The Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce brought local business owners together for an emergency meeting on Wednesday to devise a plan to stop the installation of bike lanes on Queens Boulevard, which is set to start this month.
Almost 30 business owners came together at Bareburger on Austin Street to strategize and discuss ideas on how to stop the bike lane construction, which will stretch from Yellowstone Boulevard to Union Turnpike and take out numerous parking spaces. They represented businesses including Spy C Cuisine, 5 Burro Cafe, Austin Street Pizza, Keuka Kafe, Austin Plus Dental, Tap House and more.
“There has to be some kind of litigation or something stronger than petitions or protests that show that we’re really serious,” said Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce. Brown owned a children’s store on Austin Street in the 1990s and until 2004.
“I feel like we’re in a fight for our lives because we’re small business owners,” she said. She added that the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce has struggled with funding through the pandemic, using most of its reserves.
“I’m trying to make it not about bikers and bike lanes, I’m trying to make it about small businesses and the effect that this has,” she said. “I feel there should be alternate solutions to it.”
Marla Cornejo from 5 Burro proposed limiting hours of bike lane usage to accommodate commuters. Other participants expressed wanting to hold a protest and gathering more signatures in addition to the 2,000 that Brown has already received. Brown also said legal representation is being sought.
With a new mayor and city councilmembers on their way in, Brown hopes that there’s a chance to upend the plan that she acknowledges is a “done deal.”
“I think that there might be a way when the new administration comes in to maybe fix this,” she said.
Olga and Ollie Sakhno own Keuka Kafe, a wine bar on Queens Boulevard. Olga Sakhno said that many of their customers drive from other neighborhoods like Ozone Park, Briarwood and Richmond Hill.
She said that whether the businesses are directly on Queens Boulevard or not, it affects them similarly since Forest Hills is an “enclave” for shopping, dining, salons and more.
“When you limit our parking space, you are limiting the number of people coming to the area now,” she said.
Sakhno also said people will often wonder what the parking situation will be like at a restaurant before they even ask what type of food is served. There is a disconnect, though, with many of her customers who she said support the idea of bike lanes.
Warren Fink is a real estate agent and owns The Co-op Connection at 112-16 Queens Blvd. Parking along the Queens Boulevard service road has been removed in recent weeks and Fink knows that his block will likely be next.
He says he can’t find parking in the mornings, especially when cars park overnight and all day on Sundays. When he and his employees go to meet with clients throughout the day, finding parking is a recurring struggle.
“It’s affecting thousands of people every day,” said Fink.
Maria Sammut is a dental hygienist at Austin Dental Plus on Queens Boulevard, and she says customers were ticketed while they were in the dentist chair on the day when the parking rules changed.
She inquired about nearby parking garages for staff and patients since they don’t find that patients ride bikes to their appointments but found that several garages are at full capacity.
Attorney Arthur Miller specializes in trucking and transportation issues and runs the website New York Truck Stop.
“I think it’s nice and should be supported, but it should be supported in a way that supports our community,” Miller said. “I’m still amazed that they want to shove this through now while we’re recuperating from an economic disaster. It’s really up to us to get together by any means to make our feelings known and to rally those within the community.”
Also in attendance was Manny Gomez from Queens Streets for All, a group that is opposing the bike lanes in Sunnyside; and Ryan Walsh, an attorney with the law firm of Walsh & Gilad. Walsh said that litigation would be the way to slow the plans at this point.
Brown said the meeting was the first step, and that many of the attendees were “new faces” to her, not members of the chamber.
“We’re going to try to come up with some kind of a plan,” she said. “It’s going to have to be more like a litigation plan.”
Now, she will wait for suggestions to be emailed and will hold another meeting for planning.