Tempers flared at an emergency meeting called to revisit the city’s proposal to install safety improvements, including a bike lane, along a busy corridor in Bayside and Douglaston.
In June, Community Board 11 voted in favor of the city Department of Transportation’s (NYC DOT) plans to construct nearly 6 miles of protected bike lanes along Northern Boulevard between 223rd Street and Douglaston Parkway. The proposal came almost a year after 78-year-old Michael Schenkman died after being struck and killed by a car while riding his bicycle at the location.
The board’s Transportation Committee met on July 17 at the behest of Board 11 Chairperson Christine Haider, who began by clearing up rumors circulated about the meeting in online blog posts.
“We’re not doing anything secretive or trying to stop or delay any plans, as we’ve been accused in blogs and emails and so-forth,” Haider said. “The community board would not have done their due diligence if we did not recommend the safest situation for all.”
Committee co-chairperson Bernard Haber, who came up with revised plans from the area, spoke at length, referencing a set of self-drawn schematics distributed to board members. According to Haber, the plans were drawn up based upon his own personal research, as well as NYC DOT’s statistics.
Haber began by saying the DOT’s presentation at the June 5 meeting was “very well done.” However, the longtime board member and retired engineer continued, “there needed to be additional study of the plan itself.”
“There are problems, no question about it, with this proposal,” Haber said. “But there are also major problems with the DOT proposal.”
For Haber, the “one major flaw” with the DOT proposal is the bicycle lane, which would be at the same grade-level as the roadway, continuing throughout the exits and entrances of the Cross Island Parkway.
“I can see fatalities at those locations in the future if that design is accepted,” the board member said.
The other flaw Haber pointed out was the elimination of one westbound lane to accommodate the DOT’s conceptual bike lanes.
“The DOT reduces the westbound truck an passenger capacity by 33 percent,” Haber continued. “Approximately 15 to 20 thousand vehicles pass through that corridor every day.”
In Haber’s revised proposal, the 11-inch-wide sidewalk would be shared by cyclists and pedestrians. Therefore, there would be no bike lane in the street, preserving all westbound lanes of traffic along Northern Boulevard.
However, Haber pointed out, the plan would require sidewalk expansions in certain areas, encroaching upon land owned by the NYC Parks Department.
“We want a bicycle lane; we definitely do,” Haber closed. “We introduced it in February … But we want DOT to make an accurate study of what they’re doing and how their particular team is going to ensure the safety of the cyclists.”
Haber said his plan, which puts cyclists and pedestrian eight inches above the roadway and creates a buffer of trees, is safer than the DOT’s protected bike lane approach. However, he admitted, his plan has problems of its own.
A motion to send a letter to DOT asking the city agency to analyze and consider Haber’s plan was approved. Three board members voted against the motion.
At the June 5 meeting, a DOT representative said the Northern Boulevard and Alley Pond Park edge sections of the project, which were voted favorably upon by the board, would move forward later this year. Board members at the emergency meeting were at odds as to whether sending the DOT the revised plans would delay the project.
Board member John Kelly, who voted against the motion, suggested including language in the letter that made it clear the board did not wish the delay the DOT’s plans in submitting the new concept. Haider said this was unnecessary.
“We’re not trying to stop anything, as we’ve been accused” Haider said. “We’re working for the community.”
Minutes later, however, Haber said that the intent was to delay the plan.
“Yes, it is a delay,” the board member said. “A delay to give the community the assurance that whatever is done … is the safest plan for cyclists. We don’t want any more fatalities.”
Another board member who voted against the motion questioned whether enough notice was given to the public about the meeting. The meeting was made public, he alleged, three days before it was held.
Haider said she called the meeting with five days notice, as mandated by law.
Members of the public, who were allowed to attend but not participate in the committee meeting, began to call out after the meeting was adjourned.
“We need to more forward with a plan, before more people die,” one public attendee called out.
A DOT spokesperson said the agency plans to move forward with their safety project.
“Community Board 11 voted to support DOT’s safety improvement project for Northern Blvd. and the agency plans to proceed with implementation later this summer,” the spokesperson said. “We will review and provide feedback on CB 11’s recent conceptual plan upon receiving it. The Northern Blvd project brings safety benefits to all road users and will provide an improved connection for the Douglaston and Bayside communities to the heavily utilized Joe Michaels Mile.”