Melinda Katz Tries to Kill Queens Blvd Bike Lane in the Name of “Community”

Tuesday night’s meeting on the redesign of Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst was one of the uglier exercises in petty community board obstructionism in recent memory.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz thinks parking mandates are more important than Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter

Queens Community Board 4 District Manager Christian Cassagnol said the safety of cyclists should be “an afterthought.”

The board, as is its custom, didn’t allow members of the public to speak about the project until after they voted.

The vote was a hastily-called show of hands, orchestrated by board chair Lou Walker, to “accept the safety plan for Queens Boulevard except the bike lane.” Good luck making sense of that resolution — the safety plan and the bike lane are inseparable.

Who thinks life-or-death decisions about street design should be entrusted to this process? Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.

After Mayor de Blasio instructed DOT to proceed with the Queens Boulevard project in full, Katz released this statement. It’s a classic attempt to kill a street safety project by hiding behind the word “community”:

Safety is paramount, including that of pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. To my repeated requests last summer to DOT for a borough-wide perspective on bike lanes, the agency stated they were unable to accommodate such requests because bike lanes are solely community-driven and community-generated. The Community Board’s vote this week, however, contradicts the assertion that this plan is driven and generated by the community. At the very least, it indicates failure on the part of the agency to adequately address the Board’s concerns on the proposed plan.

Any action to install bike lanes along this stretch at this time, regardless of merit, would therefore and understandably be perceived as an imposition by the administration, running directly counter to and overriding the Community Board’s explicitly-stated wishes. Safety is a shared priority, and there must be a better way to involve communities in expanding bike lanes.

Queens Boulevard spans across not just one but many Community Board and elected officials’ districts. Instead of approaching bike lanes in a vacuum and in piece-meal, segmented fashion, the plan should be postponed for now until the agency can produce a truly community-driven, community-generated, borough-wide plan for the future of bike lanes not only along Queens Boulevard but throughout the borough. In the shared interest of enhancing safety and collaboration, I offer a standing invitation to the agency to present such a plan to the full Queens Borough Board.

In other words: delay, delay, delay, and whatever you do, don’t take action to prevent injuries and deaths. Public safety should be held in check to satisfy the whims of Christian Cassagnol and Lou Walker. As for people who bike on Queens Boulevard, everyone who’s volunteered their time to work on this safety plan, and the residents who’ve been calling on City Hall to put a protected bike lane on the street for nearly a decade — they don’t matter.

Katz is relying heavily on the fact that Community Board 4 includes the word “community.” But community boards are seldom representative of the population at large, neighborhood opinion is never monolithic, and expecting total agreement before proceeding with a major street redesign is a recipe for stasis. Should Katz and the people she appointed to CB 4 trump local Council Member Danny Dromm, Mayor de Blasio, the residents fighting to make their neighborhood streets more walkable and bikeable, and, most importantly, the clear public safety benefits of proceeding with the redesign?

Lizi Rahman at a rally for the Queens Boulevard redesign before Tuesday’s CB 4 meeting. Photo: David Meyer

For the record, the campaign for a protected bike lane on Queens Boulevard goes back to 2008, when Lizi Rahman began calling on the city to act after her son Asif was struck and killed by a truck driver while biking on the street. After seven years of patient advocacy, the city took action and DOT put down a protected bike lane and pedestrian improvements between Roosevelt Avenue and 73rd Street in 2015. When DOT held a public workshop on the second phase of the Queens Boulevard redesign last November, extending the protected bike lane through Elmhurst was tops on the to-do list.

Any borough-wide bike plan would be worthless if it didn’t include a safe route on Queens Boulevard, one of the only continuous east-west routes in Queens. Cutting off the further extension of this bike lane, which currently consists of a 1.3-miles segment in Woodside, is exactly what would produce the “piece-meal, segmented” outcome that Katz purports to oppose.

Queens CB 4 voted to “accept” this project “except the bike lane” — good luck making sense of that.

Some City Council members have recently floated some ideas for community board reform, like term limits and surveying the demographic makeup of each board. Another reform I would suggest is to simply rename community boards so politicians like Katz can’t exploit the association with the word “community.”

“Local appointee board” doesn’t roll off the tongue, but it’s a lot more accurate.

  • BBnet3000

    He’s talking about the dotted “planned route” lines on the NYC Bike Map, not the 1997 plan. I have no idea where those dotted lines came from though, but some of them are quite good routes. Unfortunately we’re at the point of bypassing a lot of those routes (ie Clinton instead of Vanderbilt) rather than building them out.

    Also, they’ve reduced the number of “planned” lines quite a bit. One such route that is already a really busy bike route of mostly people riding on the sidewalk is Fort Hamilton Parkway along the edge of Greenwood Cemetery, from 37th St to Prospect Park. This route would actually be an ideal implementation of the 2-way protected paths they’ve become fixated on lately, but of course the local CBs are bike hostile.

  • Jeff C

    If its true, that would be great, I’ve read an article making the case for center-running bus lanes along Woodhaven Blvd and would probably be true for Queens Blvd as well.

  • jas5555

    Jeff you are way out of touch with Queens Blvd. For most of the stretch if QB is only one bus line, the Q60 and it runs every 15 minutes at most. To dedicate a bus lane for 100 bus runs in a 24 hour period is nuts when 44000 cars pass through in that time period.

  • jas5555

    Morris, if the DOT did a proper job of executing an enviromental impact study they would find the roughly parallel avenues in the boro zip codes 11372 and 11373 are both statistically and quantitativly less safe than QB. In these zipcodes between July 2012 and March 2016 rsespectively, 34th Ave. , 37th Ave, and Roosevelt Ave have had 34, 25 and 49 bicycle injuries vs 15 bike injuries on QB . Comparing within the same zips sttatistically QB is 8 to 10 times safer per vehicle count than any of the mentioned Avenues.. It is significant to note 34th Ave has a bike and issignificantly less safe than QB.
    I don’t think it is appropriate that DOT should be railroading a bile lane WITHOUT A PROPER BORO WIDE ENVIROMENTAL IMPACT STUDY. I truly feel the politicians are trying to do something that SOUNDS GOOD, and the biking community is only doing this push so hard for their own recreational selfishness.
    The malinformed people making the decision will cause more congestion on both the LIE (massive trickle over) and QB, leading more pollution and greenhouse gases, leading to increased cases of Asthma problems for children on both corrridors, also leading the stress on the drivers having to spend an extra 20 minutes on each direction. In the end the bike lanes on QB will be a contributor to the slow deaths of thousands of children and commuters.
    If the bike community was truly and absolutely interested in bike safety, they wouldl apply their energies to making improvements where the facts are the facts, in the boro areas people are really getting hurt.

  • Joe R.

    There are a lot of lines which branch out from Queens Boulevard. Also, you need to compare the number of people moved on the service road, not on all of Queens Boulevard. QB may move 44,000 cars per day, but most of those are on the main road. Probably under 5,000 people in private autos per day use the service road. 100 bus runs can easily carry that many people. A curbside bus lane on the QB service road is eminently sensible. Get rid of the parking lane. Private auto storage is the worst possible use of that curbside space on a thoroughfare which has excellent transit access. Parking availability also tends to encourage more auto use. Get rid of parking and the volume of cars on QB drops precipitously.

  • Joe R.

    I like “Parking Protection Boards” myself. That often seems to be the only thing they do.

  • Vooch

    Free Parking on Queens Blvd. also inhibits commerce for the shops. cyclists and pedestrians are much bigger spenders than Drivers.

  • Vooch

    great idea – there should also be traffic calming and compete streets on those parallel streets ! Queens Blvd plus the parallel streets complete at last

    think there should also be electronic tolling for Motor vehicles on Queens Blvd ? $1 a mile sounds about right for using this street ? The money raised could be used to fund more compete street projects in Queens

    Having a $1/mile toll on Queens Blvd would also help reduce motorist congestion which seems to always be a good thing. vital truck trips wouldn’t be delayed by Joy riders.

    when do you want to request all 3 streets be conplete ?
    when do you want to request the $1/mile toll on QB ?

  • Jeff C

    Jas5555, to add to Joe R.’s point, the Q60 might be the only local bus that runs along QB, but QB also serves as a route for 10 express buses that allow buses to connect to LIE including QM1, QM4, QM5, QM6, QM7, QM8, QM21, X63, X64, and X68. These buses don’t make local stops along QB but carry almost 10,000 commuters daily, based on a recent Bus Study by MTA, from NE Queens where public transportation is very limited and a dedicated busway would help tremendously. It could only be one lane that switches directions depending on peak traffic period. It can even be a HOV lane that allows carpooling passenger cars.

    The only people out of touch with QB are the designers that thought it was a good idea putting “pedestrian walkways” in the middle of QB between the main and service roads.

  • Jeff C

    The only thing with curbside bus lanes are that trucks and cars still stand there and buses would be forced to detour into travel lanes to get around them, that’s the case for the “bus lane” along 34 St. I like the bus lane along 3rd Ave though, its offset one lane away from the curb.

  • Joe R.

    Certainly true but I think a combination of enforcement, and perhaps loading zones where it’s feasible, could fix much of that. And yes, you could offset the bus lane from the curb, perhaps make the curb lane a combination of bus stops and loading zones. This idea would of course mean no general travel lanes on the service road but I’m fine with that. You have three general travel lanes each way on the main road. That’s more than sufficient.

  • Joe R.

    Yes, I don’t really get the point of those pedestrian walkways myself. Pedestrian space is good, but I’m not seeing why anyone would prefer to walk there instead of the sidewalk. I’d rather the space just go towards a wider bike lane with sufficient passing room.

  • Vooch

    according to Clarenece the end result will be Ocean Parkway in phase 2, much of phase 1 is simply place holding. ( plus 3 years of empirical study and traffic calming )

    I remain somewhat unconvinced of DOTs incremental approach to changing the culture, ten years after JSK started to change the cultural agenda. However, every day I learn how People really believe streets are not for people.

    Think how many times people have told us “NY streets weren’t made for people, they were made for cars” This is from born and bred New Yorkers who very likely played stickball in their street every day after school.

  • Vooch

    let’s pray that Motor traffic is calmed enough in phase 1 to adopt your bus lane plan in phase 2

    and the same on the 14 miles of Woodhaven. The ultimate irony of the delay tactics by the cranks on Woodhaven will be a even better design of Woodhaven ( real BRT, PBL, Loading Zones, etc etc ) because political winds are changing quickly.

  • bolwerk

    The man is almost an open fascist. Yes, he’s worse.

    (Wasn’t he fucking Katz at one time?)

  • Vooch

    From her wiki page

    “..Katz was in a relationship with Curtis Sliwa, the founder of the Guardian Angels, and separated from him in 2014; they have two children together.She is named in a court case involving Sliwa, accused by his ex-wife Mary of diverting money to Katz while still married to Mary as part of a plan to build a “nest egg” with Katz prior to moving in with her…”

    gotta love the deoravity of the political class.

  • Joe R.

    That’s certainly very true. Most of the vehement opposition to bike lanes, and bikes in general, seems to come from my parent’s generation, namely those who are about 65 and older now. My late father did in fact play stickball on his street in the 1930s and 1940s. That was common even into the 1950s before Robert Moses imposed his evil on the city.

  • Vooch

    It must be that they were fed so much ‘happy motoring’ and ‘jaywalking’ propaganda that they are unable to imagine differently.

    Those Red Army vets parading around Moscow every May with ‘Marshall Stalin please return’ signs exhibit similar traits.

  • bolwerk

    He’s probably running because he’s angry at his own hard-on.

  • jas5555

    Jeff, good point about the express buses but the mostly run in the express lanes except for those occasions they are “lane shopping” as the DOT terms it. Those express buses do not make stops along their routes in the western part of Queens Blvd (eastern I am not sure) so I cannot see the benefit that it will provide. They do come down the Blvd, but not in the continuous stream that I see them on 3rd Ave. in Manhattan.

  • Jeff C

    Yup, they “lane shop” a lot. I’m a daily rider on QM5 and we weave in and out of the main and service roads to get around traffic. There can be a lot of those coach buses on QB during peak periods, I’ve been on “convoys” of at least 6 coach buses lined up to get onto LIE at Woodhaven. In this sense, I think it would be beneficial to create a HOV lane during peak periods, similar to LIE where they take away one of the eastbound lanes to open up a HOV lane for carpool and buses in the morning on weekdays only. It would reward people that take public transportation/carpool and incentivize more people to do so as well.

    3rd Ave and 6th Ave have an insane amount of express buses, they all branch off as soon as they cross Queensboro Br. so you only see a portion of them on QB. I’m hoping Move NY passes, I believe that should help everyone’s commute.

  • Larry Littlefield

    None of this is practical concerns about what is best for everyone. It is simply tribal — who matters more, people like us or people like them?

    It is disappointing that people think this way. But you know who is more likely to think this way? The people buzzing around state and local politics in the absence of real elections. Not just the elected officials, but even worse, the “players” buzzing around them.

    It would be far worse in NYC without term limits. It is far worse in our state government.

  • jas5555

    Gneiss,
    If congestion is caused by bike lanes, take up automobiles, won’t the bicycles be causing a slow death to those children along the corridor that will get asthma? Other slow deaths for those drivers along those corridors because of the increased stress? I am not digging here. The city has a dedicated department to address asthma in this city. And there are many studies on the effects of commuting has. Bike lanes such as the one down 34th Ave do not cause additional congestion so something like 34th Street makes sense.

  • joanne

    $$$ 100.000,000 is a lot to spend for a 7 mile stretch bike lane. How much are they paying for a can of paint? …In the name of safety and community, shouldn’t the decaying roads, clogged and collapsing sewer pipes, and water tunnel be addressed first? The needs of the many should outweigh the needs of the few.

  • You’ll be happy to know that the overwhelming majority of the $100 million slated for Queens Boulevard will be spent on reconstructing the road. The bike lane adds a pittance, if anything.

  • Vooch

    about $4 million for bike lane & $96million for car lanes

  • neroden

    Community Boards are the worst in this regard. 100% appointed, and without any actual job duties which could cause them to get fired for incompetence, they consist entirely of “players” buzzing around elected officials.

  • neroden

    They shouldn’t even exist in their current form. An appointed “community board” is an abomination. Either make them elected or abolish them entirely.

  • neroden

    The major difference is that town planning boards upstate are (a) often elected, (b) when not elected, appointed directly by elected town council members in a sort of one-to-one correspondence where the number of town council members typically equals the number of town planning board members, and (c) when not elected, generally understood to be directly subordinate to the elected town council.

    Upstate, a town council member would NEVER hide behind a “town planning board” decision as if it was independent or representative of the community.

  • neroden

    Especially when the “simple locals” are actually politically connected machine politicians appointed by the Borough President.

    An elected community board might be worth listening to. An appointed community board is ridiculous.

  • JC

    Given on the amount of traffic on Queens Blvd and the importance of Queens Blvd as a major limited access arterial road that runs through half of Queens, bike lanes just don’t make sense; that’s like putting bike lanes on the West Side Highway. Considering where DOT has placed bike lanes in the past, Queens Blvd is too busy for bikes lanes. It seems that DOT typically places bike lanes on less busy side streets that run parallel to the major thoroughfares so that bikers can still have a nice stretch of straight road; for example, DOT put bike lanes on 73 Ave instead of Union Tpke and on 34 Ave instead of Northern Blvd. DOT should just find an alternate side street running parallel to Queens Blvd to put the bike lanes.

  • qrt145

    Queens Blvd is not a limited-access road.

  • Emmily_Litella

    The speed limit is 25 so its no different from any other city street. Tell us what parralel streets you thnk are appropriate and get back to us.

  • ahwr
  • VariousArtist

    This bike lane has been a huge disaster. They should re-do queens blvd in this stretch, and install a median with the bike lane in the median – getting rid of express/local lanes. We drop our kids off at the tutoring and karate schools near Grand ave, and traffic is blocked and unsafe conditions are created. No more than 5-10 bicyclists use the bike lane per hour, and that is being generous. Traffic now has to cross the bike lane to transfer from express to local lanes and vice versa, which requires drivers to stop in the middle of traffic and puts bicyclists in danger, by keeping them in the blind spot of merging cars. What a poorly executed and conceived design for bicyclists, drivers and pedestrians combined!

  • Shaun

    Do you even live near Queens Blvd? Because this bike lane idea had terrible results. There’s traffic half of the day here now. The intersecting highways by Queens Blvd is backed up like crazy, as well as Queens Blvd. Noise pollution is like manhattan now. And the smell of gas is the norm now near Queens Center. Meanwhile, half of the bikers still cut into and out of traffic like they always do. It must be great for the environment having all that cars idling nearby.

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