By Mark Hallum
A town hall to discuss the revised city Department of Transportation proposal for protected bike lanes in Sunnyside drew a standing-room-only crowd Monday as the mournful widow of a bicyclist who was killed in the area called for better safety and the community debated whether the improvements were worth the lost parking spaces.
The original proposal by DOT, heavily opposed by the community, eliminated up to 158 spaces in exchange for bike lanes, while the new proposal eliminates 118 and 130 parking spaces on both Skillman and 43rd Avenues combined between Roosevelt Avenue and Queens Boulevard.
The two corridors came under scrutiny by the de Blasio administration and the Vision Zero initiative after cyclist Gelasio Reyes was killed by a drunk driver in April 2017 at 43rd Avenue and 39th Street, which was just one of many incidents in the area.
“All I want to say is to ask the authorities to so something so these avenues are more safe… I don’t want other families to go through this. What we’re going through is very difficult,” Flor Jimenez, Reyes’ widow, said through a translator as she cried. “I told my husband to take the train, but he said no — by bicycle he would get there faster because the trains take too long. If there’s something that can be done, please do so, so there is no family left as we are right now.”
DOT plans bring parking out into the street with spaces at an angle and the bike lane situated between parked cars and the sidewalk.
On 43rd Avenue, parking will remain parallel with the sidewalk, but will be pulled further into the street to make room for the bike lanes with the addition of pedestrian islands to force drivers to make more cautious turns.
The new proposal shortens those islands to restore about 12 spots and other treatment measures will retain 12 more spots while DOT plans to add 14 spots elsewhere.
One man in the audience who grew up in Sunnyside said there were no safety issues concerning bikes when he was young, and that increased congestion from the bike lanes and lost parking would cause frustration and more safety problems.
The city agency said it counted 1,400 bikes at the intersection of Skillman and 43rd Avenue on a single weekday in May 2017, which many audience members scoffed at in disbelief and brought angry disagreement from speakers.
The auditorium at PS 150 40-01 43rd Ave. was packed to standing room with bicycle advocates associated with Transportation Alternatives, which fights for safer streets, and community leaders such as Patricia Dorfman, executive director of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, who claimed many small businesses feared going out of business entirely.
One woman opposed to the bike lanes said putting one in front of a school only puts children at risk of being hit by cyclists instead of cars while many others argued that less parking means more economic distress in Sunnyside’s business district.
Between 2012 and 2016, 283 people were injured along these two corridors, including 34 bicyclists and 61 pedestrians, according to DOT, with the remainders being motorists.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall