Life in the slow lane continues for nearly a dozen frustrated Queens Boulevard business owners who say the bike lanes installed along the thoroughfare by the Department of Transportation this summer are to blame.
After months of fuming to themselves about the lanes — specifically the removal of parking spaces to accommodate them — the entrepreneurs gathered at Tropix Bar & Lounge on Monday to share their personal horror stories and brainstorm ideas on how to fight back.
“Every time a customer calls me, says he’s circling the block for one hour looking for parking, then says he will return next time,” said Edward Nisimov, the owner of both Falcoln Imports at 95-42 Queens Blvd. and Mother Imports next door. “But in the furniture business, there is usually no next time.”
After months of public outreach, the DOT removed 198 spaces along a 1.3-mile stretch of the boulevard’s service roads between Eliot Avenue and Yellowstone Boulevard to make way for the bike lanes.
Simultaneously, the agency added a number of curbside delivery-only zones which ban parking from 8:30 a.m. to 7 p.m. every day except Sunday.
Before the lanes were installed, Nisimov said, there were approximately 24 parking spots in the direct vicinity of his businesses.
Now, he said there are just four.
“A lot of people who are residents in this area complain that they can’t find parking,” added salon owner Michael Abayev, a friend of Nisimov. “We have to pay store rent, and $5,500 property tax per year.”
The purpose of the cycling space, according to the DOT, was to help reshape Queens Boulevard into a safer street for motorists, bike riders and pedestrians alike.
Since bike lane installation began two years ago on the western section of the street — once notoriously known as the “Boulevard of Death” for its high number of fatal accidents — city statistics show a 49 percent decline in injuries, and not a single person has been killed.
But according to Gary Taylor and Marcia Tordoya, the co-owners of Tropix at 95-32 Queens Blvd., it’s rare to see a cyclist ride down the lanes.
“We used our store’s security cameras to record how many bikes actually use the lane in one day. It’s only about 15,” Tordoya said.
Taylor added that of the few people actually using the lanes, some of them are riding e-bikes, which are illegal to operate.
In terms of fighting back against the parking loss, Taylor called on his fellow business owners to encourage their customers to sign a petition he created.
“We’re gonna have six, seven, eight thousand people sign our petition,” Taylor said, while prompting others to come forward with their ideas.
Activists supporting the lanes say more than 100 area business owners signed a petition backing them before they were installed.
Neighborhood bike lane proponent Sheryl Fetik attended the meeting and attempted to interject multiple times as Taylor discussed his role in spearheading the new petition.
He eventually asked her to stop interrupting, saying sternly that it was his meeting and that she was welcome to discuss the lanes with him afterwards.
“We are looking to work together with you, like we’re all friends,” Fetik said.
She told the Chronicle she learned of the meeting through Facebook, where a flier for the event had been posted on a community page the day before.
Also speaking on Monday was attorney Arthur Miller, who specializes in fighting traffic violations throughout the greater New York City area.
He said he’s noticed a steep increase in nondisputable traffic tickets being issued in the area, mainly for double-parking and similar infractions.
Zach Miller, the lawyer’s son and co-publisher of the digital trade website NewYorkTruckStop.com, offered a different perspective.
“Trucks and cars often don’t face the same problems, but in this case, they do,” he said. “But now, trucks are getting ticketed because of the bike lanes, but it’s considered a business operating cost.”
Immediately following the lanes’ arrival, some entrepreneurs, including Ben’s Best Deli owner Jay Parker, reported double-digit losses.
“Councilwoman Karen Koslowitz [D-Forest Hills], who eats at my deli and initially supported the bike lanes, even noticed that my store was empty compared to before,” Parker said. “Our city, our government, it’s supposed to work for us, not against us. Right now, it’s working against us.”
Parker added that he might have to discontinue the perks his full-time employees receive, such as overtime, if business continues to drop.
“They are murdering business, not killing, murdering. I want the lanes gone!” Parker said emphatically.
Mom-and-pop stores aren’t the only ones hurting. For even a corporate chain like Domino’s, which has a location next door to Tropix, bike lanes are bad for business and just getting around in general, according to manager Allen Gear.
“Sometimes when I come to work in the morning, I have to wait like 25 minutes to move just one block,” Gear said. “Most of my delivery guys are quitting because they keep getting tickets.
“Yesterday, one delivery guy got three tickets and I’m paying them, but how much longer can I afford to pay for them?”
As the meeting began, a Chronicle reporter observed at least four fire trucks bottle-necked as they attempted to move eastbound at the intersection of Queens Boulevard and 63rd Road.
The vehicles barely moved over 15 minutes as they tried to maneuver through heavy traffic.