Nearly 300 people gathered at Sunnyside Community Services center for the June 7 meeting when board members voted 27-8 in opposition of protected bike lanes along Skillman and 43rd avenues. The plan was voted down against the recommendation of the board’s own Transportation Committee, which days earlier had approved the plan by a 5-2 vote.
The conversation between those for and those against bike lanes got heated during the public comments section, when individuals other than board members were invited to speak for two minutes each.
“Go back to Jackson Heights,” shouted a woman in the crowd after community advocate and Make Queens Safer co-founder Christina Furlong took her turn at the podium. When Furlong refused to leave after her two-minute time limit was up, Board 2 Chair Denise Keehan-Smith grabbed the microphone from her, and the crowd jeered.
Macartney Morris, the chair of the Transit Alternative Queens committee, attempted to play audio of Keehan-Smith at a press conference for slain cyclist Gelasio Reyes last April. Morris confronted the chair and said that she “stood with Flor Jimenez,” Gelasio’s widow, in support of protected bike lanes.
Keehan-Smith responded that a bike lane would not have helped keep Gelasio alive, as he was in a crosswalk when the crash happened.
During his impassioned case in favor of bike lanes, Morris pleaded with the board to take action.
“People are dying. Please save them,” he said.
But one elderly woman standing in the back of the room yelled, “I don’t care about cyclists, I care about myself” — a remark met with applause and cheers from the anti-bike lane side.
Adam Gordon, a Sunnyside resident and teacher at Maspeth High School said that the reason he opposed the bike lanes was that “bike lanes exacerbate gentrification.” Gordon mentioned that “research and facts” show that when bike lanes are built in neighborhoods, rents go up, families get displaced and people are forced to get rid of their cars.
Then the Department of Transportation presented their proposal for changes that would be made in key areas including Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenue.
According to the DOT, some of the changes they proposed include over 30 pedestrian islands, shorter crossings, and “high-visibility” crosswalk upgrades. They also proposed narrowing the roadway, which would discourage speeding on certain neighborhood corridors. The full proposal can be found on nyc.gov/DOT.
Nicole Garcia, the Queens Borough Commissioner of the DOT, brought up the point that after Community Board 2 voted to make changes on Queens Boulevard, there have not been any additional deaths on the “Boulevard of Life.” She added that DOT came up with this plan after requests for safer streets from the community and local elected officials.
Following the presentation, board members were invited to ask the DOT questions. Some wondered why the decision to created the bike lanes felt “rushed” while others asked if the lanes could be built on Queens Boulevard or Northern Boulevard instead.
The general consensus among those against the protected bike lanes was that too many parking spots would be lost if they were built. Some were concerned that the plan would hurt businesses that rely on parking to receive deliveries and provide spaces for customers.
The DOT said in a statement that they were disappointed in Thursday night’s vote against their plan, but would continue the conversation moving forward. The full statement is as follows:
“We are disappointed that the CB2 full board vote did not reflect the overwhelming 5-2 vote in support of this same safety design by its Transportation Committee this Monday. DOT stands by its track record that protected bike lanes calm traffic and reduce injuries and fatalities, particularly for pedestrians, the most vulnerable group of street users. The design that was presented last night articulated our responsiveness to the top concern, which was parking loss. Over the past few months, DOT reworked the design to preserve as many parking spaces as possible, and in some instances, including in the commercial core, with no parking loss on the south curb of Skillman [Avenue] and north curb of 43rd Avenue, respectively. DOT always appreciates community board feedback, but considers the vote to be advisory on substantive safety projects. We will review our options for moving forward and continue the dialogue with the Board and other local stakeholders about making these streets safer for the local community and all Queens residents who use these corridors to shop and commute.”
On June 8, Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan issued a statement in favor of finding alternatives to the bike lanes.
“I share the concerns expressed by Skillman Ave civic leaders, business owners, and residents about eliminating parking spaces in Sunnyside, particularly on Skillman Avenue,” she said. “I join with Congressman Crowley in his concern about the NYC proposal. I pledge my efforts to work also with Community Board 2, Councilman Van Bramer, bike riders, store owner Gary O’Neil and all residents of our districts to support reasonable alternatives to this proposal.”
This story was updated at 12:43 p.m.