Queens cyclists lament ‘terrifying’ route after Cross Bay Boulevard death

Photo by Todd Maisel

Queens cyclists blamed the city for not doing enough to overhaul the treacherous roads of Broad Channel before a biker’s death Sunday.

Bogdan Darmetko, 65, of Corona, Queens, was heading north on Cross Bay Boulevard when he was struck and killed by an SUV driver around 2:40 p.m. on Oct. 13. He was the 25th city cyclist to die this year, up from 10 deaths in all of 2018.

Advocates and elected officials criticized the street’s design following the tragedy. The boulevard is “terrifying” to ride on — even though it provides a critical link to the Rockaways, according to Laura Shepard, a Queens resident and advocate at Bike NYC. Cross Bay currently features typical “class II” painted bike lanes, with no separation from passing vehicles on a wide, four-lane artery.

Safe streets proponents have been calling for better bike access for years.

“Traffic on Cross Bay is really fast and when you’re on the class II lane, you do feel good that there is a space allocated for you,” said Shepard. “But you’re watching out for car doors. You kind of always have to watch and listen to what’s going on behind you to make sure the cars are staying in their lane.”

Specific details of the crash were not immediately clear and a Police Department investigation is ongoing. Darmetko had apparently entered a driving lane when he was struck, according to an NYPD spokeswoman. But the northbound section of the street is currently milled, in the process of being repaved, and does not feature lane markings.

“Once the resurfacing of Crossbay [sic] Blvd is complete @NYC_DOT needs to install a protected bike lane on this stretch,” tweeted local Councilman Eric Ulrich. “Cyclists should not be put in harms way. This could have been avoided!”

Shepard, who bikes to the Rockaways roughly once a week in warm weather, said bike lanes should be preserved during millings and pavings and joined Ulrich in calling for physically separated bicycle space on the boulevard.

A spokesman for the city’s Department of Transportation said the agency is considering fast tracking better bicycle infrastructure in the area and is exploring other safety improvements as well.

In the midst of an increase in cycling deaths this year, advocates are pushing for the passage of City Council legislation from Speaker Corey Johnson that would require the city to create five-year master plans for its streets. As written, Johnson’s bill would mandate the installation of a certain number of new bus and bike lanes in each plan. Johnson last week pledged to pass this bill this month and a City Council hearing on street safety is planned for Oct. 24.

“My heart breaks for the family of Bogdan Darmetko,” Johnson tweeted. “We need to be proactive about safe streets. Sounds like residents have been saying this is a problem area for a while. We need to act urgently to prevent tragedies before, not just after, they happen.”

Juan Restrepo, the Queens organizer at Transportation Alternatives, said Darmetko’s death is indicative of a lack of vision for a complete city cycling network — that wide roads in areas like southern Brooklyn and the Rockaways have been overlooked for years.

“It really touches what we’re asking for throughout the city — a comprehensive solution for traffic safety and protected bike lanes and really don’t have it now,” Restrepo said.

This story first appeared in amNY, one of our sister publications.