2011-02-11 / Front Page

DOT Head Lies On Bike Lanes

By Howard Schwach

Shared bicycle lanes draw riders to Rockaway Beach Boulevard. Shared bicycle lanes draw riders to Rockaway Beach Boulevard. Bicycle lanes have become a contentious issue throughout the city and especially in Rockaway, where the paucity of east-west roads makes each of the traffic lanes on those roads more valuable.

In Tuesday’s edition of the Daily News, Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan said that Community Board 14, which covers all of Rockaway, was informed of the coming construction of bike lanes in Far Rockaway and that the city agency “only heard concerns after the lanes were installed.”

The Wave, under a Freedom of Information Law filing, has gathered documents that prove Sadik-Khan’s contention is not true.

On May 28, 2010, Community Board 14 received a letter from Maura McCarthy, the Queens DOT Commissioner.

That letter said, in part, “Beginning in June, we will be installing painted medians, painted channelization of complicated intersections, turning bays at key locations and 2.6 miles of bicycle lanes.”

In fact, the painting of the lanes had begun a week prior to this notification.

A year earlier, in May of 2009, when the specter of bicycle lanes throughout the community was first raised by a mayoral report, Community Board 14 District Manager Jonathan Gaska sent a letter to McCarthy. “When we first discussed this matter, I had relayed my concerns to you as well. I therefore request that you delay any installation of markings until we and the community can discuss this matter with you further,” Gaska’s letter urged.

At the same time in 2009, Eugene Falik, the chair of the Bayswater Civic Association’s Traffic Committee, sent a long email to both the community board and to McCarthy urging her not to limit the number of lanes on Beach Channel Drive for the purpose of “calming traffic” and adding bike lanes.

“I am writing to you on behalf of the Bayswater Civic Association because we have learned in the past week that the Department of Transportation plans to reduce the traffic lanes on Beach Channel Drive to one lane in each direction. We believe that this would be a serious mistake,” Falik wrote.

On May 28, 2009, Assemblywoman Audrey Pheffer weighed in with her opinion on the reduced lane plan in a letter to McCarthy.

“ … Eugene Falik of the Bayswater Civic Association has contacted your office as well as Sergeant Hartman of the 101 Precinct and others, seeking an explanation of the reason for the undertaking of these [lane reductions and bicycle lanes]. Mr. Falik and the association raise many valid concerns and reasons in opposition to the reduction. I would appreciate it if you could address their concerns.”

On May 29, 2010, a week after the bicycle lanes had been placed on Beach Channel Drive without further consultation with anybody in the community, Gaska wrote to McCarthy once again.

“About ten days ago, your agency painted lines, which in effect narrowed Beach Channel Drive to one lane in each direction,” Gaska wrote. “This measure has caused monumental traffic backups during the a.m. rush hour and the p.m. rush hour as well. In addition, the intersection of Mott Avenue and Beach Channel Drive has become chaotic and difficult to navigate.”

“We told them far in advance that we were against it and so were some of the local civic associations,” Gaska said this week. “[DOT officials] made it clear that they did not care for our opinion, that they had the right to do it without our approval. They went ahead and did it.”

Mayor Michael Bloomberg and his Queens Commissioner for the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) were visibly shaken when they were booed at a recent Bayswater Civic Association meeting when resident Michael Gliner, raised the question of bike lanes and the impact they have on busy streets such as Beach Channel Drive.

Bloomberg deferred to Maura McCarthy.

“Numerous communities throughout the city are getting the bike lanes,” McCarthy told the crowd. “Rockaway is one place where we’re very proud to have put them.”

She added that streets such as Beach Channel Drive were chosen for the bike lanes because, “There are few east-west streets in Rockaway and that’s why we chose those major east-west streets.”

She was roundly booed by the crowd and catcalls of, “Take them away,” filled the room.

Bloomberg tried to save his commissioner.

“Bicycle lanes are one of the more controversial things,” the mayor said to laughs and boos. “Some people love them and some people hate them. It’s probably true that, in many cases, we could have done a better job [of consulting the community] and we’re going to try and do that.”

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