Counter-Protesters Stymie Tony Avella’s Anti-Bike Lane Press Conference on Northern Blvd

The state senator representing eastern Queens wants DOT to halt a safety project where a driver took the life of Michael Schenkman last year.

State Senator Tony Avella speaks to NY1 while flanked by supporters of the bike lane he opposes. Photo: David Meyer
State Senator Tony Avella speaks to NY1 while flanked by supporters of the bike lane he opposes. Photo: David Meyer

State Senator Tony Avella speaks for the status quo on Queens streets overrun by dangerous traffic.

Earlier today, Avella held a press conference outside the Alley Pond Golf Center on Northern Boulevard, where DOT recently began installing a two-way protected bike lane between Douglaston Parkway and 223rd Street [PDF]. Avella and about six local notables, including representatives of a few civic associations and the district manager of Queens Community Board 11, said DOT should stop the project, which would claim a motor vehicle lane on Northern Boulevard to make room for the bikeway.

He was met by nearly 40 counter-protesters, who urged the city to move forward with its plan.

In June, Queens Community Board 11 endorsed the proposal to replace one lane of westbound auto traffic with a protected bike lane, which would provide a safe connection for cyclists headed to the popular Joe Michaels Mile bike path, as 78-year-old Michael Schenkman was attempting to do when a speeding driver struck and killed him last July.

But over the summer, board chair Christine Haider and transportation committee co-chair Bernard Haber convinced the board to rescind that vote and endorse Haber’s concept for expanding the north sidewalk five feet into Alley Pond Golf Center. DOT has said Haber’s idea would cost more, take much longer to build out, and would not provide the safety benefits of repurposing a lane on Northern Boulevard.

DOT has expressed willingness to study CB 11’s proposal, but will not halt implementation of its current plan, which began earlier this month, since the alternative would will likely require multiple agencies, many years, and millions of dollars to get done.

Avella initially tried to hold today’s press conference inside the golf center (because it was cloudy, he claimed). When some of the counter-demonstrators attempted to enter, Avella tried to keep them out, before eventually acquiescing to holding the event outside in the parking lot.

“The community board believes, and so do I, that it’s actually safer to have them on this extended sidewalk in this stretch rather than cutting off a lane of traffic,” he told reporters. “Anybody who knows Northern Boulevard at this section knows during rush hour it is bumper-to-bumper, so if you’re reducing a lane of traffic, you’re just going to make the traffic situation more dangerous and unsafe.”

DOT plan for a two-way protected bike lane on Northern Boulevard near Joe Michaels Mile, where a driver killed Michael Schenkman last summer.
The DOT plan for a two-way protected bike lane on Northern Boulevard near Joe Michaels Mile, where a driver killed Michael Schenkman last summer.

As Avella claimed that project supporters who showed up on a workday to protest his position did not actually represent the surrounding neighborhoods, Joani Emerson, owner of Peak Bicycle Shop in Douglaston, just a few minutes walk from Northern Boulevard, shook her head behind him.

Emerson is in favor of the fast, low-cost project that DOT is building now. A drawn-out capital construction project like Haber and Avella are after would hurt her store and other local businesses, she said. “When there’s major construction going on in small towns, people tend to ignore those small towns, and not even come through here,” she said. “We have a lot of business from people coming to the [Joe Michaels Mile] path.”

Avella initially tried to have the press conference inside the golf center, away from the public. Photo: David Meyer
Avella initially tried to have the press conference inside the golf center, excluding supporters of the bikeway project. Photo: David Meyer

“I live here. I’m one of [Avella’s] constituents,” said Whitestone resident Eric Harold. “My life is in danger every time I try to get to Alley Pond Park. I don’t know what he’s talking about. If letting cars go fast is safer in his opinion, I really don’t know. I can’t speak to that logic.”

“The posted speed limit is 40, [but] people go 50, 60,” said Douglaston resident Scott Carpman, who noted that as a pedestrian, he prefers to have people biking in the street and not on the sidewalk. “If the bikes can get out of the pedestrian path and into their own lane, it’s safer for me,” Carpman said.

Michael Schenkman’s son Peter, who spoke in favor of DOT’s project at the June community board meeting, was not able to attend today’s demonstration but sent a statement of support for the project:

Last June, I attended and spoke at Community Board 11’s full board meeting in favor of safety improvements to Joe Michael’s Mile. My father was killed by a car on Northern Boulevard on a recreational ride to the Mile. From his starting point to his final destination, he completed 99% of the trip. Northern Boulevard was his end. This story is all too familiar to many others. I took it upon myself to help change that for others.

Growing up in Eastern Queens, I and many others are familiar with the sick game of frogger that is crossing Northern Boulevard. I was pleased to hear the community board agreed. They voted in favor of starting the process to fix Northern Boulevard by adding protected bike lanes and safety fixes for pedestrians.

Community Board 11 undemocratically rescinded a proposal they supported and approved a plan composed by a member of their board. This plan was not crafted with community input or the institutional knowledge of our city transportation planning agency. This “plan” will take more than 5 years to implement, more than 10 million dollars and will commit Arborcide to the trees on Northern Boulevard.

My father did not have 5 years to wait. The families of Bayside, Little Neck and Douglaston do not have 5 more years to wait. The Department of Transportation needs to implement these bike lanes now.

You have the support of more than 1200 supporters. You have my support. Fix Northern Boulevard.

We have to stop the killings!

Sincerely, Peter Schenkman

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