‘This is about the neighborhood’: Sunnyside residents rail against mayor’s bike lane decision

Photo by Jenna Bagcal/QNS

Hundreds rallied in Sunnyside on July 25 to blast Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to go forward with the protected bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd avenues.

Residents, business owners and multiple religious and community groups who oppose the DOT’s bike lane plan gathered near the Sunnyside Arch on 46th Street for the “Save Our Neighborhoods” rally, organized by a group known as Queens Streets for All. Both speakers and attendees lambasted the mayor for not supporting the community’s opposition of the bike lanes.

Detractors who attended the rally, including self-proclaimed cyclists, said that the protected lanes were not the right decision for their community. They denounced the popular claim that the fight was just about the loss of 116 parking spaces, instead citing safety and negative effects on local small businesses as their reasons for protesting.

“This is not about parking spots. This is about our neighborhood,” said Community Board 2 Chairwoman Denise Keehan-Smith. “This is about our first responders being able to maneuver their vehicles through our narrow streets. This is about the children who have to get off a bus and walk directly into the path of a bike lane.”

“We all know, the bicyclists are not always the best at observing the laws,” she continued. “They don’t stop for lights — they will run us over,” a sentiment that was met with cheers from the crowd.

Keehan-Smith said that the real safety focus should instead be on Northern Boulevard, where five children have died in car crashes over the last six years — including, most recently, Giovanni Ampuero in April of this year.

Others like Gary O’Neill, owner of the Aubergine Cafe on Skillman Avenue, said that the community wants to see “incremental changes that we can be all in favor of, instead of this ‘take no prisoners’ attitude from the mayor’s office and from the DOT.”

“This is an existential threat to our community,” said Dorothy Moorhead, a Skillman Avenue business owner and member of Community Board 2. “Skillman Avenue is the heart of our community, 43rd [Avenue] also.”

But some, like Macartney Morris, who is the chair of the Transportation Alternative Queens committee, said that the rally was, in reality, about the loss of parking spaces and was an attempt by those against bike lanes to disguise the true motivation for their opposition.

In another thread, Morris said that the “Safer Skillman” movement was brought about in part due to a “van crashing into Mr. O’Neill’s Aubergine Cafe in 2007.”

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, noticeably absent from last night’s rally, sent out a thread of tweets in solidarity with bike lane supporters. The councilman was previously on the fence about having bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd, but ultimately decided that “bike lanes save lives.”

In the thread, Van Bramer also mentioned that “good people are opposed to the bike lanes based on honest concerns,” but that facts mattered concerning this issue where misinformation and fear were being spread.

On their own Twitter account, Queens Streets For All thanked attendees for coming to the rally and to “keep tuned for the next one.”

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