By Mark Hallum
Nearly 100 people rallied beneath the 46th Street station of the No. 7 train last week to oppose bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd Avenues in Sunnyside and Woodside.
The July 25 rally came days after the announcement by Mayor Bill de Blasio that he would set aside community opposition and instruct the city Dept. of Transportation to move forward with road safety improvements in the two neighborhoods, eliminating 120 parking spaces along the two streets between Roosevelt Avenue and Queens Boulevard.
“We know what we need and we have told them with a loud and clear voice that this proposal is wrong,” Hunters Point Civic Association President Brent O’Leary said. “This is not safety because we have offered an alternative proposal on Northern Boulevard, which is the obvious place for this and will keep all the bicyclists safe … we spoke loud and clear and they ignored everything we said.”
Organized by Access Queens, which advocates for improvements to the No. 7 train, the rally had many attendees criticizing City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) for calling for the installment of the bike lanes after the death of a bicyclist in the area.
“The media has been promoting Queens, the city has been promoting Queens as the place to be for many, many years. So now we’re the place to be, everyone wants to be here in Sunnyside. How are we going to take infrastructure away?” Melissa Orlando, a founder of Access Queens, said. “We need municipal and residential parking to accommodate the people who work here, the people who come and spend money here and the people who come to worship here in Sunnyside. Everyday when we get home from work, we have to think about where we will park, what are we doing. The mayor doesn’t live here.”
Although Van Bramer made the initial call for the installment of the bike lanes in April 2017, he later withdrew his support of the Vision Zero improvements after the community voiced heavy opposition.
Van Bramer has since renewed his support for the DOT proposal.
“The bike lanes should happen. It’s the right thing to do. And even if there is a political price to pay for saying so, I should say it. So I am,” Van Bramer said in a July 26 Twitter statement. “I know that good people are opposed to the lanes based on honest concerns. However, a scorched earth campaign against bike lanes continues to inflame [and] divide. So much misinformation is being spread. So much fear stoked. But facts matter… Bike lanes save lives. They do not destroy neighborhoods. Sunnyside [and] Woodside are good, strong, healthy places to live. They do not need to be saved from safety enhancements.”
The bike lane proposal went through multiple public hearings where residents rejected the plan, which was revised several times before being struck down at Community Board 2 by a vote of 27-8 in a June 7 meeting that lasted about six hours and ended well after midnight.
“Nearly 300 people have been injured along Skillman and 43rd Avenues in Queens. 2 lives have been lost,” de Blasio said on Twitter prior to the rally. “[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.
Reach reporter Mark Hallum by e-mail at mhall