By Jon Cronin
Last week, Community Board 6 voted down the phase-four implementation of Vision Zero on Queens Boulevard in Forest Hills that would include bike lanes.
The city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) presented its plan for Vision Zero’s phase four, which focuses on Queens Boulevard between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike. Al Silvestri, the deputy director of the DOT, touted the historically low number of injuries and zero deaths on Queens Boulevard since the safety measures went into effect two years ago. This phase will include a continuation of protected bike lanes, shorter crossing distances for pedestrians and a traffic-calming redesign based on crash data.
Some board members were shocked when the DOT revealed that the fourth phase would remove 220 parking spaces and return 22 in the streets adjacent to the boulevard. The parking subject is a sore spot for the community, especially following the loss of Ben’s Best kosher deli in Rego Park after 73 years of business. Many in the community, including Ben’s Best owner Jay Parker, blame the closing of the business on the loss of parking due to the implementation of bike lanes.
“It’s very easy and convenient to blame the latest thing,” Silvestri said regarding the deli’s closure.
“That’s a bad answer,” one board member replied.
Community board members also scoffed at the DOT representatives when they stated that the agency surveyed 615 shoppers and 75 businesses over a six-month period to gain insight into how many people shop by foot or car in the area. Board members questioned whether those numbers provided ample evidence.
Joe Hennessey, the chairman of CB 6, said that the city would move forward with the project, regardless of the board’s vote.
“It won’t make a difference,” he said. “The DOT will do it anyway.”
He also pointed out that CB 6 has one of the highest percentages of senior citizens in the borough and that that population will not ride bikes. But Hennessey still believes that measures should be implemented to create a more pedestrian-friendly environment,
“I had a good friend killed on Queens Boulevard,” he said, recalling that his friend’s family had complained at the funeral about the boulevard’s lack of safety.
However, Hennessey doesn’t believe that the safety measures will help senior citizens who need their cars and rely on parking near their destinations on Queens Boulevard.
Prior to the board’s taking a vote, cycling advocate and community board member Peter Beadle said that with the increase in population in the area, an increase in bicycle use will alleviate competition for space on the road for those driving and parking.
The board voted 23-11 against the project, with five abstaining.
Laura Shepard, a cycling advocate and Forest Hills resident, said during the meeting’s public forum that it was inappropriate for the board to hold a forum after it had already taken a vote.
Joelle Galatan, a Bayside resident and high school senior, said she attended the meeting to tell the board that bike lanes make transportation possible for a large portion of the borough’s residents who cannot afford a car or to operate one due to cognitive disabilities.
Peter Kaufman, a Forest Hills native and current Brooklyn resident, told the board that bike lanes allow him to visit his parents in Forest Hills. He also asked one board member who voted against the project, “How many parking spaces is worth one life?” He added, “Bicyclists don’t kill people.”
He was encouraged by an audience member to go back to Brooklyn.