OPINION: Finish the Queens Boulevard Bike Lane Now
The poor leadership of CM Koslowitz is holding up street safety, a Council hopeful says.
I grew up next to the “Boulevard of Death” — Queens Boulevard — in Forest Hills. Our laundromat, church, and movie theater were all right next to the boulevard. As a kid, I remember my mother telling me to run as fast as I could with her to cross it. If we couldn’t sprint across it, we would take the 75th Avenue Subway to go underneath it. We knew better than to get stuck on an island in the middle, because the consequences were fatal for far too many. From 1990 to 2017, 186 people were killed on the street, including 138 pedestrians, according to the New York Times. The elderly and disabled couldn’t walk underneath or sprint across; they still can’t.
The disturbing loss of life on Queens Boulevard demanded action. In 2015, the de Blasio administration targeted Queens Boulevard from Sunnyside to Kew Gardens for Vision Zero street-safety improvements, including a protected bike lane. These were supposed to be completed in 2018.
Now, years later, Forest Hills is still being denied many of the improvements. The City Council member for the area, Karen Koslowitz, opposed the bike lane, claiming small business owners need parking spaces. “We cannot afford, because of our businesses, to lose all of these parking spots,” Koslowitz said during a public meeting.
Koslowitz’s actions are a complete abdication of leadership. Small businesses and bike lanes are not a zero-sum game. To all the small-business owners who are suffering through this painful crisis, I say, bike lanes are not the enemy pushing you to the edge. It’s ever-increasing property taxes and insufficient city investment. The mayor and City Council may talk about the need to address rising rents or push back on landlords, but you’d be hard pressed to find them talking about the need to provide property-tax relief to small businesses.
The Department of Small Business Services has received less than $300 million a year from the city for the last several years. That’s less than one-half of one percent of the city’s budget. I am running for City Council on a platform of standing with the small-business community — not by scapegoating bike lanes but by fighting for real support from the city for struggling small businesses. For example, we should revive the Love Your Local grant program, which was allowed to expire, and expand it to $360 million in order to serve 4,000 struggling small businesses.
If elected, I pledge to use every tool available to finish the protected bike lane from Yellowstone Boulevard to Union Turnpike. Every day that passes without the promised Vision Zero improvements is a day we are putting another life at risk. I also want to partner with the new administration to advance the Streets Master Plan. A network of protected bus and bike lanes, bus-stop upgrades, and upgraded pedestrian-crossing signals will only serve to make our city safer and our public transit more efficient.
Next year will bring a new mayor, borough presidents, and City Council. In a stark contrast with outgoing CM Koslowitz, I pledge to bring the fight for street safety to City Hall and to bring the attention, resources, and reforms that our community deserves.
Eliseo Labayen (@EliseoLabayen) is running to succeed Karen Koslowitz in City Council District 29, which encompasses Forest Hills, Rego Park, Kew Gardens and Richmond Hill.