May 11, 2016 By Michael Florio
Defying the local community board, Mayor Bill de Blasio has instructed the Department of Transportation to move forward with its plan to put bike lanes on Queens Boulevard in Elmhurst.
Community Board 4 voted Tuesday night to approve a DOT safety proposal along Queens Boulevard, with the exception of the planned bicycle lanes. 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 respect those who disagree with us, but in the end, the safety of our neighbors and our children is the most fundamental responsibility we have in this work,” he said in a statement. “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.”
This is not the first time de Blasio has pushed against a community board decision. CB 4 was one of many boards City-wide to vote against his two major zoning text amendments that were ultimately approved by the City Council after some compromises with the Mayor.
The DOT’s plan covers Queens Boulevard from 74th Street to Eliot Avenue. The agency proposed putting protected bicycle lanes on both sides of the Boulevard, along with several other measures including increasing pedestrian crossing space, removing some parking spaces, and a slew of safety tweaks to intersections along the corridor.
This 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 that safety needs to be addressed on Queens Boulevard, but felt that adding bicycle lanes is not the best way to do so.
Board Chair Louis Walker made the controversial motion to approve this proposal, without the inclusion of the bicycle lanes.
“I don’t think Queens Boulevard is necessarily the place for a bike lane,” Walker said. “There are other streets where bikes would be a lot safer and in a lot less traffic.”
“This is not a park, it is a very heavily traveled vehicular roadway,” he added.
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.
The 20-plus cyclists who attended the meeting were outraged by this decision.
“You are going to get me killed,” one man shouted.
“When I am lying dead in the street you’ll have yourselves to blame,” another yelled.
Not everyone viewed CB 4’s decision as a crushing blow.
“Most of the project was approved and that is a win,” Council Member Daniel Dromm said following the vote. “We will go back and look at the plan, but this gives us the ‘okay’ to move forward on the plan.”
Dromm also questioned the fact that the Board chair made the motion himself, which he said was unusual.
Dromm hosted a rally on Tuesday before CB 4’s meeting. Cyclists and supporters of the DOT’s plan gathered in front of Sushi Island (87-18 Queens Blvd.), where cyclist Asif Rahman was killed by a truck in February 2008. Rahman’s mother, Lizi, spoke at the rally and presented Dromm with a petition with more than 6,000 signatures in support of the bicycle lanes.
The Queens Bike Initiative, which advocates for stronger bike connections throughout Jackson Heights and western Queens, supports the decision by de Blasio and the City to move forward with the bike lanes.
“We believe that by including bike lanes in the DOT’s plan, the City is acknowledging the larger social and economic benefit of providing cost-effective and safe transportation routes for cyclists,” the group said in a statement. “These improvements will make Queens Boulevard safer for existing users and will make biking in Queens safer for generations to come.”
The first phase, which took place in 2015, addressed Queens Boulevard from Roosevelt Avenue to 73rd Street. Phase three would cover Eliot Avenue to Union Turnpike.