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Northern Boulevard Bike Lane Lost In Time Like Tears In Rain

The extremely protected Northern Boulevard bike lane. Photo: Angela Stach

The pandemic must be over, because the Northern Boulevard temporary protected bike lane has completely disappeared.

Cyclists in Queens are fuming as they grapple with the complete erasure of the Northern Boulevard bike lane, an important safety measure city installed during the coronavirus pandemic as a quick fix to bring more protected bike infrastructure to the chaotic boulevard. The bike lane, which was supposed to be a 3.6 mile stretch from Broadway to Queensboro Plaza, was originally protected with flexpost delineators, and parking spots were taken off of the curb, for a treatment that got a cautious endorsement from Streetsblog.

But after the city was hit with a surprisingly big snow storm in December, the delineators were destroyed by the Sanitation Department as it plowed the street for cars, which allowed drivers to go back to parking on the curb and otherwise ignoring even the painted bike lane. The delineatiors have not been restored, owing in part to the DOT and Department of Sanitation not having worked out a way to keep the bike lane and plow the street.

Despite the seemingly urgent situation, the Department of Transportation referred back to the agency's previous statement in February, where a spokesperson suggested the Department of Sanitation's need to plow the street was why the bike lane's modest protections disappeared.

"We will look into stronger protection, with the constraint being that we need to ensure that the lane is both plowable and sweepable by DSNY, or that an alternative cleaning plan is found," a spokesperson for the agency wrote in an email.

A spokesperson for the Department of Sanitation said the agency was "disappointed" to see the bike lane's flexposts destroyed and that it supported the DOT's idea for a more permanent protected bike lane on Northern.

"We were disappointed to see the damage to these temporary lane markers during the December snow storm, given how essential protected bike lanes are for Queens riders," said DSNY spokesperson Joshua Goodman. "As you remember, plowing took place during a very heavy snowfall, with 40 mph winds and very low visibility. We support DOT’s efforts to look into a more permanent protected bike lane along Northern Blvd."

But still: there are no flexiposts on Northern Boulevard anymore (and the city can't figure out how to even fund properly sized street sweepers for plowing bike lanes). On Wednesday, Streetsblog asked the mayor if Northern Boulevard was an example of incoherent leadership.

"There's a very coherent strategy called Vision Zero," Mayor de Blasio said. "If Sanitation did something that disrupted a bike lane, we have to fix it right away and we have to make sure Sanitation avoids doing that to the maximum extent that's possible."

Apparently, Hizzoner is not aware that Queens residents have pointed out the problem for months — and the DOT hasn't fixed it because the Sanitation Department would only keep destroying it.

"I am so upset," said Queens resident Jim Burke. "The promise of a protected Northern Boulevard basically disappeared at the first snowfall. After that even the pretense of a bike lane was literally bulldozed and washed away. It requires an emergency treatment right away before lives are lost."

Proving Burke's point, Dutch Kills resident CJ Bretillon recently posted a video of her experience on the bike lane, a terrifying ordeal where the driver of an SUV drove directly into the bike lane and almost hit her.

"Maybe I will risk getting hate crimed on public transit if my only other option is bike infrastructure that allows drivers to do this," she tweeted about the sight of a driver turning in to the bike lane as if she wasn't there.

Other Queens cyclists noted that Citi Bike is expanding in Queens right at the same time that new cyclists will think Northern Boulevard is a cycling route for them, which it very much is not.

Jackson Heights resident Steven Bodzin said that he used the lane to get to Manhattan, because it was a faster route than the existing protected bike infrastructure in Sunnyside and that the flexposts cut down on the near-death experiences on the street.

"When the lane was installed, for a few months, I was able to ride it pretty safely," he said. "There were times when one shop or another would have someone park a car in the bike lane. But for the most part, it was a huge improvement. I'm not the only one who thought so. When I took that lane, I was never alone. Many cyclists — mostly delivery bikers — used the lane, all day and all night."

The DOT gave its statement after the agency presented its proposal for a permanent protected bike lane on Northern Boulevard. But that proposal got pushback from members of Queens Community Board 1 — but not because they don't want a protected lane; they want more protection than the flexposts that were so easily destroyed.

"Given that there is basically nothing left of the emergency bike lane — no flexposts, markings mostly disappeared — DOT really needs to speed up the revision of the plan they recently presented to the CB1 transportation committee," said Jackson Heights resident Angela Stach. "They also asked DOT to treat this with urgency, pointing out that action can't wait until the last snowstorm of the season is expected to have come through as one DOT staffer mentioned."

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