Quorum or No, Astoria’s CB 1 Votes Against Three Livable Streets Projects

Astoria’s Community Board 1 rejected three livable streets projects Tuesday night, despite questions about whether the board even had enough members in attendance to take votes on the proposals.

Queens CB 1 would rather have one parking space for cars than eight spots for bikes. Image: DOT [PDF]
Queens CB 1 would rather have one parking space for cars than eight spots for bikes. Image: DOT [PDF]

The three projects — a short bus lane on Astoria Boulevard, concrete barriers to protect cyclists on Vernon Boulevard, and a bike corral in front of a restaurant — fell victim to what appears to be leadership biased against projects that improve conditions for bus riders and cyclists.

“It was just a big disappointment for us. I just don’t understand this mentality that cars and their owners are the only rightful users of street space,” said Jean Cawley, whose husband, Dominic Stiller, was seeking the board’s support for a bike corral to take the place of a car parking spot in front of his restaurant, Dutch Kills Centraal [PDF]. “They seem to me to vote down anything having to do with bicycle safety and infrastructure.”

“I was shocked at the negativity that many on the board displayed toward bikes,” said Macartney Morris, an Astoria resident who attended the meeting. “It seemed crazy that people would get upset about one parking spot.”

When Cawley spoke in favor of the bike corral on Tuesday night, CB 1 chair Vinicio Donato asked her questions about cyclists riding against traffic and running red lights. One board member compared Donato’s line of questioning to asking a liquor license applicant about alcoholism. “I don’t know why that had anything to do with me and the bike corral,” Cawley said. “They’re supposed to have some decorum but they don’t. I think it’s an abuse of process and an abuse of power.”

There were petitions both in support of the corral and against it, but Cawley and other meeting attendees said the board threw out supportive signatures from people who did not live within CB 1, including those from residents of nearby neighborhoods like Woodside or Jackson Heights.

The board then held a vote. Despite objections that there was no longer a quorum after some board members left earlier in the evening, Donato counted the number of board members remaining before saying that CB 1 only requires a quorum for land use issues, according to meeting attendees. (CB 1 district manager Lucille Hartmann did not immediately reply to a request for more information on board rules.)

The board voted against the corral proposal. Cawley is now urging DOT to move ahead with installing it anyway. “Queens CB 1 is decidedly ‘anti-bike,'” she wrote to Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, after the meeting. “I feel disenfranchised by their constant ‘no’ votes to anything that would increase or improve bicycling infrastructure and safety.” DOT has not responded to questions asking whether it would install the bike corral.

Too ugly for Astoria? CB 1 is okay with barriers on the Vernon Boulevard bike lane, but not concrete ones. Image: DOT [PDF]
CB 1 is okay with theoretical barriers on the Vernon Boulevard bike lane, but not actual concrete ones, like the barrier shown here. Image: DOT [PDF]

Cyclists weren’t the only CB 1 target. DOT had already received the board’s blessing to install a wider median and a plastic divider on westbound Astoria Boulevard to tame traffic as it approaches 31st Street [PDF]. DOT is looking to tweak the plan by adding a short bus lane for a few blocks of the same street. This would allow M60 Select Bus Service riders to skip ahead of traffic waiting for the stop light at 31st Street and save some time. But the board rejected that add-on.

CB 1 also voted against installing concrete barriers along sections of the two-way bike lane on Vernon Boulevard. DOT had proposed the barriers, which it has installed on other greenway segments throughout the city, to protect cyclists from drivers at intersections [PDF]. The board supported barriers of some kind but rejected the concrete barriers as unsightly, and tabled the issue for further discussion. This reportedly led Vikram Sinha, the DOT representative at the meeting, to ask the board to come up with a better solution.

“That’s the straw that broke the DOT rep’s back,” one meeting attendee said. “I could tell he was angered and not happy by the way he was treated by the board.”