Photo via Flickr/Tiocfaidh ár lá 1916

Mayor Bill de Blasio approved DOT’s highly debated plans for protected bike lanes in Sunnyside, overruling the local community board’s vote against them.

Protected bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd Avenues have been the source of heated debates between those for and against the project.

Those for it would often cite Gelacio Reyes, a cyclist who was killed by a drunk driver in April 2017. Those against it have said that bike lanes would mean loss of parking, increased gentrification and strain on small businesses.

During the Board 2 meeting in June, the board voted 27-8 in opposition of the protected bike lanes.

“Nearly 300 people have been injured along Skillman and 43rd Avenues in Queens. 2 lives have been lost. @NYC_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. #VisionZero,” wrote the mayor on Twitter.

Chairwoman Denise Keehan-Smith of Queens Community Board 2 said that she was “extremely disappointed” with the mayor’s decision. She recalled when DOT made the presentation to the transportation committee back in November.

“We worked with the DOT on a better plan. They went back to the drawing board and came back to us with one or two revisions,” said Keehan-Smith.

When the DOT presented the plan to them again in June, the chairwoman said they decided that it “was not in the best interest” for the neighborhood and the people in it. Loss of parking was one aspect that contributed to the community board’s rejection of the plan, but there were other factors, including safety concerns for firetrucks making turns, children at PS 11 walking into the path of the bike lanes and the threat of declining small businesses in the area.

The chairwoman adds that she is “not trying to undervalue the loss of life,” in reference to the cyclists and pedestrians who lost their life on Skillman and 43rd Avenues, but she had “every confidence that they [Sunnyside residents] would be listened to.”

Dozens of bike lane supporters on Twitter applauded the mayor’s decision.

But others on social media were not as supportive of protected bike lanes coming to Sunnyside.

Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer who was previously not in favor of the protected bike lanes, said that he supported the mayor’s decision in a statement today.

“I have always said that safety and saving lives has to be priority number one and one thing I’ve worked closely with the mayor on is achieving Vision Zero, including supporting the Queens Boulevard redesign and its protected bike lane,” Van Bramer said. “I’ve always said that I support bike lanes and that I support protected bike lanes. There is no question in my mind that this proposal will make 43rd Avenue and Skillman Avenue safer. And while there remain concerns among business owners and some residents about the plan, I respect the mayor’s decision.”

The councilman added that he would work with the mayor and DOT to ensure that the plan was implemented with “the least amount of inconvenience possible” and would also monitor its affect on small businesses in the area.

The executive director of Transportation Alternatives, Paul Steely White, added to the praise for the mayor’s decision to go forward with the bike lanes.

“The plan for Skillman and 43rd avenues is based on tried and true design standards, and was developed after several rounds of community engagement,” White said. “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.”

The full DOT protected bike lane plan can be found here.

Updated on July 20 at 1:55 p.m. to reflect comments made by Denise Keehan-Smith, chairwoman of Queens Community Board 2. 

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