By Bill Parry
Community Board 4 voted to table the Department of Transportation’s latest proposal for safety improvements on 11th Street in Corona along the western edge of Flushing Meadows Corona Park. The 24-12 vote sparked outrage among the nearly 200 residents and safe streets advocates who packed the VFW post on 108th Street Tuesday night.
The vote followed a DOT presentation of the updated proposal that includes a controversial two-way protected bike lane and 25 more parking spaces and pedestrian islands that would reduce the 94-foot crossing distance of 111th Street.
Board members who spoke before the vote voiced their concern about the lack of crosswalks, stop signs and lights. Transportation Committee Chairman Jimmy Lisa, a longtime critic of the plan and resident of 111th Street, wanted to wait to vote on the plan for at least a year, sending the DOT “back to the drawing board.”
Board member Sandra Munoz voted against postponing the decision on the plan until a later date.
“This has been going back and forth for years. We have to start somewhere,” she said. “I lost an uncle to a vehicular accident and I don’t want to lose anyone else. What are we waiting for?”
City Councilwoman Julissa Ferreras-Copeland (D-East Elmhurst), who funded the redesign of the street with $2.7 million in 2013, did not attend the meeting but she noted that residents in attendance couldn’t speak until a public forum after the vote.
“The community was not allowed to comment before Community Board 4 voted to table the plan for 111th Street. However, they spoke loud and clear when we stood over 100 strong on the steps of City Hall demanding that 11th Street be made safer,” she said in a statement. “For three years, the experts at the DOT have done extensive studies and outreach. We cannot wait any longer. I urge Mayor de Blasio to move forward with the Vision Zero plan immediately.”
Scott Gastel, the DOT assistant commissioner, said Wednesday, “We’ll share last night’s feedback with the full team at DOT and will report back on next steps soon.”
Many of the board members had argued against the bike lane because it would remove a traffic lane along the park’s edge, creating congestion on the days of large events like the US Open, Mets games at Citi Field and the annual Makers Fair at the New York Hall of Science. DOT speakers said their data proved such excess traffic occurred only five times during 84 days they had monitored 111th Street.
Cristina Furlong, a co-founder of Make Queens Safer, spoke for many of the safe streets advocates after the vote to postpone its decision.
“This board does not intend to ever vote on 111th Street,” she said. “You see it as a political football and you don’t mind taking people’s lives in your own hands to play that political football game and that’s a terrible, terrible tragedy and shame.”
State Assemblyman Francisco Moya (D-Jackson Heights) was a critic of the plan until a compromise was reached in October. He was in Albany Tuesday night.
“I believe that issues raised last night about the inclusion of traffic lights and signaled crosswalks are extremely important and should be strongly pursued. However, I also believe it is time for the compromise proposal that I helped craft with DOT to be voted on,” he said. “Whether the board accepts or rejects the proposal is up to the board, as their voices are just as important as non-board member proponents of the bike lane. From the beginning, I have sought to formulate a plan that creates safe streets while heeding the concerns of residents through a process that was inclusive as possible. A compromise, by its nature, will never completely satisfy one party, but it is in the interest of the community to move forward with a plan that represents all perspectives.”
There was a significant subplot to the meeting. CB4 Chairman Damian Vargas said a recording proved longtime board member Ann Pfoser Darby was misquoted last month and did not say, “Once Trump removes all the illegals from Corona, there won’t be anybody to ride the bike lanes.”
Vargas took umbrage with Ferreras-Copeland’s statement following the Phoser Darby comment, which he called a “false quote.” Included in the Ferreras-Copeland statement was a line that said, “These comments raise legitimate concerns that this bigoted attitude is behind delaying necessary improvements on 111th Street, which CB4 has obstructed for the past three years.”
Vargas said the Ferrars-Copeland statement “served to further her political agenda, further dividing a community desperately in need of bridges and trust in our elected officials and to incite supporters of the bike lanes.”
The councilwoman’s chief of staff Catalina Cruz was at the meeting and challenged Vargas’ version of events.
“It is unfortunate that we have to find ourselves having to defend this comment when I spoke to the chair the night the (Darby) comments were made and he himself confirmed it,” Cruz said.
Vargas moved on without responding.
Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparr