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City Abruptly Shuts Queens Greenway Segment, Putting Cyclists in Danger; Council Member Takes Credit

Apparently, a crucial bike route can just be closed with no warning, hearings or safety detours. And a Council member will also take credit for it!

8:49 PM EDT on October 24, 2023

Photo by Alex Duncan|

Blocked: The city fenced off the northern entrance to the greenway in Queensbridge Park citing e-bikes and cars intruding on the space.

City officials abruptly shut down a vital western Queens bike path this month without any public input, notification or explanation — with one local pol blaming "valid concerns" about "an influx of e-bikes and cars" into the park.

Julie Won

Metal barricades went up recently at northern and southern greenway entrances to Queensbridge Park, locals said — forcing cyclists to share the street with cars and trucks on a busy, unprotected stretch of Vernon Boulevard.

The Parks Department declined multiple requests for comment on the closure — a move that Council Member Julie Won's office initially took credit for, according to an email obtained by Streetsblog.

“The recent influx of e-bikes and cars into the park vicinity raised valid concerns about the safety of children playing in the area," a staffer for Won wrote in the Monday email reply to a constituent complaint about the closure.

"To safeguard our little ones and provide parents with peace of mind, we decided to temporarily close the bike path."

Won's office is working with the city to "redirect" bikes "safely and efficiently," according to the email, but officials have yet to establish a safe alternative. The reason for the greenway detour into the park in the first place stems from the disappearance of the two-way protected bike lane on Vernon Boulevard at that point.

Won’s spokesperson Jenna Laing denied that her boss was responsible for the closure, saying, "Ultimately this decision was made by Parks." The rep claimed that the email declaring, “We decided...” was a reference to the city agency, not Won's office.

The Council member, who has received the endorsement of StreetsPAC, declined to respond to Streetsblog's questions, including what "valid concerns" led to the decision allegedly made by the Parks Department, or what the Council member thinks should be done to mitigate the loss of the bike lane. E-bikes are legal in city parks.

The closed park lanes wouldn't even be an issue if DOT had installed continuous protected bike lanes on Vernon Boulevard in 2013, but the agency decided to detour cyclists into the park to preserve 35 parking spots, according to the agency's website.

The protected bike paths on Vernon Boulevard twice detour through parks.Map: DOT

DOT set up the same roundabout design at Rainey Park to the north, but that bypass is currently closed for renovations until September 2024.

Constituents expressed frustration that the city could remove vital cycling infrastructure so quickly, given that it takes months or years of community outreach and deliberation to get the city to install new bike lanes. Meanwhile, the city does not close roadways, despite the role each one contributes to the tens of thousands of injury-causing cars crashes in the five boroughs each year.

“To have it removed apparently takes no discussion, it doesn’t even require a warning, it just goes away,” said Anjali Bhat, a resident of Won's district. "They don’t close down down dangerous streets when there are crashes, they don’t even implement traffic-calming. And, of course, when they do, there’s a bazillion rounds of community meetings."

Bhat said she has seen some people drive into the park and unload their trunks for parties, as well as some moped riders, but she didn't think there was heavy illegal traffic going through the park lawn.

“I’ve seen mopeds quite a bit, I don’t know if it’s enough to be a problem," she said. "I suspect mopeds just find it more efficient to [stay] on Vernon."

Laura Shepard, Queens organizer for Transportation Alternatives, agreed.

"It’s not unheard of, but it’s not like a daily occurrence," said Shepard. "It’s mostly children or recreational cyclists going to the water — maybe deliveristas taking a break — but it’s not like commuters on mopeds are blazing through."

To keep cyclists safe, Shepard suggested officials set up a protected bike lane along the western curb on Vernon Boulevard, which is currently reserved for private car storage — or simply place bollards at park entrances to keep out larger vehicles.

Northbound cyclists have to cross over the busy two-way Vernon Boulevard to keep going through those gaps in the protected bike lanes, which can take a while due to heavy traffic, according to Bhat.

“Sometimes you’re standing there for several minutes trying to cross,” she said.

The Parks Department has a shoddy record of maintaining its vast network of bike and pedestrian greenways, which are often the only safe cycling routes through neighborhoods otherwise starved of bike infrastructure. 

When the agency does fix its paths, it routinely fails to provide safe alternatives during construction — like on the Hudson River Greenway in Manhattan, where the agency last year sent cyclists onto dangerous neighborhood streets.

Parks has shown hostilty to e-bike riders in the past, and previously banned the devices. Officials began allowing the two-wheelers in on a trial basis this summer.

The agency does not seem to have a problem with car drivers violating a nearby bike lane, however. A nearby offshoot of the greenway that connects to 21st Street has long been plagued by scofflaw motorists who drive down the path and illegally park there. The agency has not prevented that from happening.

Won’s district ranks eighth out of the city's 51 Council district in terms of protected bike lanes, but they make up just 6 percent of the area's street, according to data visualized by the Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Three-quarters of residents walk, bike, or take public transit to get around.

The police precincts in the district, meanwhile, the 114th and the 108th, are first and second in Queens for bicycle injuries, with 97 and 95, respectively, through Oct. 20 this year, according to city crash stats. That's 3 percent more than the same period last year.

The need for protected cycling infrastructure is critical, the stats show. So far this year, 4,161 cyclists have been injured. That's roughly 14 cyclists every day.

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