by Ilana Slaff M.D.
I am responding to the new proposal by Community Board 11 on eliminating the current Northern Boulevard protected bicycle lane in Douglaston, Queens. I feel the new proposal would in fact be both a dangerous bike lane and a dangerous walking path, and I almost was a bike crash victim myself. One day when commuting home from work I had to abruptly stop my bicycle to avoid a car turning into me by just a few inches. I then fell, and thankfully I only had a few cuts and torn clothes.
This plan calls for expanding the sidewalk which would be used by both cyclists and pedestrians. According to a research study involving 2,400 individuals by Dr. William E. Moritz, “Adult Bicyclists in the United States- Characteristics and Riding Experience in 1996,” the risk of a dangerous event was 39.8 times higher while mostly sidewalk riding compared with an on-street bike lane. In another study involving 2,963 cyclists, “Sidewalk Bicycling Safety Issues,” by Lisa Aultman-Hall and Michael F. Adams Jr., the risk of a major injury is tenfold higher when biking on a sidewalk, compared to all bicycle rides combined. According to the NYC Department of Transportation, since installing bike lanes, crashes with injuries have been down 20% on these roads, and pedestrian injuries decreased by 22%.
Biking on sidewalks have potential crash risks to walkers as well as cyclists. We do not know how pedestrians may move at any given moment or there may be barriers as well as limited visibility. The proposed area on Northern Boulevard is also the entrance to the Cross Island Parkway Trail. People who want to walk, run or bike should not be placed at risk.
Taking down wetlands to increase the sidewalk also poses risks. According to the US Environmental Protection Agency website, wetland benefits include “natural water quality improvement, flood protection, shoreline erosion control.” We recently had flooding with Hurricane Sandy. Furthermore, according to the website, wetlands “help moderate global climate conditions.” Rising temperatures have been associated with deaths.
If we are truly concerned about bicycle safety, we need more protected bike lanes. I always feel safer cycling home from work when I reach the protected bike lane. As stated earlier, protected bike lanes are validated by published research. It is imperative we implement evidence based plans.