Pro-Car Queens Board Wants To Squeeze Pedestrians to Create More Room For Drivers
The same Queens community board with a toxic member who once famously said that gabby pedestrians “deserve” to die now wants to shrink a sidewalk to better accommodate car drivers — a long-shot request that’s indicative of the civic panel’s indifference to other road users besides those in cars.
Members of Community Board 7, which more or less (but mostly less) represents Flushing, Bay Terrace, Whitestone and Willets Point, voted 30 to 8 in favor of a controversial waterfront development on Monday night — but only on the condition that the city shave the sidewalk at Roosevelt Avenue and College Point Boulevard to make room for a turning lane so that drivers won’t be stuck in traffic.
“It would help just a little more if they shaved it,” Joe Sweeney, chairman of the board’s Police and Fire/Public Safety committee, told Streetsblog the morning after the heated vote, during which the board’s chairman had to be escorted out by police. “This is a recommendation — if it can be done, please consider it.”
Phone battery is fading but I wanted to provide recommendations of the Land Use Committee as Chair Joe Sweeney explained them to me last week: pic.twitter.com/06nheRCS5W
— Max Parrott (@mwparrott) February 11, 2020
The amount of sidewalk the board wants to eliminate is minimal — maybe a foot, according to Sweeney — but it would make it exponentially more dangerous for pedestrians, since the sidewalk is only on one side of the street and a large portion of it is taken up by metal grates.
“I understand drivers frustration at waiting at a light, but ultimately we need to make sure pedestrians are safe,” said Flushing resident Joby Jacob. “We do not have enough space for pedestrians in Flushing as it is.”
In exchange for approving the #Flushing luxury waterfront rezoning tomorrow, the community board will ask DOT to shave the sidewalk on Roosevelt Ave (west of College Pt Blvd) further. As you can see, if this happens pedestrians will be walking on grates. https://t.co/aiWHw77QHW pic.twitter.com/Ee2qA4Is0R
— Joby Jacob (@joby_jacob) February 9, 2020
The request to endanger pedestrians is not connected to the development, which consists of new condos, hotels, and retail along Flushing Creek, but is essentially a recommendation from the board, which claims the intersection is a hot spot for congestion. Sweeney says it could be solved by creating more space for cars — a theory dispelled by the phenomenon known as induced demand.
The Department of Transportation says the recommendation is a non-starter because the sidewalk is already too narrow for the street to accommodate another 10-foot turning lane, and the street lights, hydrants, and utility grates there would make it impossible to redesign.
But that the panel even had the nerve to ask the city to take away space from pedestrians in favor of cars is part of the larger problem of a group of out-of-touch old-timers who fail to prioritize some of the district’s most pressing issues, like street safety, according to John Choe, a member of the community board who lives in Flushing, one of the most dangerous places to walk in the city.
Three pedestrians were killed by reckless drivers in the neighborhood last year; and since 2018, there have been a total of 11,180 crashes in Flushing, leading to 2,725 injuries, including 654 to pedestrians and 151 to cyclists — a few thousand more than the number of total crashes in neighboring College Point, Whitestone, and Bayside combined, according to Crash Mapper.
“As someone who lives and works in Flushing, reducing sidewalk space is not in the interest of our community. We have been fighting to expand sidewalk space because there’s so much car traffic in downtown Flushing and it is a danger to pedestrians and bicyclists,” said Choe.
And at one point during Monday night’s raucous board meeting, tensions escalated to the point where police had to escort board Chairman Eugene Kelty out of the room after he lunged at a young woman, according to video posted to Twitter.
Look at the Chair of CB7 lunge at a young woman because she dared ask a question and insist the public be able to comment. This is beyond unacceptable. #FEDUPFlushing @MinKwonCenter@bdlimm@MelforProgress @DavidALee0 @DavidFBrand @chrisychung @mwparrott@stefanoschen pic.twitter.com/o04AGjib9k
— Aleda Gagarin (@AledaGagarin) February 11, 2020
Sweeney allegedly did the same to another attendee a few moments later, according to other reporters present at the meeting.
A few minutes later, CB7 committee chair Joe Sweeney also got in the face of another @MinKwonCenter member, pointing his finger in his face. Police had to intercede here as well. https://t.co/5iGI4F2lVd
— Benjamin Fang (@benfangBQE) February 11, 2020
The altercation shocked witnesses, who called it “unacceptable.” But what happened is sadly not a one-off thing, but a window into the larger problem that pervades the community board, where members often feel intimidated to speak up and offer a perspective different than that of its leaders, said Choe.
“Unfortunately that type of behavior by CB7 leadership is a normal way it conducts business. That type of intimidation is one of the reasons so many are afraid to speak up and present an independent voice,” he said.
As an appointed member of @CB7Queens, I can attest that this type of intimidation by the community board's leadership is unfortunately the norm and how business is often conducted. It's not a surprise that so many of my fellow CB7 members fear speaking out at our public meetings https://t.co/rIlhvHTtT5
— John Choe (@jxcnyc) February 11, 2020
And Choe says he’s not only talking about the old, white men who are supposed to represent the voices of residents in one of the most diverse places in the city, but also about what they consider the board’s priorities, and the ongoing decision to ignore the dozens of people run over and either injured or killed by reckless drivers each year.
“It’s part of a mentality, and not a priority. This community board, even though it’s one of the most dangerous places to walk, we don’t talk about that,” he said.
Choe referenced a past meeting when board members discussed what they could do to protect school children from gun violence — an important issue across the country, but one that thankfully does not actually impact Flushing’s kids like the violence from cars does. And not only kids, but everyone — in December, an elderly man was killed by a driver who hit him as he was walking on the sidewalk.
“We wasted time on really extraneous issues that have nothing to do with the needs of our community,” he said.
Choe, who says he often bikes to community board meetings, says he regularly feels slighted by other long-time members with pro-car views, who don’t consider pedestrians’ or cyclists’ needs, and who have previously tried to stop bike lanes from coming to Flushing, where none currently exist.
“I bring my bike helmet to committee meetings when we talk about street safety, including bike lanes, and one of the comments I always hear is that we don’t have bike riders in our community. I’m sitting right next to these people with a bike helmet!” he said.
And the request to shrink the sidewalk comes just a few months after another video sparked outrage from safe-street advocates and Queens activists.
In July, a two-month-old video posted to Twitter shows CB7 Parks and Recreation committee chair woman Kim Ohanian mocking Mayor de Blasio’s signature Vision Zero initiative in response to a bike lane proposal in her neighborhood.
“I gotta be honest with ya, Vision Zero is a joke. I’ve watched people cross the street while they’re still talking on their damn phones. You know what, they deserve to get run over,” Ohanian, who also works for the Department of Environmental Protection, said on camera.
The mayor and others condemned her comments, and Hizzoner even called for an investigation that could lead to a possible termination of her job — but it ultimately never did.