On Monday, July 17th the Transportation Committee of Community Board 11 held an emergency meeting to discuss ideas about a protected path connecting Bayside and Douglaston. Earlier this year the same Community Board’s General Committee had already voted to approved DoT’s design for this path, 18 in favor, 11 against (color photo below). The ideas proposed last night (black and white photocopy) eliminates the protected bike lane on Northern Boulevard that was approved and instead creates a shared bike/pedestrian sidewalk.
The ideas presented were from Community Board Member Bernie Haber. Bernie has claimed to be the longest serving Community Board Member. Directly before the meeting Committee Members were given Bernie’s packet which included hand drawn sketches and multiple claims without citations. Once the meeting was opened, Bernie spoke for approximately half an hour about his feelings for what should be built without allowing questions until the end.
In addition to mixing cyclist and pedestrian traffic on the sidewalk, Bernie is proposing excluding the three feet high, concrete physical protection against drivers that DoT has proposed and replacing it with a four foot wide grass buffer. Although the grass may be more esthetically pleasing to drivers and cyclists, it is better suited for residential streets, not a 7 lane trucking route known for its speeding. Bernie has admitted that his proposal would require the movement of multiple street lights, the cutting down of Parks Department trees, pouring large amounts of concrete, and taking land that is currently being used by other agencies.
To give some history of Northern Boulevard, Bernie spoke about how proud of he was that he and this Transportation Committees increase the width of traffic lanes on Northern Boulevard from 60 feet to 70 feet many decades ago. This changed spurred other sections of Northern to remove sidewalk space for automobiles. Bernie did not mention that now Northern Boulevard has been designated a Vision Zero Priority Corridor, which means that it is in the top 10% of most dangerous streets in New York City.
Board Member and Lawyer Albert Galatan pointed out that this meeting was not valid since it did not give the community the legally mandated notice. (Editor’s note: we believe he was referencing the New York Open Meeting Law Article 7, §104. Public notice. “1. Public notice of the time and place of a meeting scheduled at least one week prior thereto shall be given or electronically transmitted to the news media and shall be conspicuously posted in one or more designated public locations at least seventy-two hours before such meeting.”) Community Board 11 President Christine Haider said the meeting was valid since she had asked Committee Members about their availability on Thursday July 13th. The meeting was publicly announced on Friday July 14th and held on Monday July 17th. Even with this lack of notice, there was still a strong turn out from the public, overflowing out of the committee room. Speaking to the public after the meeting was over, it was clear that the vast majority of the neighbors came out against Bernie’s proposal.
Since the 12 page packet was only given to the Committee Members at the start of the meeting, Board Member John Kelly requested that the Committee should be given time to review the new information before it is sent to DoT so that this process is not rushed. The committee disregarded and voted to move it forward. Board Member Paul DiBenedetto was unable to attend the meeting but submitted a letter of support for Bernie’s ideas, presumably before he’s seen the full proposal since both Paul’s letter and the proposal were distributed at the same time.
Bernie had expressed some of his ideas at the General Meeting where the Community Board voted to accept DoT’s plan. At that meeting the DoT said that Bernie’s ideas would require substantially more work and a large amount of coordination between all of the current tenants of the land Bernie would like to build on. DoT said implementing something like what Bernie is proposing could take at a minimum of 5 years and would require funds being allocated. At that meeting DoT said they would review Bernie’s ideas as a future enhancement, but that they would like to implement the fully designed path they had already presented. The majority of the Community Board agreed and voted for DoT’s plan.
Before the Transportation Committee meeting started last night, Community Board 11 President Christine Haider expressed dislike for recent media attention, specifically calling out the Streetsblog article for being inaccurate in the claims that this meeting was not for the public and just a delay tactic against the already approved bike lane. During the meeting Christine mentioned very clearly, multiple times that the Committee’s goal is not to un-do the earlier vote approving DoT’s project or to delay it in any way. After the vote to submit Bernie’s ideas to the DoT has passed, Bernie began to interrupt Christine saying that his ideas should delay what was previously approved by the full Board. Bernie’s emergency meeting, rushed plan (voted on immediately after it was given), and his admitting to trying to delay DoT’s progress, is more in line with the media’s claims then Christine’s idea that the board approved route should be implemented without delay and that improvements could be made later. We will see which side is true depending on if DoT does delays their building of the path.