Request for community gardens and pleas for protected bike lanes at Sunnyside community board meeting

Photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS

Community Board 2 residents vied for better bicycle safety and more green spaces at the meeting on Thursday, May 3.

Requests about getting protected bicycle lanes on Skillman and 43rd avenues dominated the conversation at the meeting in Sunnyside. Many in the community made reference to Gelasio Reyes, a cyclist who was killed by a drunk driver near that spot a year ago. The husband and father of three was hit by 25-year-old Cristian Guiracocha of Woodside, while both men were approaching 39th street.

“I learned that the same drivers who endangered my life on Skillman and 43rd are also guilty of speeding in school zones, running red lights, parking in bus stops and a whole range of dangerous practices,” said Laura Shepard, one of the cyclists in the community in support of the protected bike lanes.

“We don’t need thoughts, prayers or admonishments to be careful. We need DOT to fix the street to make us safe so that we don’t lose any more lives,” Shepard added.

Several other bicyclists who live in or frequent the area echoed Shepard’s feelings about getting protected bike lanes installed in the neighborhood. Brian Howald, the creator of How’s My Driving New York on Twitter, said that although he no longer lives in the neighborhood, he often rides his bike in the area to spend time with family and friends or to do volunteer work.

“As someone who has been hit by drivers, both in the community district in where I live, and while riding elsewhere, I recognize the safety benefits of protected bike lanes and opt for them whenever I can,” Howald said. “Protected bike lanes are safer than unprotected lanes and the Department of Transportation plan for protected bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd Avenues is no different. In order to keep me safe while I’m in your district, as I would you when you’re in mine, I urge you to support protected bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd.”

Community Board 2 will be hosting a workshop on May 21 to garner community ideas for how to make Skillman and 43rd avenues safer for cyclists, pedestrians and motorists. The workshop will be held at Sunnyside Community Services and is open to the public.

During the public meeting portion, Katherine McTigue, the New Roots program manager at the International Rescue Committee (IRC) presented a proposal for community gardens to be built in two “underutilized triangles” by the 69th Street overpass above the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway.

McTigue wished to have the same success in the proposed community gardens as she did in the New Roots Community Farm in Concourse Village in the Bronx, which was started in 2012. She also mentioned that many people in Woodside and Sunnyside farm at the half-acre community garden in the Bronx, but wants to be able to work with those clients “close to home.”

“We’re looking to take advantage of the lots that DOT has on 69th Street to create a space that would allow community members to gather, grow food, share traditions around food and farming, educate children, and really provide another green space and a safe space for the community to come together,” McTigue said.

Photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS
Photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS

She added that the IRC would be working closely with both the Department of Transportation, which currently owns the lots, and Greenthumb, the branch of the New York City Parks Department in charge of community gardens for the city.

The rough drafts for the gardens include plans for native plant gardens to allow flowers to grow, green spaces, gathering space and sitting areas. McTigue also said that plans for growing vegetables in the gardens may also be in the works.

“The goal is really to keep it as safe as possible for anybody that might enter. So the goal is really to provide a safe space, both physically and emotionally,” McTigue said.

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