Douglaston civic plans to sue city over ‘unbelievably insane’ Northern Boulevard bike lanes

Photo by Suzanne Monteverdi/QNS

As certain community members and city officials remain at odds over a controversial bike lane in northeastern Queens, one Douglaston group plans to take the city to court.

Sean Walsh, president of the Douglaston Civic Association (DCA), took the microphone at Monday’s Community Board 11 (CB 11) meeting in Bayside to announce the group’s intent to file a case against the city of New York.

“The city has failed in a number of ways on Northern Boulevard,” Walsh said on Jan. 8.

The decision was made at the group’s recent annual membership meeting, Walsh said. The civic is also petitioning the governor to take away the city’s right to manage and operate state routes, like Northern Boulevard.

The controversial protected bike lane, which the DOT installed in late 2017, runs along Northern Boulevard from 223rd Street to Douglaston Parkway. The project was spurred by the death of Michael Schenkman, a 78-year-old cyclist who was struck by a car in the area and killed in August 2016.

In September, DCA sent out a call to action via email to local residents, urging them to “flood Mayor de Blasio’s office with calls opposing the plan.” Tensions about the plans mounted later that same month when protesters and counter-protesters showed up for a rally organized by state Senator Tony Avella, who spoke in favor of CB11’s proposal alongside DCA President Sean Walsh. Critics continued the call against the DOT project at an October press conference, where they claimed the lane’s concrete barriers were the cause of several recent auto accidents.

Plans for the project were first presented by DOT to CB11 for approval in June and initially received the board’s approval with a narrow vote. However, upon further consideration of the plans, the board decided to rescind its initial support and instead present its own plan in July. Transportation Committee co-chairperson Bernard Haber, a retired engineer, proposed that cyclists and pedestrians share a widened sidewalk, eliminating the need for one westbound lane of traffic to be taken away.

DOT officials have stood by the plans, stating the project provides critical safety benefits to the area. Other groups, including the Douglaston Local Development Corp., Douglaston Village Chamber of Commerce and Transportation Alternatives, have spoken out in favor of the project.

A few others who spoke at the January CB 11 meeting echoed Walsh’s sentiments. Michael Feiner, president of the Bayside Hills Civic Association, called the project “unbelievably insane.” He was also critical of the lack of signage at the location warning motorists to the lanes and concrete barriers.

“I’d like to know when signs are going to be put up,” Feiner said.

Board member Ben Turner later spoke up in support of the lanes, which he said are “getting a lot of blame for a lot of things.” Citing traffic accident numbers published by the city earlier that same day, Turner pointed out that, in 2017, the five boroughs saw the fewest traffic fatalities since 1910. In Queens, there were 59 traffic fatalities in 2017 compared to 65 in 2016, marking a 9 percent decline.

“People like to dump on Vision Zero, on the mayor’s office, on these safety improvements that are going in, traffic calming measures — but there has actually been a steady decrease in traffic fatalities around the city,” he said.

There is “no evidence” that there has been an increase in traffic accidents on Northern Boulevard since the installation of the project, Turner also claimed.

“I just urge people to please give it a chance,” he said.

Walsh did not provide a timeline for the legal proceedings.

QNS reached out to DOT for comment and is awaiting a response.

More from Around New York