From Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Committee Chair Mike Heffron:
At the Queens Community Board 2 general meeting on Thursday, May 1, with no vote by board members, Chair Joe Conley delayed the board’s input on the Department of Transportation’s planned pedestrian and cyclist improvements to Vernon Boulevard, an important link in the proposed Queens East River Greenway. DOT can move forward with the Greenway plan with or without CB 2’s approval.
The DOT plan [PDF] calls for removal of the majority of parking along the East River side of Vernon from 45th Ave to its termination at Main St. In place of parking the DOT plans to put down a painted bike lane in both directions, with painted buffers between the lanes and auto traffic. Also proposed are additional traffic calming improvements along Vernon and a pedestrian relief Green Street to be installed at Queensbridge Park. Two weeks prior the proposal was unveiled to CB 2’s Land Use Committee, which voted unanimously in favor.
Community board members had a lot of questions, and there was a lot of confusion about where parking would be removed. There also seemed to be confusion about the actual widths of streets, as well as thoughts that the bike lane be placed on 11th St., farther from the river. One member wondered if there was a need to provide anything for cyclists at all. There was also concern that the crossing along Jackson Ave. is "too dangerous" and that cyclists should instead be routed down to the river and back up Borden Ave. to access the Pulaski Bridge. Conley had issues with double parking in the Hunters Point commercial area — an area where parking will not be removed and no bike lane is proposed. Because of the parking issue and "congestion" in the area Conley felt that it would be too dangerous to suggest cyclists ride with traffic there.
DOT’s Ryan Russo pointed out that removing parking now, before zoning changes bring in new residential buildings, will encourage new residents to move to the area without their cars. He also noted that cyclists, like most commuters, will take the path that best serves them, that DOT can’t dictate that riders take an out of the way route because it may or may not be safer, and that DOT can best serve everyone by improving safety on presently favored routes. He also repeated several times that parking will not be removed in the Hunters Point commercial district. But Russo had no one from the community to back him up, as the public input period was held at the beginning of the meeting, over an hour before his presentation.
With the hands of several community board members still in the air, Conley decided to table the proposal because "parking is an issue still in Hunters Point." And with no vote, he unilaterally ended discussion and requested that DOT come back with a revised plan. This despite the earlier unanimous vote by the Land Use Committee supporting the proposal and the fact that Community Boards only have "advisory" power over decisions such as these.
The first half of this project, which runs through CB 2’s jurisdiction, was slated to begin in June. TA’s Queens Committee will continue to fight to make sure it starts as close to June as possible. This is a speed bump, not a dead end, but it is another important lesson on the power community boards hold over livable streets initiatives.