DOT Won’t Say — And Mayor Doesn’t Know — When the Queens Boulevard Bike Lane Will Be Finished

The redesigned Queens Boulevard, circa 2017, with bike lane. It doesn't go far enough. Photo: NYC DOT
The redesigned Queens Boulevard, circa 2017, with bike lane. It doesn't go far enough. Photo: NYC DOT

The weather has turned, so where’s the green paint?

Last December, the city promised to begin the last phase of the long-delayed Queens Boulevard protected bike lane as “quickly as possible when the weather turns in 2021” — but it’s now April, and Mayor de Blasio and the Department of Transportation have been silent on when the city will actually start rolling out the green carpet.

The mayor was asked on Tuesday about the delay and admitted that, frankly, he doesn’t know.

“It’s a good question and I want to get it resolved,” he said. “I felt we had made a lot of progress to resolve it … and we got to get this one done, too. I cannot tell a lie my attention really hasn’t been on [it] since the beginning of the pandemic, but I will put it [his attention] back there now because I want to get it done.”

The longer the city waits, the more risk of someone getting hurt or killed, cyclists warn.

“You’re just riding along on Queens Boulevard and then all a sudden you’re in a very, very dangerous place. How could they take this long?” said Jim Burke, a safe streets activist best known for his volunteer efforts on the 34th Avenue open street. “It’s radio silence, that’s what worries me. It’s warm out. Why is there no firm timeline?”

In 2015, 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; and since then, the de Blasio administration has hailed the completed sections as a major Vision zero achievement.

But the last phase of the project, between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike in Forest Hills, has sat in limbo since June, 2018 due to apparent political horse-trading over a proposed jail in the neighborhood and the opposition of Council Member Karen Koslowitz.

The logjam appeared to be broken in February, 2020, when then-DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said the long-stalled bike lane would be done by summer 2020 — but Mayor de Blasio threw her under the bus, and delayed the project again by asking the agency to reconsider Koslowitz’s preferred plan, an already rejected design with the bike lane in the middle of the boulevard instead of on the service road.

In reality, Koslowitz has long opposed the life-saving bike lane because it would require the repurposing of 220 parking spots, which ignores surveys that show that 89 percent of shoppers on the boulevard arrive by foot or transit.

The agency later said the implementation of the project was stalled last year because of the COVID pandemic. Nonetheless, DOT finally said in December, 2020, that it would finish the last leg of the bike lane in 2021. But it’s now painting season, and DOT has not even put up signs alerting road users to the impending changes along the boulevard — a sign that riders still may not see the bike lane for months.

DOT reps claim the hold-up still lies with the feds and the state, both of which must sign off on the project since it’s partially funded with federal grants. And a rep for the Federal Highway Administration told Streetsblog last week that the agency is “providing technical assistance and guidance to NYCDOT as the Queens Blvd project moves forward,” and said that the state DOT is working with the city to finalize the environmental review. The FHWA would not provide more details about the review process, which did not seem to be an issue for the first three phases of the project.

A DOT spokesperson said the agency is “still committed” to the project, which is in its “final stages.” Yet the spokesperson also allude to the need to “work closely with our state and federal partners to move this process along quickly.”

Mayor de Blasio said on Tuesday that he did not know specifically about any hold up due to federal involvement.

“I actually have not gotten an update in quite a while because of the pandemic, but we need to cut through this and get this done,” he said. “I don’t know what the specific delay was. I will get you an answer and more importantly we’re gonna get a plan to get this done.”

But because of the project’s controversial past, some advocates fear the delay could again mean something more nefarious — especially as the number of people biking, and getting hurt, has skyrocketed over the last year, especially over the dangerously overcrowded Queensboro Bridge.

“I don’t know if this is a real thing or an excuse on their part. It’s spring and I would think this would be high on their queue — all the engineering and everything has been done. They should be able to say when they’re gonna do it at this point,” said advocate Laura Shepard.

Since the fourth phase of the project was announced to Queens Community Board 6 in late May, 2018, there have been 446 total reported crashes, injuring 15 cyclists, 29 pedestrians and 82 motorists, on Queens Boulevard between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike, according to Crash Mapper.

And one council candidate vying to replace the term-limited pol was not shy about pinning the blame on Koslowitz.

“It’s absurd for many reasons. Largely the hold up has been a lack of political will. The current Council Member has been an outspoken critic of Queens Boulevard losing parking,” said Aleda Gagarin.

A spokesman for Koslowitz’s office says the council member is still opposed to DOT’s current design because she claims it offers “no protection” other than bollards, and will take away too many parking spots, but says she’d be in favor of a more protected bike lane.

“She would like her district to be given the same respect and consideration that other parts of the city have received. Namely, real protected bike lanes with a minimum amount of parking loss,” said her spokesman Michael Cohen. “This is achievable. DOT needs to devote the requisite time and effort necessary to create such a viable project, as they have done in other neighborhoods. Just painting a lane green is indolent, unsafe and insupportable.”

And this is not the first time that DOT has slow-walked a life-saving project if the local community board or elected official doesn’t support it — in 2016, DOT put the kibosh on its own proposal for a Clinton Avenue bike lane after community opposition that included Council Member Laurie Cumbo; and in 2018, DOT scrapped its plans for a protected bike lane on Dyckman Street after bowing to pressure from Rep. Adriano Espaillat and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer. The city ultimately restored the Dyckman Street bike lane in 2019.

Mayor de Blasio did promise on Tuesday to complete the project “by the time I am out of this building,” a reference to the end of his stay at City Hall on Dec. 31, 2021.

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