Queens CBs Greet Vernon Boulevard Bike Lanes With Skepticism

vernon_lane.jpgLast month, DOT striped buffered bike lanes on Vernon Boulevard (right), part of a package of safety improvements for the north-south corridor that parallels the western Queens waterfront [PDF]. Bike facilities are scarce in this part of the city, and the addition of the new lanes, which eliminated a lane of parking along parts of the route, has not come without opposition from the local community boards, CB1 and CB2. But as Transportation Alternatives' Queens Committee Chair Mike Heffron reports, residents also organized to voice support for the project.

When Streetsblog last checked in, CB2 had tabled discussion of the plan following the land use committee's unanimous vote in favor of it. Long before the proposal came to CB2 -- in early 2007 -- the T.A. Queens Committee wrote up a letter to DOT supporting the bike lanes. Thirteen local groups signed on, including residents of Queensbridge Houses, who live next to the route, as well as several park organizations. In May of this year, a letter backing DOT's final project proposal came from City Council Member Peter Vallone, Jr. DOT took members of CB1 and CB2 on tours of the route and distributed brochures explaining the project to local businesses.

Ultimately, the community boards were not swayed. CB2 never took up discussion of the project at a general meeting, says Heffron, and neither did CB1. Instead, CB1 let its position be known by sending DOT and local elected officials a letter opposing the Vernon Boulevard bike lanes.

When a neighborhood receives its first bike lanes, opposition typically follows, says T.A.'s Wiley Norvell. "Western Queens has so few bike lanes, their only frame of reference was the 'bike lane to nowhere' on 36th Street," he tells Streetsblog. "It's been there for a few years, but didn't connect anything. They don't see anyone there, so they think bike lanes don't serve bicyclists." The number of parking spaces eliminated by the lanes has also been exaggerated, he notes. "Most of the 200 spaces removed are in an industrial zone -- only 40 or 50 are used during the day."

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Construction of pedestrian refuges at an entrance to Queensbridge Park, part of DOT's Vernon Boulevard improvements.

T.A.'s Queens Committee has responded with a letter-writing campaign of their own, intended to, as Heffron says, "express delight at seeing the bike lanes go in and to generally promote bike lanes in advance of any future projects."

"Because everyone thinks Queens is so car-centric, and the bike network is so poor," he adds, "It's important to signal support, so that when DOT does a project in the future, they know the support is there."

While DOT did not go so far as to install a protected bike path along Vernon Boulevard, the agency has signaled its commitment to the bike lanes at community board meetings. At one meeting of the CB1 transportation committee, reports Heffron, chair Robert Piazza implied that the lanes could always be removed, prompting Queens DOT Commissioner Maura McCarthy to reply that the agency had no intention of reversing the project.

When similar scenarios have played out elsewhere, opposition has tended to diminish with time. "A year and a half ago, we had the same situation in Fort Greene," says Norvell, referring to community board reaction to new bike lanes on Carlton Avenue and Willoughby Street. "Now it's one of the most used sections of the bike network." Given the burgeoning number of bike commuters from Long Island City, Sunnyside, and Greenpoint, he adds, Vernon Boulevard should see similar growth in use.

The one thing missing from the project, says Norvell, is the protected path. "If you're willing to overcome the political hurdle, you might as well get the Class 1 bike lane. Put the best possible infrastructure in. A bike lane with greater protection would be safe for children. It's still gonna boost biking, but we could have had the full monty."

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Photos (from top to bottom): Nathan John, Mark Foggin, Karen Overton.