Queens CBs Greet Vernon Boulevard Bike Lanes With Skepticism

vernon_lane.jpgLast month, DOT striped buffered bike lanes on Vernon Boulevard (right), part of a package of safety improvements for the north-south corridor that parallels the western Queens waterfront [PDF]. Bike facilities are scarce in this part of the city, and the addition of the new lanes, which eliminated a lane of parking along parts of the route, has not come without opposition from the local community boards, CB1 and CB2. But as Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Committee Chair Mike Heffron reports, residents also organized to voice support for the project.

When Streetsblog last checked in, CB2 had tabled discussion of the plan following the land use committee’s unanimous vote in favor of it. Long before the proposal came to CB2 — in early 2007 — the T.A. Queens Committee wrote up a letter to DOT supporting the bike lanes. Thirteen local groups signed on, including residents of Queensbridge Houses, who live next to the route, as well as several park organizations. In May of this year, a letter backing DOT’s final project proposal came from City Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr. DOT took members of CB1 and CB2 on tours of the route and distributed brochures explaining the project to local businesses.

Ultimately, the community boards were not swayed. CB2 never took up discussion of the project at a general meeting, says Heffron, and neither did CB1. Instead, CB1 let its position be known by sending DOT and local elected officials a letter opposing the Vernon Boulevard bike lanes.

When a neighborhood receives its first bike lanes, opposition typically follows, says T.A.’s Wiley Norvell. "Western
Queens has so few bike lanes, their only frame of reference was the ‘bike
lane to nowhere’ on 36th Street," he tells Streetsblog. "It’s been there for a few years, but didn’t
connect anything. They don’t see anyone there, so they think bike lanes don’t
serve bicyclists." The number of parking spaces eliminated by the lanes has also been exaggerated, he notes. "Most of the 200 spaces removed are in an
industrial zone — only 40 or 50 are used during the day."

queensbridge_refuge_1.jpg
Construction of pedestrian refuges at an entrance to Queensbridge Park, part of DOT’s Vernon Boulevard improvements.

T.A.’s Queens Committee has responded with a letter-writing campaign of their own, intended to, as Heffron says, "express delight at
seeing the bike lanes go in and to generally
promote bike lanes in advance of any future projects."

"Because everyone thinks Queens is so car-centric, and the bike network is
so poor," he adds, "It’s important to signal support, so that when DOT does a
project in the future, they know the support is there."

While DOT did not go so far as to install a protected bike path along Vernon Boulevard, the agency has signaled its commitment to the bike lanes at community board meetings. At one meeting of the CB1 transportation committee, reports Heffron, chair Robert Piazza implied that the lanes could always be removed, prompting Queens DOT Commissioner Maura McCarthy to reply that the agency had no intention of reversing the project.

When similar scenarios have played out elsewhere, opposition has tended to diminish with time. "A year and a half ago,
we had the
same situation in Fort Greene," says Norvell, referring to community
board reaction to new bike lanes on Carlton Avenue and Willoughby
Street. "Now it’s one of the most used sections
of the bike network." Given the burgeoning
number of bike commuters from Long Island City, Sunnyside, and Greenpoint, he adds, Vernon Boulevard should see similar growth in use.

The one thing missing from the project, says Norvell, is the protected path. "If you’re willing to overcome the political
hurdle, you might as well get the Class 1 bike lane. Put the best
possible infrastructure in. A bike lane with greater protection would
be safe for children. It’s still gonna boost biking, but we
could have had the full monty."

vernon_lane_2.jpg

Photos (from top to bottom): Nathan John, Mark Foggin, Karen Overton.

  • mfs

    I’ve ridden this route several times and it is a big improvement on riding on Vernon alone. I’m really glad DOT did this.

    I do wonder about the placement of the bike sherrods (sp?) in the Hunterspoint area, though- they are directly in the door zone. Those in other places like Franklin Street in Brooklyn are out of it, which feels much safer and forces cars to actually share the lane with you.

    Also the shoulder on the southbound side is pretty degraded in some parts, which makes for a fairly bumpy ride.

  • “Most of the 200 spaces removed are in an industrial zone — only 40 or 50 are used during the day.”

    Where does he think people who work in industrial zones park? What a genius.

  • Bob

    “Sharrow”, for “shared lane arrow”, usually called “shared lane marking”.

  • Yeah some of the areas need some repaving. It’s funny I had heard one DoT mucky-muck say they repave the roads when they lay down bike lanes, but I guess Vernon Blvd was too much for them? Maybe the DoT knows the next step is us needling away for a class 1 so why bother.

    The lanes look great though, and went in right after the Skillman bike lanes too. It’s pretty exciting after years of only the 36th St lane to nowhere and the 20th Ave lane from the end of the Park to the trash dump on the way to Rikers to see some well thought out lanes go into place. Thanks for the great write up Streetsblog!

  • I’ve heard that much of the opposition to the bike lanes specifically the ones close to the Roosevelt Avenue Bridge are coming from RI residents that use it for free parking. Mind you RI has lots of great public space with community gardens, parks and a pedestrian only main street thanks to a large garage (with a monthly charge) that houses most of the cars but almost no free onstreet parking.

  • Apparently Roosevelt Island residents (part of Manhattan’s Community Board 8) were none too thrilled about the loss of parking as they were unaware of the changes even with my initially posting about it over a month ago. A number of RI residents parked on Vernon Blvd due to the fact that no on street free parking exists on RI.

    CB8M’s Transportation Committee wanted to respond but were unsure how to politely ask that they be informed as members of their “community” were affected even thpugh they obviously have no decision making abilities or input into what happens in Queens.

    http://rooseveltisland360.blogspot.com/search?q=Parking+Vernon+Blvd.

  • So Eric – Are you for installing more on street parking on Roosevelt Island to take care of the new demand for free onstreet parking? There’s plenty of green space that would make for great surface parking lots 😉

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Can someone explain to me how CB1Q can have an opinion without the community board deliberating? Isn’t the monthly meeting where an opinion would be determined through discussion and a vote?

    Also, a point of clarification: I was at the CB2K meeting at which there was a split vote on the Carlton-Cumberland bike lane. If I recall correctly, many people on the board voted against the bike lane because DOT by-passed the transportation committee. It was, for some, a comment on the process more than the bike lane itself.

  • Stacy

    1 – Maybe if these RI residents want to live on a car-free island, and still own a car, they should expect to pay for a garage?

    2- How can they call themselves Manhattan and still expect to have input with local Queens community decisions?

  • Is CB2K in Brooklyn then? Funny enough CB2Q hasn’t had a transportation committee meeting since the chair died, which is why they met with the land use.

    I think community input for things is new ground for the DoT. They didn’t do things like this so much before, and in fact I don’t believe they have to even bother since a painted bike lane is not considered a large project requiring CB input. But then again the rules for CBs in general are vague and un-defined from district to district. A couple CB1 members I spoke to about the opposition letter claimed not to know what I was talking about. One even said that letters like this are issued on behalf of the whole CB1 all the time without running it past the rest of the board. Now I don’t think if they had voted on the measure at CB1 they would have approved it to be honest, and the guys I was talking to need me to help with something else, so they could be bullshitting me to keep me on their side, but still, it’s all very murky and confusing, particularly if you’re not a regular attendee of these meetings.

  • fdr

    CB1 in Manhattan says DOT ignored them in creating a bike lane through City Hall Park that conflicts with pedestrians. “Less than a week after Community Board

  • fdr

    Sorry I pushed the wrong button.
    CB1 in Manhattan says DOT ignored them in creating a bike lane through City Hall Park that conflicts with pedestrians. “Less than a week after Community Board 1 overwhelmingly disapproved a bike path cutting through City Hall Park, the Department of Transportation put up signs directing cyclists to use the path.”
    Quoting from the Downtown Express, I don’t see the article on their web site.

  • Stacy

    If DOT had installed a protected bike lane, similar to the bike track on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan,it would have preserved some of the free on-street parking. Perhaps this would have been the best of both worlds.

  • Queens (LIC, other than Vernon/Jackson Aves) also has an amazing amount of under-utilized sidewalk space. Biking up and down 23rd St every day, you have to fight with double parked trucks and other loading fiascos, while sidewalks 12′ and wider remain predominantly unused (except of course by the auto mechanic shops who enjoy taking over as makeshift parking lots). I am surprised that the DOT isn’t considering sidewalk-shared bike lanes in some areas to alleviate the parking loss arguments. Sidewalk lanes are common through much of Germany, and seem to work when there are low numbers of pedestrians on the sidewalks to begin with.

  • mfs

    Q Crapper- Industrial jobs actually have a lower commute by car rate than many other sectors. And the industrial areas along the East River have a bunch of free spaces along side streets even during weekdays.

  • “Industrial jobs actually have a lower commute by car rate than many other sectors.”

    Show me the stats for this particular industrial area, where the public transportation sucks ass.

    “And the industrial areas along the East River have a bunch of free spaces along side streets even during weekdays.”

    I suppose they won’t now. It was great that the city gave people who park notice that this was going into effect. And it’s not Roosevelt Islanders’ fault that the bridge was built to Queens and not Manhattan.

  • Glen – Personally I had no problem with the removal of parking on Vernon Blvd as we bike to Costco weekly to get groceries. As for trading green pace for parking Roosevelt Island already is losing too much green space to construction. – Eric

  • Glad to hear it Eric!

  • mfs

    QC-
    38% of folks working in the area next to the bike path commute by foot, bike or mass transit. 48% by single-occupant vehicle. This is about even for Queens as a whole.

    Source: Census Transportation Planning Package
    Queens County
    Tracts: 0025 0035 0037 0039 0041 0081 0083 0087
    http://www.uwm.edu/Dept/ETI/drilldowns/index.html

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