By Bill Parry
Mayor Bill de Blasio told officials at the city DOT Wednesday to ignore Community Board 4 and to include bike lanes when the $100 million reconstruction project for Queens Boulevard begins Phase Two in July. On Tuesday night, CB4 Chairman Louis Walker pushed a motion to vote on the plan without including the bike lanes and it passed by a 31-1 vote.
Following a DOT presentation of the plan, board members questioned the loss of 88 parking spots along the commercial to make way for the bike lanes, one questioned if there had been enough outreach to Elmhurst’s large immigrant community, and District Manager Christian Cassagnol pointed out that there had been “zero bicycle death” on the boulevard from 74th Strret to Eliot Avenue where Phase Two will be implemented.
That’s when Walker dropped his bombshell.
“I don’t think Queens Boulevard is necessarily the place for a bike lane. Put it on Woodside Avenue or Grand Avenue” he said. “This is not a park, this is a heavily traveled vehicular roadway.”
That set off a chaotic scene inside the ballroom of Italian Charities of America where the vote was held. Cycling and street safety advocates, who had been shouted down by board members all evening, erupted in anger as several members of the board who supported the bikes lane stormed out of the meeting. Some didn’t notice the vote taking place.
Less than a day later, the mayor put his foot down.
“I respect those who disagree with us, but in the end, the safety of our neighbors and our children is the most fundamental responsibility we have in this work,” de Blasio said. “Today, I have instructed the Department of Transportation to move forward on the next phase of safety enhancements to Queens Boulevard, including a protected lane for cyclists. Achieving Vision Zero means protecting the lives of everyone on our streets, whether they are walking, in a wheelchair, in a car or a bike. We are committed to ending the senseless loss of life on our streets, and there is no more potent symbol of that transformation than Queens Boulevard. Working together, we will close the book on the Boulevard of Death and make this roadway a Boulevard of Life.”
CB4 had no further comment following the mayor’s action. Cycling advocates were thrilled with the mayor’s decree.
Transportation Alternatives, which points to DOT figures that show cycling in the city has increased 320 percent since 1990, had dozens of members in the ballroom.
“Mayor de Blasio has shown true Vision Zero leadership by restating his strong commitment to protected bike lanes on Queens Boulevard and clarifying that the DOT will move forward despite efforts by some community board members to undermine the safety project,” TA Executive Director Paul Steely White said, calling into question CB4’s logic in leaving the bike lanes out of the second phase.
Rego Park resident Peter Beadle, a TA member and frequent cyclist on Queens Boulevard, shouted “you’re going to get me killed” when the board voted.
“The mayor’s decision will save lives,” Beadle said. “The bike lane is an important component. Stats show when you put in a bike lane, everyone is safer because you create a road where drivers slow down and pay more attention.”
Queens Bike Initiative, which advocates for bike lanes across the borough, was thankful for the mayor’s maneuver.
“Queens Boulevard is a major transportation and commercial artery in our borough, and we believe that by including bike lanes in the DOT’s plan, the city is acknowledging the larger social and economic benefit of providing cost-effective and safe transportation routes for cyclists,” they said in a statement.
Jamaica resident Lizi Rahman held a rally on Queens Boulevard right before the CB4 vote, at the spot where her 22-year-old son Asif was struck and killed by a truck. She would campaign for a bike lane on the boulevard for the next eight years.
“I didn’t stay for the vote, but when I heard about it this morning I was devastated. It broke my heart into pieces,” Rahman said. “But then the mayor’s office told me what he was doing and I was overjoyed. I’m so happy that all of the struggles and hard work during the last eight years wouldn’t be overturned by those silly people.”
With her son’s bike lanes safe, Rahman is looking to support Mujeres en Movimiento, a mother’s group battling CB4’s resistance to a bike lane on 111th Street along the west side of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. On Saturday, 111 of the mothers stopped traffic on 111th Street for 111 seconds to create a symbolic “safe space” for their children, relatives, friends and neighbors to safely cross the dangerous street.
“We would like to see protected bike lanes where we don’t feel afraid to ride our bikes with our children,” Mujeres en Movimiento founder Veronica Ramirez said. “It is not a great sacrifice to reduce the number of car lanes on this street. Those that are protecting the high number of car lanes are forgetting about the potential cost in terms of lives lost, and the suffering of those that lose a loved one because of a crash.”
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr