By Mark Hallum
A protest organized by state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) at Alley Pond Golf Center Monday was met with intense opposition by bike advocates in favor of the city DOT’s decision to overrule Community Board 11’s alternative proposal for bicycle safety improvements along Northern Boulevard between Bayside and Douglaston and implement their own plan.
Avella accused the angry crowd interrupting his planned demonstration of being just a small number of detractors associated with Transportation Alternatives, an organization which advocates for bicyclist safety measures across the city. Avella said he and others opposed to the DOT’s plan are in favor of bike lanes, but are critical of the city’s choice to ignore the community board and stick with its own plan.
“Transportation Alternatives, they have to bully everybody,” Avella said. “Meanwhile, this is the best they can do? They had the whole weekend to organize, which tells me it’s a small population that wants [the DOT bike lanes].”
Among the those who stood with Avella were representatives from Douglaston Civic Association, as well as CB11’ new district manager, Joseph Marziliano, who publicly opposed the city agency’s plan with a DOT lapel pin stuck to the collar of his suit.
Bernard Haber, who drafted CB11’s alternative proposal, could not attend the rally but believed his plan to place the bike lane above the curb line would increase safety while not interrupting taffic during rush hour.
DOT’s plan would create a dedicated bike route extending into the north side of the street by using Jersey barriers and would also act as a traffic calming measure by narrowing the road and decreasing the speed limit from 40 mph to 30 mph. The proposal was hotly debated at CB11’s June meeting and ultimately passed, but a new proposal by Haber offered an alternative solution that would widen the sidewalk to create more space for those on foot and bikes. The motion passed on Sept. 11 for the alternative solution.
DOT, however, claimed this plan would take at least five years to implement and would be pricey. The final decision was made by DOT to move ahead with the lane, which could be set up and implemented within the month.
CB 11 members and residents alike were angry to learn of the Department of Transportation’s decision to move forward despite the vote to rescind approval of the plan and joined Avella in front of the golf center to protest the agency’s move.
Avella said he believed DOT was going ahead with the plan because of pressure from Transportation Alternatives, which he claimed also “has the ear of the mayor.”
“We support a bike lane, we desperately want it like everybody here does,” said Mike Gannon, president of the Douglas Manor Association. “But we want it off the boulevard through the city property … Therefore we support Community Board 11’s modified plan, not DOT’s.”
As the news conference progressed, supporters of the DOT plan spoke out angrily against Avella, who shouted at them not to disrupt his time with the press.
One Bayside resident argued that the barriers are a necessity and can work now until a more permanent solution is reached.
“What DOT’s doing right now immediately impacts the safety of cyclists and pedestrians in the area. If they want to do their research and take five years to find an alternative, fine. But this can be done in a week and it can be removed in a week and only at the regular maintenance cost and within DOT’s budget,” Eric Harold said. “So right now, by stalling this, they’re endangering people’s lives, including my own.”
Many of the counter-protestors had lost loved ones to poor traffic conditions in the city with many rallying around the name of Michael Schenkman, a 78-year-old cyclist and Flushing resident who was struck by a car on that stretch of Northern Boulevard in the summer of 2016.
Gus Franzoni said a bike lane had recently been implemented in Oakland Gardens along Cunningham Park where he lives and he is already seeing conditions improve despite the lack of a barrier between him and the cars. He regularly rides along Northern and said traffic conditions are so bad he is afraid to ride there unless there is space on the sidewalk.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall