Feb. 13, 2018 By Tara Law
The Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce has launched a petition against the expansion of bike lanes on Queens Boulevard.
Leslie Brown, president of the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce, posted a Change.org petition online Friday calling on the city to scrap its plans to add protected bike lanes on Queens Boulevard between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike.
The petition, called “Help Small Business & Save Forest Hills Parking Spots,” had collected more than 500 signatures by the end of Monday.
The planned installation of bike lanes and safety improvements to the one mile stretch is part of Phase IV of the Queens Boulevard redesign that the DOT aims to install this summer.
“Transportation Alternatives are lobbying for bike lanes to be put in along Queens Blvd from the cross street of Yellowstone Blvd to Union Turnpike [Phase IV] in Forest Hills,” reads Brown’s petition. “This will remove several hundred parking spaces catering to small businesses. Forest Hills businesses are struggling to stay in business as it is, as more and more consumers are shopping online.”
Since 2015, bike lanes have been installed from Roosevelt Avenue (Woodside) to Yellowstone Boulevard along Queens Boulevard, generating a great deal of controversy among community boards and the public.
Bike lane advocates, however, have argued that the project has significantly increased safety along the thoroughfare. No pedestrians or cyclists have been killed along Queens Boulevard since 2014, according to Department of Transportation data.
Despite this, the project has drawn the ire of many motorists, with many claiming the changes have made driving more difficult. Many business owners, particularly those with establishments between Eliot Avenue to Yellowstone Boulevard (Phase III), claim that the elimination of 168 parking spots in that section of the boulevard has hurt business.
NIcole Lin, who owns Sushi Sake at 95-34 Queens Blvd, said that her customers constantly complain about the lack of parking. She claims that her bottom line has declined precipitously since the installation of the bike lanes last year as part of Phase III.
“It’s been really cut off,” she said. “We used to make $3,000, $4,000 [revenue] on a weekday. Now we make $2,000, $2,200, $2,300. Sometimes it’s $1,600, and I couldn’t cover the expenses for the day. We just barely make it.”
Celia Dominguez is the head cashier at Lot Less Closeouts, where she has worked for 12 years. The store is located at 96-32 Queens Blvd, along a part of the road where there are new bike lanes, and Dominguez said that the change has been tough.
“There’s a big, big change. Sales have gone down,” Dominguez said. “Customers always complain that there’s no parking.”
The new truck loading zone directly in front of the store has posed a particular problem, Dominguez said. Customers often fail to see that the area is designated for trucks and get ticketed for parking there. The store’s management hung additional signs on the store’s front doors to warn customers.
Brown wrote in the petition she released Friday that the experiences of businesses affected by the previous phases are a warning for business owners of what’s to come.
“The businesses located in this area are suffering financial losses and customers are shopping elsewhere,” she wrote. “These lanes cannot expand eastward into Forest Hills and compromise the heartbeat of the Forest Hills neighborhood that are our small businesses.”
The petition claims that only a small handful of bike riders use the lanes throughout the day.
The DOT released its findings in January as to the number of bicyclists who use Queens Boulevard between Yellowstone Boulevard and Union Turnpike on an average weekday. It determined that between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. 192 bicyclists ride on average in either direction. This equates to just 16 an hour (or eight going in either direction).
Juan Restrepo, a Transportation Alternatives staffer and Queens Organizer, expressed frustration about the petition. He said that community members are reiterating the same arguments against bike lanes instead of working to make the lanes more effective.
Restrepo noted that 12,000 people have signed Transportation Alternatives’ own petition, which calls for protected bike lanes, safer crosswalks and increased greenery along Queens Boulevard.
“I’m not going to damper the seriousness of a business losing money because its customers are having difficulty getting there,” Restrepo said. “But they’re kidding themselves a little bit if they want cars to be the dominant mode of transportation in our society.”
The campaign for bike lanes on the boulevard began 10 years ago following the death of cyclist Asif Rahman, 22, Restrepo said. Since then, he said, Queens Boulevard has become significantly safer.
The DOT would not comment as to the number of parking spaces that are likely to be lost as a result of Phase IV, saying that it is still working on the plan..
“DOT is still in the early stages of outreach for the fourth phase of this safety redesign,” the agency said. “Our street ambassadors are currently meeting directly with merchants along this section of the corridor and have been on the street collecting feedback and surveys. We expect to go back to Community Board 6 in the spring and will look to implement safety improvements later this year.”