Mayor Overrides CB2 Bike Lane Vote

By David Brand

The ride through Sunnyside is about to become a lot safer for cyclists.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announced yesterday that the Department of Transportation would construct protected bike lanes and other pedestrian safety features along Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenue in Sunnyside.

De Blasio took to Twitter to make the announcement.

“Nearly 300 people have been injured along Skillman and 43rd Avenues in Queens. 2 lives have been lost,” de Blasio wrote. “[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.”

The mayor’s decision overrode a June advisory vote by Community Board 2. At a contentious hearing, CB2 members voted 27-8 against the DOT plan even though the board’s transportation committee voted 5-2 to support the proposal earlier that week.

The DOT first introduced the street redesign in 2017 after delivery man Gelacio Reyes was killed by a drunk driver while cycling home from work on 43rd Avenue.  Another cyclist, Aaron Padwee, died in May after he hit the open door of a parked car and veered into the roadway where a truck struck and killed him. The DOT plan includes protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety improvements along Skillman and 43rd Avenues between Queens Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue. Skillman and 43rd run parallel in opposite directions and connect cyclists moving between Queens Boulevard to the Queensboro Bridge.

James McIntyre, a spokesperson for Queens Bike Initiative, praised the mayor’s decision.

“This says bikers also have a right to be on the road and to be safe as well,” McIntyre told the Queens Daily Eagle. “We think it’s a big win for community and for those who don’t live in Sunnyside but want to access the neighborhood.

The Queens Bike Initiative advocates for a network of safer bike lanes that connect various neighborhoods and parks throughout the borough.

“When we think of a cohesive transportation plan in Queens, we know that includes bikes, public transportation and cars, but there has to be balance,” he said.

In a statement, Transportation Alternatives (TransAlt), an organization that advocates for cyclist and pedestrian safety, also hailed the enactment of the DOT proposal.

“This plan is going to save lives,” TransAlt said in a statement. “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 proposal remains unpopular among car owners who say the lanes would reduce the number of parking spots in the region, however.

“I don’t give a darn about cyclists, I care about me,” one woman said at the Community Board meeting, Curbed reported.

The bike lanes will eliminate a combined 116 parking spaces along the two streets over a span of 2.6 miles, compared to an earlier proposal that would have removed 158 spaces.

“We heard you, went back to the drawing board, we designed a corridor that is appropriate for this neighborhood, we worked to restore as much of the parking from the plan that also allows us to install the safety measures that we need to make this project successful,” Sean Quinn, DOT’s director of the Office of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs, said at the Community Board meeting.

In June, hundreds of cyclists pedaled to 43rd Avenue to form a “human-protected” bike lane along 43rd Avenue. The innovative demonstration brought even more attention to the proposal, which even managed to infiltrate the Congressional primary race between Rep. Joe Crowley (NY – 14) and challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez.

The two opponents each tweeted their opinions about the protected bike lanes.

Ocasio-Cortez said she supported the lanes and called on developers to build parking lots to make up for any lost parking. The next day, Crowley tweeted that he disagreed with the DOT proposal to build the bike lanes.

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