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Queens CB 11 Chair Asked DOT to Scrap Northern Blvd Bike Lane That Her Board Endorsed

9:26 AM EDT on August 2, 2017

Queens CB 11 chair Christine Haider says Northern Boulevard needs all this asphalt to move cars. Photo: Google Maps

In an 18 to 11 vote this June, Queens Community Board 11 endorsed DOT's plan for a two-way protected bike lane on Northern Boulevard by the Joe Michaels Mile bike path. Come the fall, the project should add a total of six miles of new protected bike lanes (most of which are not on Northern), creating safe access to the path while calming traffic.

Despite the board already reaching a decision, CB 11 chair Christine Haider is trying to put a stop to the project. Egged on by transportation committee co-chair Bernard Haber, Haider is arguing that the June vote shouldn't count.

Haber, who has sat on the community board since the early 1970s, doesn't want the Northern Boulevard bike lane to claim space from motor vehicles. He has another idea -- put a shared biking and walking path on the sidewalk so Northern Boulevard can keep all six lanes of asphalt for car traffic.

At a hastily-arranged meeting of the transportation committee last month, Haider rushed through a motion, with no discussion, to send a letter to DOT asking the agency to again consider Haber's design proposal for Northern Boulevard. She told people at the meeting that the letter was not a request to delay implementation of the project, but the actual text of the letter says otherwise [PDF].

The letter is, in fact, a blatant attempt to reverse the outcome of the board's earlier decision supporting DOT's plan for Northern Boulevard and "fully develop and implement" Haber's proposal instead. Haider says the board's June vote was the result of "poor" process. That vote was a model of propriety, however, compared to the process that produced Haider's letter.

In June, the full board reviewed DOT's proposal at a well-attended public hearing announced far in advance, listened to testimony from people outside the community board, and sided 18-11 in favor of the city's plan.

In the attempt to negate that vote, Haider followed a very different playbook. The committee meeting was not publicly announced until 72 hours beforehand, and only after Streetsblog reported that Haider planned to hold it behind closed doors. At the meeting, the public was not allowed to testify -- only Haber was permitted to make his case. And then, after a vote of the committee, not the full board, Haider sent DOT a letter that contradicted assurances she had made at the meeting that she did not intend to reverse the June vote.

The DOT project calls for six miles of protected bike lanes on Northern Boulevard and other streets near Joe Michaels Mile. Image: DOT
The DOT project calls for a barrier-protected, two-way bike lane on a stretch of Northern Boulevard connecting to Joe Michaels Mile. Image: DOT

The Northern Boulevard project arose from the advocacy of local businesses and neighborhood associations, following the vehicular killing of Michael Schenkman, 78, while he attempted to access Joe Michaels Mile on his bike. DOT made clear at the June meeting that Haber's alternate proposal would be too costly, complicated, and time-consuming without delivering the safety benefits of narrowing Northern Boulevard's excessive traffic lanes.

It's the removal of a traffic lane, more than any purported flaws in the process, that motivated Haider's letter, which concludes: "We cannot accept the permanent reduction in the westbound truck and passenger vehicle lanes on Northern Boulevard."

DOT, meanwhile, says the project is moving forward as presented and approved by the board:

Community Board 11 voted to support DOT's safety improvement project for Northern Blvd and the agency plans to proceed with implementation later this summer. We will review and provide feedback on CB 11's recent conceptual plan. The Northern Blvd project brings safety benefits to all road users and will provide an improved connection for the Douglaston and Bayside communities to the heavily utilized Joe Michaels Mile.

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