BY JAMES FARRELL
Two accidents along Northern Boulevard added fuel to the fire of an already heated debate over a recently installed bike lane along the corridor.
The latest incident occurred on Thursday morning, when a 53-year-old woman was making a right turn out of a parking lot near the Alley Pond Golf Center and drove up onto the dividing wall protecting the bike lane, according to the NYPD.
And on Monday night, at around 7 p.m., a 70-year-old male driver drove up onto the barrier near the Douglaston Parkway.
There were no injuries in either incident, according to the NYPD.
The bike lane was part of a city Department of Transportation proposal to increase cyclist and pedestrian safety along Northern Boulevard between Douglaston Parkway and 223rd Street. Community Board 11 initially backed the project, which converted the northernmost lane of the westbound side of Northern Boulevard into a protected two-way bike lane, but rescinded its support amid concerns about safety and traffic. Since then, the board has backed its own plan, which would retain the vehicular traffic lane and convert the sidewalks into a shared pedestrian and cyclist path. Despite the board’s change of heart, the DOT has moved forward with the two-way bike lane, which is nearing completion.
The community, meanwhile, has been divided over the plan. Some civic groups and state Sen. Tony Avella (D-Bayside) side with the community board, arguing that the DOT’s plan lacks community support, and that the lack of the third vehicular lane reduces parking, increases traffic and creates safety hazards. On the other side, many cyclists and alternative transportation activists believe that the bike lanes are safer overall and support the DOT, which has said that CB 11’s plan is costly and will take years to complete.
On Thursday afternoon, Avella wrote a frustrated letter to the DOT, asking them to abandon the plan in the wake of the crashes.
“Community members, along with myself, forewarned against the proximity of the bicycle lanes with the heavily congested traffic lanes for fear of accidents similar to this one,” Avella said, referencing Thursday’s accident. “The bicycle lanes, and cement dividers, create a dangerous merging situation.”
He added that there had been four reports of accidents since the installation of the bike lane, but that he had not verified the reports himself.
“In addition, there have been no precautions taken, including warning signage, to warn motorists of a change in traffic pattern,” he added.
Monday night’s Community Board 11 meeting took place minutes after the first of the two confirmed crashes. Board members discussed it as they voted to pass a resolution restating their opposition to the DOT plan and voted to send a letter to the DOT outlining their concerns.
“Quite honestly, we’re going to have a lot of problems if we already have a car impaled on the stanchion,” said board member Joan Garippa.
A spokesman for the DOT, however, offered a forceful push back on the notion that the bike lanes are causing problems. He questioned whether there was any evidence that the bike lanes were at fault in the accident and argued that the collision was merely a sign that the dividers were fulfilling their protective roles.
“This project is a direct response to a cyclist being killed on this section of Northern Boulevard, a Vision Zero Priority corridor,” the spokesman said. “These barriers did their job to protect those in the bike lane from accelerating turning vehicles. When a motorist drives up on a barrier at a conflict point with cyclists or pedestrians, it shows how important our work is.”
The spokesman added that the area is an active construction area and that in the next few days, additional safety treatments like reflective tape and flexible delineators, which have been part of the design from the beginning, will be installed.
Most of the project will be completed by next week, he added.
Reach James Farrell at (718) 357-7400 x 127, firstname.lastname@example.org or @farrellj329.