By Mark Hallum
Community Board 11’s Monday meeting was a battleground between those in favor of overhauls to northeast Queens roadways to accommodate bicyclists and those against such improvements for the impact they could have on parking and businesses.
The plan to take a lane from the north side of Northern Boulevard to create a protected bike path while reducing the speed limit from 40 mph to 30 mph passed with a narrow vote. The next step to install standard bike lanes between traffic and curbside parking did not go to a vote. The last section of the plan passed and will connect Joe Michaels Mile to the Greenway by a path along the edge of Alley Pond Park.
A prominent member of the bicycling community in Queens was killed riding his bike on Northern Boulevard in August 2016. His death triggered the sudden urge to have Vision Zero improvements visit Bayside and Douglaston, where many people on two wheels connect between the Brooklyn-Queens Greenway. The loss of Flushing’s Michael Schenkman, 78, became the rallying cry of many at the meeting in favor of the improvements. A number of those were members of Transportation Alternatives, an organization pushing for more bicycle friendly roads.
Schenkman’s son, Peter, was among the speakers.
Peter Schenkman called for a separated, protected space along this route between cars and bikes. He said the Department of Transportation’s plan is an important first step to protecting people like his father.
“I lived in eastern Flushing for a few years after college and would regularly navigate the dangers of the Northern Boulevard /Alley Pond corridor to get to Joe Michaels Mile for a quick ride or skate,” Schenkman said. “As far back as I can remember, cars sped through the corridor. With the huge downhill heading east, navigating the street as a pedestrian or a cyclist is like playing a sick Frogger game where you try to avoid being hit — unfortunately, in my father’s case, killed.”
Jason Michaels, son of famous Bayside heart patient and runner for whom Joe Michaels Mile is named, did not attend in person but delivered written statement read by another attendee. He argued that his father ran for many causes and would himself wonder about the safety of these crossroads were he alive. He urged the community board to support plans to make the routes used by bicyclists safer.
“It has come to my attention that the area around the Joe Michaels Mile has deteriorated,” Michaels said, speaking of Schenkman’s death. “The ability to walk and drive safely should be paramount for anyone in any neighborhood. But since this area is the one in which I grew up, it still holds a special place in my heart, and it hurts to know that these injuries and accidents have continued to occur.”
Phase one of the plan was approved by a narrow vote. The section which would connect Joe Michaels Mile to the Greenway also passed.
Many board members were skeptical that the changes to Douglaston Parkway would be an improvement at all and claimed the bike lane would only block business access. DOT is revising this section of the plan, which will be voted on in September.
Northern Boulevard between Douglaston Parkway and 223rd Street has seen 210 injuries in the past seven years.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall