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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 Borough President Melinda Katz won't denounce the comments of the community board member who said pedestrians using cell phones 'deserve' to get run over. 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.

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