May 12, 2016 By Michael Florio
Queens Borough President Melinda Katz strongly opposes Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to override a local community board vote and put bike lanes on Queens Boulevard.
Community Board 4 voted Tuesday night to approve a DOT safety proposal for Queens Boulevard, with the exception of protected bicycle lanes, which Chair Louis Walker described as inappropriate for the roadway. Although community boards officially play only an advisory role, it is the DOT’s standard practice to follow their decisions.
However, de Blasio announced Wednesday afternoon that he is overruling CB 4’s vote.
“I have instructed the Department of Transportation to move forward on the next phase of safety enhancements to Queens Boulevard, including a protected lane for cyclists,” de Blasio said in a statement.
Katz, however, believes that the Mayor has wrongly defied local opinion on the issue.
“Any action to install bike lanes along this stretch at this time, regardless of merit, would therefore and understandably be perceived as an imposition by the administration, running directly counter to and overriding the Community Board’s explicitly stated wishes,” she said in a statement.
Katz also criticized the DOT’s process of addressing safety on Queens Boulevard, which runs through several community boards. The agency is tackling its redesign across a three-phase project; CB 4’s vote covered Phase Two, which will run along Queens Boulevard from 74th Street to Eliot Avenue.
“Instead of approaching bike lanes in a vacuum and in piece-meal, segmented fashion, the plan should be postponed for now until the agency can produce a truly community-driven, community-generated, borough-wide plan for the future of bike lanes not only along Queens Boulevard but throughout the borough,” Katz said. “Safety is a shared priority, and there must be a better way to involve communities in expanding bike lanes.”
The Phase Two portion of Queens Boulevard has been excessively dangerous, as 47 people, including 21 pedestrians, were killed or severely injured between 2010 and 2014, according to DOT data. There were 777 total injuries during that stretch.
CB 4 agreed on Tuesday night that safety needs to be addressed on Queens Boulevard, but decided that adding bicycle lanes is not the best way to do so.
Board Chair Louis Walker made the controversial motion to approve the DOT’s proposal without the inclusion of the bicycle lanes.
Although some Board members spoke in favor of the bike lanes – including an ambulance corps volunteer who said injured cyclists are picked up “every other night” on Queens Boulevard – Walker’s motion ultimately carried with only one vote against it and two abstentions.
While Katz may be in agreement with the Community Board, other elected officials believe de Blasio did the right thing.
Council Member Daniel Dromm, who represents this portion of Queens Boulevard, said that the bike lanes need to be included as part of this plan.
“We can’t risking having another death on Queens Boulevard,” Dromm said. “Bike lanes are an essential part of this safety plan.”
“The Mayor was right in moving forward on this plan,” he added.
Dromm was not alone.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer stands by de Blasio’s decision as well. Last year the first phase of this project was implemented in his district.
“With these improvements, we can make Queens Boulevard safer for pedestrians, cyclists and drivers. I applaud Mayor de Blasio for fighting to protect everyone who uses Queens Boulevard,” Van Bramer said in a statement.
Phase three of the Queens Boulevard redesign is set to take place next year in Council Member Karen Koslowitz’s district.
“Bike lanes are, in my opinion, an integral part of a forward looking grand plan to create a safer Queens Boulevard,” she said.
Local advocacy groups Make Queens Safer and the Queens Bike Initiative also support de Blasio’s decision.
Not only does Dromm agree with de Blasio’s decision, but he also believes the community had ample time to make its voice heard on the issue.
According to the DOT, outreach on this project included making 3,400 contacts with local community residents, fielding 1,105 surveys via the agency website, garnering 705 feedback comments from people on the street, speaking with 92 businesses and holding more than 10 public forums.
“That is a lot of community input,” Dromm said. “That is more than I’ve seen in any project I have worked with the DOT on.”
Dromm also questioned the vote itself, as Walker put the motion forward. Dromm has never seen a motion made by the chairman and even questioned if that was allowed.
“I think that there are a lot of politics going on,” Dromm said. “The community board’s Chairman [Walker] and District Manager [Christian Cassagnol] are being influenced by local politics.”
He declined to elaborate further. CB 4 has not immediately responded to a request for comment, and the Board does not post its bylaws online.