Long Island City councilman unveils ambitious plan to make the neighborhood a poster child for protected bike lanes

Max Parrott/QNS

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer was several minutes late to the presser to unveil his comprehensive bike plan. 

After he pedaled up to the gaggle of reporters waiting at the corner of the Pulaski Bridge and Jackson Avenue in Long Island City, he said that his bike ride to the event was “sweaty but revealing.” When he biked to end of the protected lane on Skillman Avenue, he shot out into the middle of bumper-to-bumper car traffic and felt unsafe. This is the exact problem he set out that morning to address.

“We need protected bike lane networks throughout every neighborhood across all five boroughs, and today, I’m calling on the [Department of Transportation] to start in Long Island City,” said Van Bramer in his speech. 

Van Bramer gathered members of Transportation Alternatives and Bike New York on Wednesday morning to call on the Department of Transportation to implement a five-mile protected bike lane network that would span Long Island City. 

The councilman revealed the proposal shortly after the 18th bicyclist death in the city as well as Mayor de Blasio’s promise to ramp up the city’s bike infrastructure with a $58 million plan, dubbed the “Green Wave,” which would commit to build 30 miles of protected bike lanes across the five boroughs each year. 

The councilman and the bike advocates explained that their idea for a neighborhood plan was meant to advise the DOT to start taking a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach to building bike lanes in a connected pattern, rather than a piecemeal approach of building small stretches of bike lanes scattered in different neighborhoods. 

Juan Restrepo, the Queens Organizer for Transportation Alternatives, explained that they thought Long Island City is the best place to begin this approach in Queens because it’s a hub for bike commuters on their way to Manhattan in addition to its cultural offerings.

“This vision will create a #BikeNeighborhood by connecting the Queensboro and Pulaski Bridges, homes, schools, businesses, cultural institutions, parks, waterfront and more. Protected bike lanes help children, parents, seniors access and enjoy the benefits of cycling,” said Laura Shepard of Bike New York.

Asked to clarify how this proposal connects to the mayor’s “Green Wave” plan, Restrepo said that it was meant to exceed the minimum recommendations that the plan sets out. He added that the recommendation was not meant to come at the exclusion of other bike lane projects across the borough.

“We’re not saying DOT should work on this first, exclusively. We think the DOT has the role and imperative to really look at being visionaries – to really revitalize how they do their process. This is a neighborhood system of bike lanes. Typically the DOT works on a street-by-street basis,” said Restrepo.

Jon Orcutt, a representative of Bike New York clarified that he thought the mayor’s plan was good but the 2030 map that it included was still “notional” rather than a precise blueprint of how it will be carried out. 

He finds the agency’s approach encouraging, but he said the “devil is in the execution.” He says it will work if the agency follows through on asking for community input but insisting that community boards do not have veto power because bike lanes are a public safety priority.

He sees Van Bramer’s plan as a way for Long Island City to step out first and act as a role model for other neighborhoods. “What the Council member and our groups are saying is 30 miles a year? We’re putting our hands up. Come here,” said Orcutt.