Corona cyclist remembered as bike lane plan continues to divide Sunnyside

Safe streets advocates rededicate a ghost bike in honor of Gelacio Reyes on the one year anniversary of his death at 39th Street and 43rd Avenue in Sunnyside.
Courtesy of Ben Turner
By Bill Parry

Street safety advocates marked the one-year anniversary of the tragic death of Gelasio Reyes Sunday with a ride and rally at the Sunnyside intersection where the Corona father of three and an active member of the Queens cycling community was killed by a drunk driver while he cycled home from work.

Ten days after Gelasio’s death, another cyclist was critically injured by a turning truck in the same intersection at 39th Street and 43rd Avenue, leading to a public outcry for protected bike lanes in the area.

Transportation Alternatives Queens Committee and Ciclistas Latinoamericanos de New York hosted the ride and rally that began at Oaxaca Taqueria, where Reyes used his bike to make deliveries, and ended at the Sunnyside intersection where the groups placed a ghost bike in his memory. They were joined by his wife, Flor Jiminez, and members of the Reyes’ family.

“It was a sobering moment to hear Flor plead for no more families to be ‘left the way our has,’” TransAlt Queens Organizer Juan Restrepo said. “It is clear that we have a moral responsibility to the hundreds of cyclists, pedestrians and drivers to make Skillman and 43rd Avenue safer, and we implore the Department of Transportation to move forward with the plan.”

Astoria resident Macartney Morris, a member of the TransAlt Queens Committee, took part in the ride and rally.

“No one should ever die just because they were riding their bike crossing the street,” Morris said. “Especially not when we have the tools to make the streets safer and prevent these deaths. I didn’t know Gelacio Reyes personally, but hearing his widow Flor and his friends remember him one year after his death broke my heart all over again. We won’t ever stop fighting to make Skillman and 43rd Avenues safer, so no other family has to suffer a similar loss.”

Restrepo and Morris have taken part in an outreach mission to drum up support for a city Department of Transportation proposal that met with stiff resistance from the small business community as originally 158 parking spaces would be lost along the two business corridors to make way for the protected bike lanes. DOT presented a revised proposal at a town hall meeting last month and further tweaked the proposal they presented to Community Board 2’s Transportation Committee Monday, which Morris attended.

“DOT’s patience with complaints and accommodation to community concerns continues to be impressive,” he said. “Over and over again, they’ve engaged and changed the plan based on feedback. Even on Monday night, they continued to give back parking spots. At some point though, we’re going to water it down too much and lose all the safety benefits.”

The latest DOT proposal would eliminate 66 spaces along the two miles of “neighborhood corridor,” and 116 spaces overall, and is still facing skepticism from small business owners.

“Sean Quinn of DOT said it best: This community is tight-knit and has amazing businesses, and that’s why this plan does everything to keep it that way,” Morris said. “It quiets the streets. It slows down cars. It makes Skillman and 43rd avenues more inviting places to spend time and money, whether when walking or biking or taking mass transit. The inconveniences of minor parking losses are more than made up by other benefits to make the streets more hospitable to all road users.”

A DOT spokesman said the agency is reviewing the comments heard at Monday night’s CB2 meeting to determine the next steps and would be in touch with the board.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

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