Avella and civic leaders had planned to speak out against the Department of Transportation's plan to add protected bike lanes and lower the speed limit along the major thoroughfare connecting Bayside to Douglaston and Little Neck.
The plan, which removes one lane of vehicular traffic, was previously approved by Community Board 11 in June. But two weeks ago, the board voted to rescind their support, and instead voted in favor of an alternative proposal by board member Bernard Haber.
Haber’s plan would put a bike path above the curb on the sidewalk, which would be shared with pedestrians.
Dozens of supporters of the Department of Transportation (DOT) plan, including local Douglaston businesses and the advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, came out to counter-protest.
Avella refused to allow them inside the Alley Pone Golf Center lobby, where he was holding his press conference.
After several arguments with the bike advocates, Avella and the civic leaders spoke outside the building, where they were surrounded by people holding signs in favor of the DOT plan.
“These are the bullying tactics they do,” Avella said, referring to Transportation Alternatives. “They don’t want to have a conversation.
“DOT and Transportation Alternatives came up with one plan and don’t want to hear anything else,” he added. “That’s not democracy, that’s not community planning. That’s not the way to do this.”
Insisting that everybody wants a bike lane on Northern Boulevard, Avella argued that the community board’s plan would be safer.
If DOT installs a protected bike lane on the street, motorists would have to stop in traffic and cross the bike lane to turn, especially when accessing the Cross Island Parkway, which Avella contends is dangerous.
“Anybody who knows Northern Boulevard in this section knows during rush hour, it is bumper to bumper,” he said. “If you reduce a lane of traffic, you’ll make the traffic situation more dangerous and unsafe.
“It’s unfortunate that DOT seems to want to ram this down the community board’s throat. We just want to do it in the right way and the safest way,” Avella added. “If it’ll cost a little extra money or a little extra time, isn’t it more important to be safer than rush something through?”
Joseph Marziliano, district manager for Community Board 11, explained that Haber’s plan would include widening the sidewalk to allow both bikes and pedestrians to share the path. He asserted that the sidewalk extension would be on Parks Department property that already encroaches on the DOT-maintained sidewalk.
“From our perspective, it would actually improve safety because it will be up above the curb line,” he said. “It would also eliminate some of the blind spot issues we see along the Cross Island Parkway exit and entrance ramps.”
But street safety advocates in favor of the DOT’s project disagreed. They argued that the DOT project will take effect immediately and provide a safe passageway for cyclists heading to Joe Michael’s Mile, a popular cycling and running path.
It would also slow down traffic by narrowing the number of lanes, they said.
They also criticized Haber’s plan because it would take too long and cost too much. Advocates said it would take several years to implement and could cost millions of dollars.
Laura Shepard, who grew up in Oakland Gardens and bikes regularly along Northern Boulevard, described her experience biking along the corridor now as “harrowing and scary.”
“The cars speed quickly, over 60 miles per hour sometimes,” she said. “Cars merging on and off often don’t yield or stop at the stop signs like they’re supposed to.”
But she said she goes down Northern Boulevard because it’s the only thoroughfare that connects to Joe Michael’s Mile and the Alley Pond Environmental Center. Shepard argued that narrowing the roadway would be beneficial to all users of the street.
“It would give us an equitable share of space in the road,” she said. “Not only for cyclists and pedestrians, but also for drivers. It helps organize the road, gives them visual cues as to what we’re doing and where we’re going.”
Hsi-Pei Liao and Amy Tam-Liao also attended the counter-protest to fight for DOT’s plan. Both are part of Families for Safe Streets, an organization representing families who have lost loved ones from traffic fatalities. Their daughter was killed by a car in Flushing in 2013.
They stressed the urgency of adding the protected bike lane. They referenced the death of Michael Schenkman, a 78-year-old cyclist who was fatally struck by a car last August on Northern Boulevard and 223rd Street.
In a statement, his son Peter said growing up in eastern Queens he constantly had to play a “sick game of Frogger that is crossing Northern Boulevard.” Schenkman is in favor of DOT’s plan.
“My father did not have five years to wait. The families of Bayside, Little Neck and Douglaston do not have five more years to wait,” he said. “The Department of Transportation needs to implement these bike lanes now.”
In a statement, a DOT spokesperson said the agency’s plan incorporated much of the community board’s previous feedback and received support through a vote over the summer. They are open to “continuing the discussion about board member Bernard Haber’s concept,” the spokesperson said.
“Implementing the two-way protected bike lane on the north side of Northern Boulevard adds vital traffic calming while creating a safer route for pedestrians and cyclists traveling between Bayside and Douglaston,” the spokesperson said. “DOT received letters of support from several community groups in favor of the project, including the Douglaston Local Development Corporation, the Douglaston Village Chamber of Commerce and the Westmoreland Association.”