All the years of negativity and pessimism were replaced by action. Everything happened so quickly.”

Construction on the first 1.3-mile stretch of Queens Boulevard, where 185 people have been killed since 1990, began in July with the installation of the 5-foot-wide bike lanes in both directions, protected from cars by a 2-foot-wide buffer. In 2018, the DOT plans to install a more permanent version of the bike lanes.

When Rahman learned that just six months later after the construction began, People for Bikes named it the third-best new bike lane in the country.

“I’m very happy about that,” she said. “I’m really excited to see how quickly the bike lanes are coming along. It’s a real dream come true for me and I hope a lot of lives will be saved, Now I hope they name the bike lane after my son.”

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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