Local business owners and residents spoke to committee members about their support or opposition for bike lanes on Queens Boulevard from Yellowstone Boulevard to Union Turnpike.
Jay Parker, owner of Ben’s Best, said that although he isn’t against bike lanes in general, the installation of lanes on Queens Boulevard in Rego Park has decimated his business.
He said that due to the lack of parking, the deli has noticed a serious drop in customers. Because of it, they’ve had to cut back their hours and even lay off a few employees.
Other restaurant owners said that they’ve received complaints from customers who say they now have to spend up to 45 minutes looking for parking.
To make matters worse, Parker said the Department of Transportation added a new loading zone in front of his business, which took away the very few spots his customers previously had.
“Half the people are people who have been shopping here for 30-plus years and they’re not looking at a sign on the street that says 'loading zone,' and then they get the $95 ticket,” Parker said. ”You come to my store and you get a $95 ticket, you’re not coming back.”
Barry Rothenburg, a real estate developer and property owner with about 100 feet of store frontage on Austin Street that includes Sephora and Shake Shack, added that the bike lanes are killing businesses, which pay hefty taxes.
He suggested that the employees that were laid off from Ben’s Best should meet the city planners who decided to install the bike lanes along the boulevard.
“Let’s bring them in and show their children and wives they can’t afford to pay rent because some nut job wanted the bike lanes,” Rothenburg said. “You’ve got five people a day riding in these bike lanes.”
Some residents said city bus drivers swerve in and out of the bike lanes because there is no more room to navigate on the Queens Boulevard service roads.
Other residents spoke about the dangers of cyclists themselves, warning that there could be a spike in pedestrian accidents.
But proponents of the bike lanes did not hold back either.
Laura Shepard, who lived in Station Square for a number of years and is now a member of Transportation Alternatives, said that she personally spoke with and garnered letters of support from more than 50 businesses, including Shake Shack.
“The current infrastructure just isn’t sustainable,” she said.
Some resident shouted down Shepard as she spoke. Rothenburg said she may have 50 letters, but the petition in opposition created by the Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce had nearly 1,000 signatures.
Prameet Kumar argued that 30 years from now there will be less cars on the road, since many people will rely on walking, biking, public transportation and car services.
With the decline in car use, Kumar suggested that Forest Hills prepare for the future.
Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce president Leslie Brown insisted that storefronts and restaurants wouldn’t be the only ones negatively impacted by the bike lanes.
She said that someone who recently opened a business on Restaurant Row told her he had to pull his child out of daycare near Parker Towers because he simply could not pick her up due to the traffic situation.
Brown and several members of Transportation Alternatives argued several times over articles and statistics on bike lanes and the chamber’s involvement.
Another proponent of the bike lanes asked business owners and the chamber what information they had that cars parked along Queens Boulevard were actually bringing business to local shops.
Resident Caroline Kelly said she used to bike around the neighborhood, but stopped after she was hit by a car while cycling. She pleaded with the committee and the community to allow a safe space for cyclists.
“Considering parking over the safety of others is not a deal I’d like to make,” she said.
Kelly also stated that the addition of the bike lanes would allow her to spend more time at businesses along Queens Boulevard without feeling intimidated by the sheer amount of cars and pollution.
“Roads were built for people not cars,” she added. “I value clean and sustainable behavior.
“Any business owner that is against these bike lanes clearly does not value the environment, access for all, and safer roads for people in the neighborhood and their own employees, such as the people who deliver food for their restaurants,” she added.