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Queens CB 11 Endorses Northern Blvd Bike Lane and More Safety Fixes Near Joe Michaels Mile

1:10 PM EDT on June 6, 2017

The DOT project calls for six miles of protected bike lanes on Northern Boulevard and other streets near Joe Michaels Mile. Image: DOT

Last night, Queens Community Board 11 endorsed six miles of new protected bike lanes connecting Joe Michaels Mile to Northern Boulevard and points south, prioritizing safety above the parking complaints aired by some people in attendance.

Following the vehicular killing last summer of Michael Schenkman, 78, as he tried to bike from Northern Boulevard onto the bicycle path, DOT got serious about improving access to Joe Michaels Mile. "That really spurred us to give a good hard look at what improvements could be made to make it safer for people coming from Bayside to the west and Douglaston to the east," DOT Deputy Borough Commissioner Al Silvestri said last night.

On Northern, the project would replace an off-peak parking lane with a two-way concrete barrier-protected bike lane. At 223rd Street, west of the Cross Island Parkway, the protected bike lane would continue south along Alley Pond Park. To the east of the Northern Boulevard segment, DOT's plan calls for painted lanes and sharrows connecting to the Douglaston LIRR station.

The CB 11 transportation committee declined to take a position when it met in May and instead scheduled last night's "public hearing" on the project.

Michael Schenkman's son Peter, a former safety official at the city Taxi and Limousine Commission, was among the two dozen or so people who testified in favor of the plan last night.

Peter Schenkman's father was killed last summer while attempting to bike to Joe Michaels Mile. Photo: David Meyer
Peter Schenkman, whose father Michael was killed by a motorist as he tried to bike to the Joe Michaels Mile last summer, testified in favor of safety improvements along Northern Boulevard. Photo: David Meyer
Peter Schenkman's father was killed last summer while attempting to bike to Joe Michaels Mile. Photo: David Meyer

"With the huge downhill heading east, navigating [Northern Boulevard] as a pedestrian or cyclist is like playing a sick frogger game where you try to avoid being hit," he said. "Separated, protected spaces for pedestrians and cyclists to safely access Joe Michaels Mile from Northern Boulevard is an important, necessary first step. It will prevent another Queens resident from suffering the same fate as my father."

Transportation Alternatives volunteers presented over 1,100 signatures in favor of the project. "I've been biking around the neighborhood, especially to Joe Michaels Mile, on my own since I was 12 years old," said TransAlt member Laura Shepard. "Drivers speed on Northern Boulevard and don't look out for cyclists or pedestrians."

Despite a strong majority of testimony in support of the project, some board members latched on to objections that some businesses have a "heavy reliance" on parking spots on Northern Boulevard, as well as the bogus argument from one civic association that "not one" business on Douglaston Parkway had been informed of the project. (The Douglaston Local Development Corporation, which represents businesses in that area, has supported the concept for years and also testified in favor last night.)

Board member Janet McEneaney tried to derail parts of the project, suggesting that the people who testified represented "one group" and that more people needed to weigh in. But the meeting had been well-publicized locally, and none of the businesses that would supposedly be negatively affected by the project bothered to show up. Even so, McEneaney's motion to table the Northern Boulevard and Douglaston Parkway segments only failed thanks to two abstentions that tipped the balance against it.

Transportation committee co-chair Bernard Haber then argued for taking space for the bikeway on Northern Boulevard from the Alley Pond Golf Center instead of existing traffic lanes. But that would weaken the safety benefits of the project, pointed out DOT's Ted Wright, because Northern "has too much capacity."

Using the golf center's land would also require much more expensive and time-intensive capital construction, which would likely take five years to complete, according to DOT.

Other CB 11 members wanted to act fast to prevent further loss of life. "We have a problem now," said Haber's co-chair Ben Turner. "Do we really want to wait another several years for a capital project to address that?"

"We need to get a bike lane that they can ride safely," board vice-chair Eileen Miller said. "We can't afford to lose any more lives."

The board voted on each of the project's three elements separately. The protected segments on Northern Boulevard and along Alley Pond Park got majority support, while the painted lanes and markings in Douglaston did not. DOT reps said that implementation will likely begin in September.

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