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Queens Chronicle

DOT, CB 11 at odds over Northern Blvd.

Board rescinds ‘yes’ vote on city’s 25A redesign, which is already in motion

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Posted: Thursday, September 14, 2017 10:30 am

The Department of Transportation has started prep work on its Northern Boulevard bike lane redesign.

But that didn’t keep Community Board 11 from rescinding its June vote in support of the redesign on Monday and endorsing a different plan made by one of its members that also aims to make Route 25A near the Joe Michaels Mile safer.

Board members broadly supported both decisions: 31 voted to rescind the June vote, three voted against it; 28 backed the plan advanced by Transportation Committee Co-chairman Bernard Haber and there were five “no” votes.

That happened despite the DOT having already informed the board that it has started moving forward, according to Deputy Borough Commissioner Al Silvestri.

He explained it again to CB 11 at the Monday meeting. “If the board votes to rescind, we are already actively implementing it,” Silvestri said. “So, I understand the board’s position, but we are actively implementing this project.”

After CB 11’s votes on the redesign plans, the deputy borough commissioner told the Chronicle that, “I think, essentially, we’re going to go back and discuss internally. But we had informed the board that we were moving forward.”

While the transportation agency will not completely ignore Haber’s plan, it maintains that its own is superior.

“DOT is open to continuing the discussion about board member Bernard Haber’s concept,” a spokesman said in an email. “However, DOT’s plan, which incorporated much of the Board’s previous feedback and received a vote of support this summer, allows the agency to immediately deliver critical safety benefits for the community and all street users.”

DOT Director of Greenways Ted Wright said in an interview that although no physical redesign work has been done on the road yet, the wheels are in motion.

“We’ve ordered the materials, issued the contract for the markings and various other things,” he said.

Many cyclists use Northern Boulevard, which is a Vision Zero priority corridor, to bike onto the Joe Michaels Mile.

Michael Schenkman died after colliding with a vehicle on the road as he was biking to the Joe Michaels Mile last year. His death was mourned by many biking advocates.

The DOT plan would create a two-way protected bike lane on Northern that would connect bicyclists coming from Bayside and Douglaston to the Joe Michaels Mile.

Both the transportation agency and Haber, who is a retired architect, have called Schenkman’s death tragic and have said that 25A should be redesigned to make sure a similar tragedy does not happen.

Haber’s plan, which CB 11’s Transportation Committee had approved in July, differs from the DOT’s in a few crucial ways. The CB 11 member formulated his proposal after the entire board’s June vote endorsing the DOT redesign.

The redesign put forth by Haber has no bike lane. The Transportation Committee co-chairman wants cyclists to share sidewalk space with pedestrians. His plan also does not take away parking spaces; the DOT’s plan removes spots on the westbound side of the 25A portion.

Haber’s plan also calls for expanding the sidewalk on parts of the road between 223rd Street and Douglaston Parkway that are not on the bridge over Alley Pond Park. On that issue, the Transportation Committee co-chairman said that because the land the sidewalk would expand to belongs to the DOT and is being encroached upon by the Parks Department, the former agency could use it. Trees would have to be uprooted; Haber has proposed planting more of them to compensate for the lost ones.

Haber also said that the locations where the DOT’s planned bike lanes would meet the Cross Island Parkway’s on- and off-ramps would be very dangerous. He says it would be safer if bikes are elevated on a sidewalk.

“I don’t want to see people killed for their stupid scheme,” the committee co-chairman said in an interview.

Haber has said that his plan would cost $600,000. According to Wright, that number is way off.

“It would not cost $600,000,” he said, adding that it would be “more like tens of millions of dollars, because we’re not simply talking about building an extra few feet of sidewalk, we’re talking about uprooting the trees.”

The DOT official said in an interview that Haber’s plan has a large problem when it comes to shared walking-cycling space on the bridge. Pedestrians, he said, could bump into the handle bars on bikes when sharing the narrow sidewalk with cyclists. “[Riders] could go into the street,” he said, adding that the bridge sidewalk would have to be widened to accommodate both cyclists and pedestrians.

A spokesperson for the DOT said that Haber’s estimates “omit the costs of removing trees, drainage and bridge widening, all aspects of capital work that cannot be done with in-house resources.”

At the board meeting Monday, Wright pointed out that the agency’s most powerful official and her top Queens lieutenant are no fans of Haber’s plan. “It’s been looked at by [DOT Commissioner] Polly Trottenberg and [DOT Queens Borough Commissioner] Nicole Garcia,” he told board members. “They had serious problems with the plan, as it’s constituted.”

The agency official added that the CB 11 member’s plan would have to be a capital project funded in the city budget for the next fiscal year.

Haber harbors serious doubts about the DOT’s response to his plan, especially its cost estimate. “We’re not asking them to build the Tappan Zee Bridge,” he said in an interview.

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