Western Queens Locals Tell DOT Their Vision for Bike-Friendly Neighborhoods

Many cyclists in Queens feel theirs is the forgotten borough. Though it ranks first in size and second in population, Queens ranks third behind Brooklyn and Manhattan in bike lanes. And the existing bike lanes too rarely link up, cyclists say, discouraging bicycle use for commuting to work or for recreation.

"Queens Boulevard is the big ask," said one workshop participant. In recent years, cyclists Asif Rahman and James Langergaard have been killed on the highway-like thoroughfare that connects many Queens neighborhoods.

With the goal of improving bike travel in their borough, Queens residents met with city Department of Transportation officials Saturday for some bottom-up planning. The idea was to get the people who know their streets best to provide initial input for new bike lanes.

Convened by Queens Community Board 2, the meeting was the first of its kind for the city, said Hayes Lord, who directs the DOT’s bicycle program.

CB 2, which includes the western Queens neighborhoods of Long Island City, Sunnyside and Woodside, is strategically located to improve bicycling for Queens residents. It is home to the Queensborough Bridge, an important route for cyclists commuting to work, and with a burgeoning collection of cultural institution, it is increasingly a destination unto itself. ”We definitely see that there’s a great deal of excitement for cycling in Queens and we want to be able to support that,” Lord told the roughly 50 attendees.

Cyclists gathered in groups around large maps showing existing bike lanes and conferred about traffic trouble spots.

The Queens side of the Pulaski Bridge into Brooklyn was described as “atrocious,” by Helen Ho, who often bikes that route to commute between her Astoria home and office near Union Square in Manhattan. ”To get to the bike lane on Vernon Boulevard you have to go across some really scary intersections,” she said.

Some participants urged the creation of a continuous east-west route. Jonathan Dunn, a former investment banker, said he regularly uses that thoroughfare for his one-hour, forty-minute recreational jaunt from his Sunnyside home to the Rockaways. “But you have to be very careful along Queens Boulevard,” he said.

“Queens Boulevard is the big ask — the dream,” said Astoria resident Ian Hardouin. “It’s a major thoroughfare and connects to many other neighborhoods.” Hardouin noted that a Queens Boulevard bike lane would be a heavy lift because the boulevard is home to many stores, restaurants and other business that depend on street parking, some of which could be lost by the creation of bike lanes.

Lord had another concern: whether Queens Boulevard bike lanes would be safe. He said DOT would like to look at a possible parallel route.

Workshop participants considered other routes, including Roosevelt Avenue, which runs under the 7 train elevated line. ”Roosevelt Avenue probably isn’t the ideal place for a bike lane,” said Thomas Mair, who bike commutes from his Sunnyside home to his job at Sloan Kettering Memorial Cancer Center in Manhattan. The avenue is a busy commercial street with heavy truck traffic, he noted.

The next step calls for city transportation officials to review the advice and come back to Community Board 2 with some recommendations, possibly before summer. Installation of all the recommendations could take up to three years, Lord said.

Community Board 2 now has 11 miles of bike lanes, up from 1.7 miles in 2007, and Lord said he could envision a roughly two-fold increase once the work is done.

Expanded bike lanes have the support of local City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who told the audience that he’s become a regular cyclist in recent years.

Joseph Conley, the chair of Community Board 2, is also an advocate, backing more bike lanes, on-street bike storage and the city’s bike-share program. “The population that is riding bicycles in our community has grown very quickly in the last few years,” he said.

Conley believes bike lanes will likely become an even greater priority in the near future. ”Predictions on the price of gasoline say it’s going to be around $5, so people will look for alternative ways to get to work,” he said. “The easier you can make it for bicycling, the better for bike safety and the environment.”

Nancy Silverman, who lives in Astoria and often bikes to her adjunct professor post at LaGuardia Community College, said meetings like Saturday’s were important: They showed the diverse faces of the cycling community to skeptics.

“They have this image of a 22-year-old-male, a bicycle messenger type, but when they see somebody like me, who’s a 48-year-old chubby woman, that changes the image. It’s hard for people to be opposed to someone like me biking, because they wouldn’t see me as a risk taker and dangerous.”