OUTRAGE! Queens Pol Suggests Banning Bikes From Some Streets

At a community meeting on Thursday, Assembly Member Cathy Nolan (seated in purple) proposed that cyclists should be banned from some local streets. Photo: Dave Colon
At a community meeting on Thursday, Assembly Member Cathy Nolan (seated in purple) proposed that cyclists should be banned from some local streets. Photo: Dave Colon

Queens Assembly Member Cathy Nolan suggested at a community meeting on Thursday that street safety advocates need to trade protected bike lanes for a cycling ban in “industrial” areas — a suggestion so preposterous that the lawmaker immediately started walking it back.

Nolan’s comment came near the end of a presentation on the proposed Crescent Street protected bike lane by Transportation Alternatives organizers Juan Restrepo and Macartney Morris to the Dutch Kills Civic Association.

“We had a young man on Borden Avenue who was killed,” Nolan said, referring to 14-year-old Mario Valenzuela, who was killed by a truck driver on 11th Street on Sept. 21. “Borden Avenue is a street that bikes should be prohibited from. Certain industrial parts of the city … everyone is trying to promote bike riding, but honestly, that is a street people shouldn’t be riding bikes on. It’s a nightmare tragedy this child was killed, but honestly, it’s a very difficult place to envision someone riding a bike.” (Nolan does not ride a bike.)

Nolan picked a particularly bad case for an argument that cyclists should be banned from some roadways. Valenzuala was killed by a driver who, according to police, struck him as he turned right onto 11th Street —  a crash that Transportation Alternatives Co-Deputy Director Ellen McDermott called a “blatant criminal violation of the Right of Way law.” The driver has not been charged.

Valenzuela’s death was the second death on Borden this year. In March, 53-year-old Robert Spencer was killed by a driver at Second Street in the part of the once-industrial area that is rapidly becoming residential — largely through the efforts of lawmakers who have rezoned the area for development. Borden Avenue is also the main east west route to Hunter’s Point South Park, a major community amenity that attracts many pedestrians and cyclists.

In addition, Valenzuela’s was killed just eight blocks away from a new $40-million library that city just opened — another magnet for local walkers and cyclists.

Beyond her proposed bike ban, Nolan, a 35-year veteran of Albany who represents Sunnyside, Long Island City, Ridgewood and a piece of Astoria, staked out other bikelash positions, including helmet laws, which have been shown to reduce cycling. She also suggested that bike infrastructure is something given to cyclists because of their strong lobbying, as opposed to safety-enhancing use of public roads that are open to everyone.

“I just think at some point, the helmets or something like this, you guys have to be a little responsive to those kinds of concerns. Maybe bike riders have to say, ‘You know what, we’re gonna require everyone to have reflectors at night, we’re gonna require some kind of helmet so people have the minimal amount of protection, we’re gonna say on a few streets where there’s heavy trucks, we don’t think bikes should be on that street’ because we’re giving you other places,” Nolan said.

For his part, Restrepo told Nolan that her ideas were “kind of a slippery slope.”

“When we’re restricting biking, are we also talking about restricting walking?” he asked, clearly not rhetorically.

Nolan responded that the area had no sidewalks except for “a scary sidewalk,” before telling Restrepo, “I’m not an expert like you are.” When Restrepo tried to respond that he also wasn’t a traffic design expert, Nolan told him, “You are — you’re a paid organizer for this wonderful entity that promotes biking.”

Queens residents and Nolan’s constituents were outraged by her dismissal of their right to move around the city.

“Reactionary ideas, both side-ism, not forward thinking, we cannot have hope for a sustainable future for our children if we are tied to the car mentality and windshield perspective,” Dutch Kills resident CJ Bretillon told Streetsblog. “Also, suggesting bikes be banned from ‘certain areas’ is highly prejudicial when just the other day a stupid SUV flipped on 28th Avenue and she wouldn’t suggest banning cars from streets.”

Making reference to Nolan’s first primary challenge in over 10 years, Bretillon said “anyone not applauding the idea of greener streets, safer infrastructure for the most vulnerable road users isn’t a good candidate to make decisions. Next!”

“I was surprised to hear that an elected official is calling for a transportation embargo instead of demanding basic traffic calming tools on this primary thoroughfare,” added Alan Baglia, a Woodside resident and a Sunnyside Family Fun Bike Ride organizer. “When I attended Mario Valenzuela’s vigil, I was equally surprised that Borden Avenue and 11th Street lacks even a traffic light. Borden can easily be redesigned as a connection from the Hunter’s Point Park to Skillman Avenue. To my knowledge this has already been proposed by safety advocates.”

Make Queens Safer’s Cristina Furlong called Nolan’s comments “painful” and out of touch with the reality of how people get around on bikes in New York.

“It’s painful to me and certainly to his friends and family for Nolan to use Mario Valenzuela’s death as a call to limit where people should ride bikes,” Furlong said. “It shows me a complete disconnect she has with the 400,000 daily cyclists in every corner of our 5 boroughs. Nolan’s statement sadly shows a failure to recognize cycling as a viable form of transportation which is essential to many commuters whose demographic cant be isolated – rich, poor, white, non-white. People are biking places and choose routes that are direct and suit their needs, as other road users do. That some roads are considered unsafe by Nolan should inspire her to work towards redesigning them and supporting legislation that gets reckless drivers off the road for good.”

Speaking to the Assembly member’s suggestion that safe street advocates get behind a mandatory helmet law, Furlong invited Nolan to “join forces with any of our trauma centers and go over their reporting on motor vehicle injuries. The devastating injuries cyclists face could rarely be prevented by a bike helmet.”

When pressed, Nolan told Streetsblog she was trying to start a dialogue about dangerous streets in Astoria, hoping to find a compromise in which riders were encouraged not to ride on those streets.

“I said there are some streets where perhaps, if we are expanding bikes in some streets, we might want to say on a very heavily industrial block, we’re not gonna have bike riders,” the legislator said, before following up with: “We’re not banning bikes.

“Do you have a problem understanding me when I speak?” she added.

Answer: No. We hear her loud and clear.