By Mark Hallum
City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) is facing criticism from cycling advocates after he reversed his support of a bike lane system on 43rd and Skillman avenues in Sunnyside in late June, due to the division it has caused in the communities he represents.
The city agency has gone back to the drawing board and returned with two revised proposals for protected bike lanes since November 2017, eliminating only 120 parking spaces compared to the 158 spaces to be taken away in the original plan.
Community Board 2 rejected the proposal by a vote of 27-8 at its June 7 meeting.
“I reject the vilification of cyclists and I believe bike lanes make the streets safer for everyone — cyclists, motorists and pedestrians,” Van Bramer said in a June 19 exclusive statement to TimesLedger Newspapers. “Many residents in the community, new and old, believe the proposed safety improvements would be a welcome addition. We are a community of neighbors and everyone’s opinions matters, whether you’ve been here six months or 60 years. But the DOT’s plan, while changed a few times, still failed to gain enough support among residents, community institutions, elected officials and Community Board 2.”
Van Bramer made the original call for the installment of safety improvements along these streets after the death of Gelasio Reyes in April 2017 at 43rd Avenue and 39th Street by holding a press conference with the widow of the fallen 32-year-old cyclist and father of three.
TransAlt Executive Director Paul Steely White said Van Bramer’s reversal was a “disappointing” contrast to his previous advocacy for traffic safety improvements.
“Council member Van Bramer should know what is at stake here. An advocate for a safer Queens Boulevard, his support helped bring a 55 percent reduction in crashes after the first two phases of the project were completed. To deny these same common-sense safety benefits to Sunnyside residents is a troubling shift in priorities.” White said. “We hope Council member Van Bramer changes his mind, but far more importantly, we hope that Mayor Bill de Blasio continues to exhibit bold leadership for the safety of New Yorkers by empowering the Department of Transportation to complete this project.”
White invoked the words of de Blasio in praise of the mayor’s leadership on traffic safety in a quote from a recent radio appearance.
“I’ve shown this many a time on Vision Zero,” de Blasio said, referring to Queens Boulevard on “The Brian Lehrer Show” June 15. “We’re not going to give into some loud voices who want to keep a status quo in place that actually endangers people’s lives.”
MacCartney Morris, chair of TransAlt’s Queens committee, cited the death of Reyes when he claimed it defied all expectations of Van Bramer to backpedal on the safety improvements.
“Instead of continuing to stand alongside that cyclist’s widow, he chose instead to stand with those who put more value on parking spots than on people’s lives,” Morris said. Morris claimed it is not too late for Van Bramer to renew his support for the bike lane plan, but said if it does not happen, he would support de Blasio pushing the DOT plan through anyhow.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall