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The Campaign for a Safer Bike Connection to Joe Michaels Mile

schenkman joe michaels mile2
There is no safe on-street bike access from Northern Boulevard to Joe Michaels Mile, the asphalt path on the right. Photo: Google Maps

When 78-year-old Michael Schenkman was killed by a speeding motorist on Northern Boulevard last month, he was on his daily ride to Joe Michaels Mile, a bike path that runs for two and a half miles along the Cross Island Parkway. Now business owners and residents in Little Neck and Douglaston are reiterating calls for safe bike access to the popular cycling route.

Michael Schenkman was the 16th cyclist killed by a New York City motorist this year. Photo via Facebook
A driver killed Michael Schenkman last month as he attempted to bike to Joe Michaels Mile.
Michael Schenkman killed

Schenkman was riding east at around 6:30 a.m. on August 24 when a driver struck him from behind as he began to merge into the center lane to turn left onto Joe Michaels Mile, according to the Times.

Drivers killed eight pedestrians along Northern Boulevard from 2012 to 2014, placing it near the top of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign's 2016 list of the borough's "Most Dangerous Roads for Walking." It is also one of the city's Vision Zero priority corridors.

Northern Boulevard is especially treacherous around the entrance to the bike path, with three wide car lanes in each direction. Traffic speeds are dangerously high -- local residents said drivers routinely drive upwards of 60 mph. (The signed speed limit is 30 mph west of the Cross Island Parkway and 40 mph along the stretch that runs through between it and Little Neck.)

The city, however, has declined to pursue multiple requests for safer bike connections to Joe Michaels Mile.

In 2010, the Douglaston Village Chamber of Commerce set out to make the historic railroad suburb more walkable and bikeable. The chamber's proposal to connect the neighborhood and bike path via an off-street route failed to gain traction and was ultimately rejected by the Parks Department because of its price tag, according to Victor Dadras, who lives in Little Neck and developed the plan with his firm Downtown Revitalization Group.

More recently, the Westmoreland Association, which represents around 350 homeowners in the area, requested a bike lane on Northern Boulevard (coming from the opposite direction that Schenkman was traveling) in communications with DOT in January 2014 and Community Board 11 in January 2015.

Nearly two years after the DOT request, Queens Borough Commissioner Nicole Garcia said the agency did not have plans to install bike lanes on Northern Boulevard and that such an endeavor would be "challenging" because of "heavy traffic volumes and limited roadway space" [PDF].

Joani Emerson, owner of Douglaston's Peak Bicycle Pro Shop, said she advises her customers, many of whom are tourists renting bikes, to ride along the sidewalk when accessing Joe Michaels Mile, even if doing so risks a ticket. She said she has had multiple customers get injured by drivers along the stretch. "We worry about them," Emerson said. "People aren’t always aware of how crazy it can get over here."

Emerson and Dadras both said they plan to attend next Tuesday's CB 11 meeting to speak out in favor of a safe connection to the path. Historically, however, CB 11 has not supported bike lane projects, opposing a 2011 DOT proposal for a 73rd Avenue bike lane after one business owner on the corridor objected.

"This challenging area has been on our radar and we are continuing to explore ways for bikes to safely cross Alley Pond Park and access Joe Michaels Mile," a DOT spokesperson said in a statement. "We look forward to working with stakeholders and hearing further recommendations."

If you would like to speak up for safer bike infrastructure in the area, next Tuesday's CB 11 meeting begins at 7:30 p.m. at Middle School 158, located at 46-35 Oceania Street.

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