BY JON CRONIN
Following a tense three-hour discussion and public forum on the implementation of protected bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd avenues in Sunnyside, Community Board 2 overwhelmingly voted down the city Department of Transportation’s (DOT) proposal by 27-8.
The Sunnyside Community Center was almost filled to its 300-person capacity as residents for and against the proposal spoke vehemently about the future landscape of their community.
Those against the proposal cited concern for the safety of children at nearby schools, traffic congestion, and the loss of parking and delivery spaces for local businesses.
U.S. Rep Joseph Crowley (D-Jackson Heights) voiced his opposition to the proposal as it stands, stating that it would not be good for local businesses.
A city Fire Department captain from the 51st Avenue firehouse in Sunnyside stated during the public forum section at the beginning of the meeting that he believed the protected bike lane would narrow the roadway too much and create a hazard for fire trucks. He also disputed the statement that the DOT had ever reached out to his station for input.
“I support bike lanes, but not this bike lane,” said Shane McGlone, a firefighter and avid cyclist.
He said that the lane presents a risk of bicyclists’ being injured by opened car doors or accidents.
William Kregler, who ran unsuccessfully for the position of Queens borough president last fall, spoke twice during the public forum. He said that the community board should let the politicians “wear black hats” and allow the bike lane to go through. He asked board members to vote it down lest they face the ire of their neighbors. Kregler told the audience that the DOT was not working with the residents and that the bike lane would happen, reiterating that the community board should vote the proposal down to keep its dignity.
During the DOT’s 30-minute presentation, Nicole Garcia, the agency’s Queens borough commissioner, encouraged the board to approve the proposal after it ”showed leadership” in approving the first phase of the Queens Boulevard Vision Zero redesign. Garcia noted that Queens Boulevard has seen a 63 percent drop in pedestrian injuries since its implementation.
Garcia was criticized by residents and board members for her “leadership” compliment. They stated that the board was deceived by the DOT when the initial phase of the Queens Boulevard Vision Zero plan was presented because they were told that the plan could be tweaked with community board recommendations—and that never happened.
Sean Quinn, the senior director of bicycle and pedestrian programs at the DOT, said that the evening’s presentation was updated with community input to reflect the loss of fewer parking spaces. He said that along the corridors, zero to two parking spaces would be taken away per city block.
He said that there was not a cookie-cutter approach to this design, and that it did not reflect the DOT’s implementations in Manhattan.
Quinn noted that the plan would make the area difficult to plow during the snowy winter months. He said that the DOT might have to hire a new contractor to plow the narrow bike path. Otherwise, cyclists would have to share the lane with cars.
“The single most important thing you can do to make the streets safer is narrow the roadway,” said Ted Wright, the director of bicycle and pedestrian programs at the DOT, regarding the safety of the implementation.
Residents and board members opposing the project suggested that the DOT put bike lanes on Northern Boulevard, rather than Skillman and 43rd avenues. They pointed to deaths on Northern, which runs parallel to Skillman Avenue, and a need to make that road safer. The DOT representatives said that they were not asked by the community board and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) to study Northern Boulevard. They also noted that Northern Boulevard would not connect the bike lanes on Queens Boulevard to Manhattan as Skillman Avenue would.
Diana Dimitri, a PTA co-president at PS 11 on Skillman Avenue, said that she believed the bicycle lanes would put the school’s 1,200 children in greater danger during drop-off and pickup periods. She said that children might step off the sidewalk and get hit by a speeding bicyclist.
MaCartney Morris, the president of the Transportation Alternatives Queens chapter, was upset that Denise Keehan Smith, CB 2’s chairwoman, stated after the death of bicyclist Gelacio Reyes in April 2017 that she supported protected bike lanes on 43rd Avenue. He said that Smith had noted that bike lanes would not have saved Reyes because he was in the intersection. While Morris attempted to find an audio clip on his iPhone, he ran over the two-minute public forum allotment and police surrounded the stage at the meeting.
Cristina Furlong, the co-founder of Make Queens Safer, pleaded with the board to approve the plan as submitted. Furlong also went over the two-minute allotment and Smith took the microphone away from her. Police then stood between Smith and Furlong as they escorted Furlong off the stage.