Barry Rothenburg, a real estate developer and property owner with about 100 feet of store frontage on Austin Street, has been in the community for 30 years. He highlighted several issues that the bike lanes would cause in the community.
First, he said the loss of parking would be detrimental for the Forest Hills commercial area. He said that parking in the area has always been difficult.
“People hunt and they find a parking spot like it’s a lottery ticket,” he said. “People park and shop because it’s a thriving shopping district and the businesses are the lifeblood of our community.”
For cyclists using the Queens Boulevard bike lanes, it can be laborious to navigate city streets to get onto and off of the lanes, Rothenburg insisted.
People would have to ride their bikes through populated streets in order to get onto the bike lane and then go through the same issue once the bike lane ends.
Through their own research, Rothenburg said he and other opponents to the bike lanes have found that the lanes are also dangerous for pedestrians.
“What they are doing is creating a race course for these cyclists through densely-populated areas,” he said. “It’s such a safety hazard. Vision Zero is supposed to care for pedestrian safety, but they’re creating a worse situation.”
He suggested that rather than install the bike lanes, the city should use the money to provide training and crossing guard jobs along Queens Boulevard from Jamaica to Woodside.
“We don’t live in Amsterdam, and bicycles are just not safe for these urban areas,” he added.
Last week, Forest Hills Chamber of Commerce president Leslie Brown created an online petition opposing the bike lanes.
Although she said she isn’t against the Department of Transportation (DOT) or Transportation Alternatives, a nonprofit dedicated to finding better bicycling, walking and public transit options in the city, Brown wants elected officials and DOT to be responsive to the issue that businesses are bringing up.
Within days, more than 820 people signed the petition, including local businesses Thank Heaven, Tuscan Hills, Bamboo Moves and T Bone Diner, among others.
“The loss of the parking spaces affects more than just retail or restaurants,” Brown said. “It affects all the businesses that you don’t see, like the doctor offices, the dentist offices, accountants, the graphic designers that are on the third floor, or any small business whose customers and clients are parking.
“Businesses are struggling with their rents and competing with online, so when you have a one-on-one relationship with your customers that’s an important thing, and many people want to be able to drive here,” she added.
Brown also worries that prospective residents will pass on living in Forest Hills because it would no longer have small businesses like the cleaners, the deli or the bagel shop.
She has spoken with Rego Park businesses, who have said that the bike lanes on Queens Boulevard in their neighborhood negatively impacted their business.
“I feel bad for Rego Park, trust me I do, but I’m hoping that now that we have some information and statistics from Rego Park, it can help Forest Hills,” she said.
Rothenburg said that a deli in Rego Park had an employee count the number of cyclists that used the bike lane over the course of a day. They counted just five people.
Even if the number of cyclists rose in the spring and summer, he said, it would just pose a higher safety risk.
Brown hopes the community will attend the upcoming meeting of the Economic Development Committee of Community Board 6 on Monday, February 26, at 7:30 p.m. at Rego Center, located at 61-35 Junction Boulevard, where they will discuss the bike lanes.
Her wish is for the city to put the plan on hold until they can find a better way to implement the lanes into the neighborhood.
Rothenburg is planning on bringing other local property owners and landlords to the meeting. He’s also planning on providing testimony by pedestrians who were hurt by cyclists.
“Transportation Alternatives needs to find an alternative,” Brown said. “I am not a city street planner, I don’t claim to have some sort of magic wand, but there’s got to be some way to make it work and have it be practical.”
Brown rides the QM18 bus regularly, and said that she doesn’t see cyclists using the bike lanes, although she sees “weird traffic situations.”
Even though Brown said she understands the argument that cyclists will also use the local businesses along the bike lanes, she argued that one person on a bike isn’t the same as loading up a car with four family members looking to shop.
And during the evening or inclement weather, she doubted many people would want to ride their bikes to shop or have a nice meal in the area.
She added that the area has several different public transportation options such as the subway, buses and Long Island Railroad.
The chamber canvassed attendees at its jazz concert series in August, and found that people come from all over Queens and the other boroughs.
“People want to be able to park and we don’t want to limit ourselves,” she said.
“We can’t allow some people with an oddball vision about life to destroy all of the good things we have here,” Rothenburg added. “They’re shoving it down our throats and we won’t accept it.”