Mayor Backtracks On Long-Stalled Queens Boulevard Bike Lane

Throws DOT commissioner under the bus in effort to placate a pro-car Queens pol.

Mayor de Blasio, and Council Member Karen Koslowitz in the background are backtracking on the Queens Boulevard bike lane. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office
Mayor de Blasio, and Council Member Karen Koslowitz in the background are backtracking on the Queens Boulevard bike lane. Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office

Hours after Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced yesterday that the long-stalled Queens Boulevard bike lane would finally be completed this summer, Mayor de Blasio reneged and asked the agency to reconsider its plan — shamefully throwing his own commissioner under the bus in an effort to pander to a pro-car pol on parking.

During a town hall in Kew Gardens yesterday evening, Hizzoner demanded Trottenberg go back to the drawing board to see if her team can come up with a different design that wouldn’t take away so many parking spots — in a craven capitulation to local Council Member Karen Koslowitz, who has long opposed the bike lane.

“Now the council member has asked as of earlier this evening, to consider a different alternative for that same stretch,” de Blasio said during the town hall. “Our DOT commissioner, I am asking you to formally review this proposal. DOT has a proposal, I want this to be given absolute total consideration, I want to see both proposals, and I will make the ultimate decision.”

Koslowitz had just declared that she’s not anti-bike lane, she’s just anti-this-bike lane, and would rather see the path in the middle of the boulevard with “protection” than on the service road where DOT wants to put it to align with segments that have already been installed.

“I’m not against bike lanes, what I am not for are the bike lanes on Queens Boulevard that are taking away hundreds and hundreds of parking spots,” she said to a round of applause from her constituents in the room. 

Bike advocates were livid.

“Queens cyclists have waited long enough. The Department of Transportation’s design is the safest for all road users,” said Bike New York’s Laura Shepard, who has long fought for the completion of the Queens Boulevard bike lane. “It’s shameful of Mayor de Blasio to delay its implementation — after stalling the project for two years — by ordering DOT to study an inferior configuration at the eleventh hour,” she continued.

In 2015, the DOT began redesigning parts of Queens Boulevard — long known as the “Boulevard of Death” for its many pedestrian and cyclist fatalities — by installing protected bike lanes and other safety measures along its service road; the last phase of the project, between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike in Forest Hills, has sat in limbo for two years because of apparent political horse-trading, however.

But on Wednesday, Trottenberg announced that the last phase would be completed this summer.

“We’re going to be finishing it this summer,” Trottenberg said in response to Streetsblog’s question during a press conference at Herald Square to announce new protected bike lanes coming to Manhattan in 2020.

But after Koslowitz made the public sally against the bike lane, de Blasio apparently decided to take a pass on promoting the city’s Vision Zero initiative, or his “Green Wave” plan to install 30 miles of protected bike lanes citywide this year — even as the initiative’s life-saving safety measures have reduced the number of pedestrian injuries by 63 percent, and cyclist injuries by 35 percent on Queens Boulevard, between Roosevelt Avenue to Eliot Avenue, in just the first the year after the bike lane was installed.

“We were glad to hear Commissioner Trottenberg say on Wednesday morning that the long-delayed safe redesign of Queens Boulevard would be completed in 2020,” said Transportation Alternatives Queens Organizer Juan Restrepo. “Mayor de Blasio should’ve backed up his transportation commissioner, but he didn’t. He should’ve backed up his Green Wave plan and Vision Zero, but he didn’t. He should’ve backed up the families whose loved ones have been killed on Queens Boulevard, but he didn’t.”

The next morning on WNYC’s Brian Lehrer Show, Hizzoner walked back Trottenberg’s remarks even further, by saying the completion of Queens Boulevard would be done not this summer, but this year.

“It’s going to be this year and as soon as possible. The Council member made a proposal last night and to the best of my memory it’s the first time I heard it, and this is the bottom line. We’re going to finish that phase,” de Blasio said on Thursday.

A spokesman for the Department of Transportation told Streetsblog that Trottenberg “misspoke” about the bike lane being finished in the next six months, and that work will only begin this summer.

This is not the first time the mayor has thrown DOT officials or other administration appointees under a bus — and, in each instance, he did so when their proposals might have created an uncomfortable situation for him with car drivers. In November, he claimed that someone at the agency with an “agenda” had leaked plans to create more room for pedestrians at Rockefeller Center during the holiday crush — even though he confirmed the initiative a month later. In another example of such behavior earlier this year, the mayor dismissed the recommendations of his own expert panel on the reconstruction of the failing Brooklyn-Queens Expressway when the panel advised that the reconstruction eliminate two traffic lanes.

A spokeswoman for City Hall characterized the mayor asking DOT to take a look at a different proposal not as “throwing DOT under the bus,” but as “due diligence.” And she said the timeline for finishing the project remains the same.

DOT did not respond to requests for comment about the mayor’s request, or whether it will actually consider an alternative design.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

DOT: NYC to Install Record Number of Protected Bike Lanes in 2015

|
Think DOT’s bicycle program has lost its mojo? Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg begs to differ, and she made her case today at an event highlighting bike projects that are now in progress or have recently been completed. Last year, Bicycling Magazine named New York the best American city for biking, just nine months after Trottenberg took […]

De Blasio Gives DOT Permission to Put Safety Above Community Board Whims

|
When DOT allows community boards to veto street safety projects, streets aren’t as safe for walking and biking as they could be. This year, for instance, when facing opposition or anticipating blowback from community boards, DOT watered down a road diet and other safety measures planned for Riverside Drive; proposed disjointed bike lanes for Kingston and Brooklyn […]
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

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

|
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. Now that the city is ready to redesign Queens Boulevard in her district, however, Koslowitz is losing her resolve.