2008-11-14 / Front Page

New Bike Lanes Sharing, Not Caring

By Nicholas Briano

The freshly painted bike lanes and arrows along Rockaway Beach Boulevard between Beach 108 Street and Riis Park have caused both consternation and delight, depending on whether or not one uses a bicycle.

Cars could be seen driving through the shared bike lanes on Rockaway Beach Boulevard at Beach 114 Street. The arrows on the pavement signify the lane marking. Cars could be seen driving through the shared bike lanes on Rockaway Beach Boulevard at Beach 114 Street. The arrows on the pavement signify the lane marking. One aspect that has befuddled the great majority of local residents since this project's inception, however, is how the city's Department of Transportation would coordinate the problem of cars, buses and bikes using a single lane from Beach 126 Street to Beach 108 Street, where the road significantly narrows.

This problem led most people to draw a logical conclusion that cars and buses cannot co-exist with bicyclists without the chance of something disastrous occurring.

That is, until DOT clarified its position this week by describing the 18-block stretch of newly marked pavement arrows as "shared bike lanes."

A DOT spokesperson said that shared lanes are utilized when the street is not wide enough for separate bike lanes to be installed in their traditional manner alongside motorist traffic.

"The arrows on the pavement signify a shared bike lane," Scott Gastel, spokesperson for DOT, said this week. "It's a safe way of putting in lanes when the roads are not wide enough."

Gastel added that DOT has no intention of removing the parking lane to create a wider street. He says, these types of lanes have been successfully installed and praised in other parts of Queens, including Howard Beach and Sunnyside, under similar conditions.

"It lets motorists know that bikes could be riding down that street," he said. "We believe a shared lane is the safest way for this particular treatment of the area."

He further explained that DOT believes the markings are visible enough and have also been positioned to protect bicyclists from swinging car doors from the parking lane.

"Cyclists are more visible to motorists because they are directly in front of them," Gastel added about the lane placements.

The project was announced to the public in late August and installation of the 4.6 miles of lanes began two weeks ago in an effort by Mayor Michael Bloomberg to drastically expand New York City's bicycling network.

A City Council Resolution cosponsored by City Councilman Joseph P. Addabbo Jr., in anticipation that DOT would eventually install bike lanes in Rockaway, asked that community boards be given significant input to bicycle lane proposals.

The proposition was never presented to Community Board 14 for input and proceeded forward anyway.

The neighborhoods of Belle Harbor and Neponsit, where the boulevard is two lanes wide in each direction, have lost the curbside lane to cyclists.

The plan also includes cross peninsula bicycle lanes on Beach 108 Street between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Shore Front Parkway and on Beach 126 Street between Rockaway Beach Boulevard and Ocean Promenade.

The notion of the shared bicycle lane originated in 2006 when DOT announced their installation in select areas of Manhattan and Brooklyn after the lanes met with great success in both San Francisco and Chicago. The agency believed shared lanes would heighten both driver and biker awareness.

"The new markings and signs are intended to make both bicyclists and motorists aware of the single lane, to which both users have equal access," DOT said in a 2006 press release. "DOT is expecting motorists to be patient and pass bikes only with ample clearance and at a modest speed. Cyclists are also expected to stay clear of parking, ride at a reasonable pace, in a predictable manner, and not pass vehicles on the left side."

Another concern arose recently from an anonymous Belle Harbor resident who is thrilled about bike lanes being installed, but remains worried that people driving though Belle Harbor and Neponsit sections of the bike path will continue to use the right lane, which is now solely reserved for bicyclists.

In his telephone call to The Wave, he claimed that the Q22 bus is already riding in what used to be the right lane of Rockaway Beach Boulevard. When the bus temporarily pulls into its stop, he says, which is in the right lane, the bus will continue driving straight, eventually driving through the bike lane and never leaving.

"I've seen that on average, nine out of ten buses that are riding in the bike lanes," he said. "It could become very dangerous because a lot of people ride their bikes along Rockaway Beach Boulevard."

If others witness this, they are encouraged to call the MTA bus compliant line at 718-927-7499 and give the bus number, time and location of the violation.

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