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Karen Koslowitz Walks Back Her Pledge to Support a Safer Design for Queens Boulevard

1:22 PM EDT on April 18, 2017

Council Member Karen Koslowitz, far right, said in 2015 that she would support “whatever it takes” to make Queens Boulevard a safe street. Photo: Ben Fried

Two years ago, Council Member Karen Koslowitz stood with people who'd lost loved ones to traffic violence and said the city should do "whatever it takes" to turn deadly Queens Boulevard into a "boulevard of life" -- even if that entailed the removal of travel lanes or parking spaces.

With the city ready to redesign Queens Boulevard in her district, however, Koslowitz is losing her resolve. She now says Queens Community Board 6 should decide what happens with the next phase of this major street safety project -- and members of the community board have already signaled their opposition.

In the past two years, the city has overhauled 2.5 miles of Queens Boulevard service roads with expanded pedestrian space and protected bike lanes. The redesign made a difference: 2015 and 2016 were the first years in a quarter-century without any fatalities on Queens Boulevard. And more people are bicycling on the thoroughfare, as the city builds out a low-stress bikeway on the borough's main east-west corridor.

The expanded pedestrian space, bike lane, and new mall-to-mall crosswalk at Queens Boulevard and Van Loon Street. Photo: David Meyer
The expanded pedestrian space, bike lane, and new mall-to-mall crosswalk at Queens Boulevard and Van Loon Street. Photo: David Meyer
The expanded pedestrian space, bike lane, and new mall-to-mall crosswalk at Queens Boulevard and Van Loon Street. Photo: David Meyer

This year, DOT hopes to extend a similar redesign east to Rego Park, in Koslowitz's district. The agency is scheduled to present its plan for Queens Boulevard from Eliot Avenue to Yellowstone Boulevard at the next Queens Community Board 6 transportation committee meeting.

The support of City Council members Jimmy Van Bramer and Daniel Dromm was essential for the first two segments of the redesign, especially last year, when Queens Community Board 4 voted against a Queens Boulevard bike lane and was overruled by Mayor de Blasio.

Local representatives will need a stiff spine for the next round of improvements, which are expected to claim more parking spaces than the prior two installments. But Koslowitz is walking back her 2015 promise to support "whatever it takes" to fix Queens Boulevard.

Members of Queens Community Board 6 have already signaled hostility toward the project, and Koslowitz now says CB 6 should decide what happens next. Responding to a resident who contacted her office about the redesign, Koslowitz wrote earlier this month:

If the only question here is will a bike lane provide extra safety for cyclists, then there would be no issue in my mind. But, the reality is that in order to create these bike lanes, over 200 parking spaces will be lost. The lack of parking situation in this neighborhood is already beyond critical. Couple that with the economic impact the loss of parking spaces will have on local business and one can readily see that there is a downside to installing these bike lanes.

So much for "whatever it takes."

Experience in New York City and elsewhere, by the way, shows that projects which subtract motor vehicle parking to improve pedestrian safety and bicycle access can bolster retail sales.

Koslowitz's legislative and communications director Michael Cohen told Streetsblog yesterday that "in general, she's not opposed to the installation of bike lanes," but did not take a position on the Queens Boulevard project.

It's a far cry from the role Dromm played last year when the city rolled out the Elmhurst section of the redesign. Even though Queens CB 4 declined to endorse the project, Dromm unequivocally supported it, and the mayor decided to move forward.

By ceding the decision to Queens CB 6, Koslowitz is not staying neutral. She's letting known opponents of a much-needed safety overhaul shape public debate. That's not what she promised two years ago.

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