Skillman bike lanes to be installed despite community opposition

Skillman bike lanes to be installed despite community opposition
Photo by Michael Shain
By Mark Hallum

Mayor Bill de Blasio has set aside community opposition in Sunnyside and Woodside and will be moving forward with road safety improvements on Skillman and 43rd Avenues for bicyclists.

Citing Vision Zero data pertaining to roadside deaths and injuries along the two corridors, de Blasio said the city Department of Transportation would launch the plan, which will eliminate 120 parking spaces along the two streets between Roosevelt Avenue and Queens Boulevard regardless of Community Board 2’s vote against the proposal in June.

“Nearly 300 people have been injured along Skillman and 43rd Avenues in Queens. 2 lives have been lost,” de Blasio said on Twitter. “[DOT] has listened to voices across the community. I’ve instructed them to move forward with pedestrian safety and protected bike lanes that will save lives.”

Between 2012 and 2016, 283 people were injured along these two corridors, including 34 bicyclists and 61 pedestrians, according to DOT, with the remainder being motorists.

The words of Bill Kregler at the June 7 CB2 meeting proved prophetic when the Woodside resident told the advisory board to “just vote this down, the mayor will disregard you like they did [with other projects]. You know it.”

The CB2 meeting was packed with both proponents, bike advocates with organizations such as Transportation Alternatives, as well as detractors, motorists and business owners concerned about limited parking.

The community board rejected the proposal by a vote of 27-8.

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) later received flak for withdrawing his support of the proposal in light of CB2’s vote, after having first called for protected bike lanes to be installed after cyclist Gelasio Reyes was killed by a drunk driver in April 2017 at 43rd Avenue and 39th Street.

Still in favor of safety improvements, Van Bramer said in a statement, he reversed his position after his constituents illustrated their opposition at multiple hearings.

“There is no question in my mind that this proposal will make 43rd Ave and Skillman Ave safer. And while there remain concerns among business owners and some residents about the plan, I respect the mayor’s decision,” Van Bramer said. “As the local elected official, I’ll work with the Department of Transportation and the mayor’s office to see that the plan is implemented with the least amount of inconvenience as possible and will monitor its progress and its effect on small businesses. While this process has been difficult and painful at times, the pain felt by family members who lose loved ones to crashes is so much greater. We must continue to do everything we can to save lives on our streets.”

Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White said the mayor’s priorities are in the right place by putting safety above the demands of motorists.

“The plan for Skillman and 43rd Avenues is based on tried and true design standards, and was developed after several rounds of community engagement. This plan is going to save lives, and we commend Mayor Bill de Blasio for putting the safety of New Yorkers ahead of preserving a handful of parking spaces. This is the kind of bold leadership that is required in the age of Vision Zero. If we’re going to eliminate traffic deaths in New York City, we can’t allow drivers to dictate the city’s transportation policy.”

Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhallum@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4564.