Ahead of next week’s election, Mayor Bill de Blasio headed to Queens Village on Thursday night for a three-hour town hall meeting with residents.
In front of a full audience in the gymnasium of Martin Van Buren High School, the mayor and commissioners of various city agencies fielded individual questions on a number of topics, including immigration, over-development and bike lanes.
The city’s Department of Transportation is currently working on two protected bike lane projects in Douglaston and Bayside: along Northern Boulevard between 223rd Street to Douglaston Parkway and along the western edge of Alley Pond Park, as well as along Oceania Street and 210th Street.
Attendees on both sides of the issue spoke up at the Nov. 2 event. The first person to breach the subject told the mayor how much she appreciates both bike lane projects — which was immediately met with both boos and cheers from some in the crowd.
The resident told the mayor the bike lane creates a safer condition for cyclists using the busy roadway and said she looks forward to more bike lane projects in the future.
After assuring those making heckling comments “everyone’s gonna get heard,” de Blasio said he believes bike lanes “done right” offer important transit alternatives, protect the environment and reduce congestion.
“I also want to say, we look at [bike lanes] constantly to see if they’re working,” he continued. “If something’s not working, we also have to have the decency to say, ‘Hey, that didn’t work,’ and we’ll make the change.”
A representative from Bayside’s Windsor Park co-op followed up, stating the community was not given adequate notice about the project, which “displaced” hundreds of residents’ cars.
De Blasio promised the resident that DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenburg would come to the site to “see it with her own eyes.” Trottenburg, who was in attendance, agreed.
About a half hour later, the Northern Boulevard bike lane was brought up again by another resident. The bike lane there has been under scrutiny by certain Community Board 11 members, residents and state Senator Tony Avella, who has been particularly vocal in his opposition to the current DOT plan, since June.
Earlier in the week, the lawmaker commented on an accident at the site involving a school bus carrying special needs adults. While there were no reported injuries, the lawmaker said the accident has left the community “worried that the next incident will not be so lucky.”
The next speaker at the town hall said while he “philosophically” agreed with the bike lane and the protection it provides cyclists, he believes it was “not well thought out.” Since the installation of the bike lane — which eliminated one lane of westbound traffic — the resident’s commute has increased from two minutes to 20 minutes, he told the mayor.
“[Northern Boulevard] is a major artery throughout northeastern Queens,” he said.
De Blasio and Trottenburg again assured attendees that the city would “continue to monitor [the lane].” The DOT commissioner also reminded the crowd that a fatality had occurred at each of the sites, triggering the city to study the area and make the decision to install the protected lanes.
“If it really isn’t working, we’ll continue to make adjustments,” Trottenburg said.
On the topic of the property tax system, which de Blasio called both “a mess” and “inconsistent,” the mayor promised attendees reform efforts would be a top priority should he be re-elected. He also reminded attendees multiple times that property assessments, not rates, have increased under his administration.
De Blasio started the evening touting his approach to affordable housing, a property tax break for seniors and the city’s low crime numbers. He also held a moment of silence for the victims of the recent terror attack in Manhattan, which left eight people dead.
Prior to the town hall event, City Council candidate Joseph Concannon and a group of protesters assembled outside of the venue. Upon the mayor’s arrival, the outspoken group began chants of “lock him up” and “dump the mayor.”