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Van Bramer: DOT plan for bike lanes in Sunnyside lacks support to move forward

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer called for a protected bike lane of 43rd Avenue after the the tragic death of Gelacio Reyes and while he still believes that makes sense, he will not support the DOT's latest plan that has divided his community.
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When Gelasio Reyes was struck and killed by a drunk driver at the intersection of 43rd Avenue and 39th Street in Sunnyside in April 2017, it set off a chain of events rarely seen in the tight-knit neighborhood. Twelve days later, City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) spoke at a rally for the 32-year-old father of three and a second cyclist who was critically injured at the same intersection just days later.

“This is not a Vision Zero success story,” Van Bramer said at the time. “We’ve had one man killed here and now another man is fighting for his life. We need DOT to immediately conduct a serious, comprehensive study. It has to be made safer right away. We can’t wait months or years.” Standing next to Reyes’ widow Flor Jiminez, Van Bramer demanded a protected bike lane be built on 43rd Street from Queens Boulevard to Roosevelt Avenue.

“For me, the most important duty as an elected official is to protect lives. Each time someone dies in a crash on our streets, it must be our duty to respond and improve safety,” Van Bramer said Tuesday in a statement provided exclusively to TimesLedger Newspapers. .“After Gelacio Reyes was killed, I called for a protected bike lane on 43rd Avenue. I continue to believe a protected bike lane would make this street safer. To be clear, I support a protected bike lane on 43rd Avenue.”

In November the city Department of Transportation unveiled its plans for protected bike lanes on 43rd Avenue and Skillman Avenue that would eliminate 158 parking spaces in the neighborhood. Small business owners slammed the plan immediately, saying such parking losses would destroy the neighborhoods economy.

“DOT’s initial community outreach, including a meeting with PS 11 parents, was disastrous, making the process even more painful. I wanted to have a meaningful period of community engagement so all could be heard and no could say anything was rushed,” Van Bramer said. “And we had that process, often difficult, and sometimes ugly. But we had it.”

After a contentious town hall meeting, a workshop and numerous community board meetings that pitted Sunnyside residents against cyclist groups and safe streets advocates, the DOT revised the plan twice and Community Board 2 voted against the proposal by a vote of 27-8 earlier this month.

“I reject the vilification of cyclists and I believe bike lanes make the streets safer for everyone -- cyclists, motorists and pedestrians,” Van Bramer said. “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.”

Now the neighborhood awaits the city’s next move. On his weekly radio interview on WNYC last week, Mayor Bill de Blasio said, “I have no problem saying when we’ve come to the judgment that it’s about safety, that even if there is opposition or concern, we’re going to make that judgment in the name of protecting lives.”

Van Bramer remains committed to what he said as he stood next to Reyes’ widow, a protected bike lane on 43rd Avenue.

“But I don’t believe we can move forward with this DOT plan at this time. I urge all of us to listen to each other, respect our differing viewpoints and, above all else, put the safety of each other first,” Van Bramer said. “The quest for safer streets must continue and what has emerged from this process is apparent near unanimity among opponents of this plan for a protected bike lane on Northern Boulevard in CB2. That’s some progress, but I hope we can continue to do more to build even more support for comprehensive street safety measures, including protected bike lanes.”

The DOT looked at the option of a two-way protected bike lane on 43rd Avenue only, but they determined that this alternative would not work for several reason.

“Adding another direction of bike traffic on 43rd Avenue would increase the number of conflict points between drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, who would not expect to see cyclists coming in the opposite direction” a DOT spokesman said. ““In order to make the space for a two-way path, a travel lane would have to be removed for the majority of the corridor and signal timing would have to be modified to include dedicated turn phases, resulting in increased time delays.”

The alternate design would switch all of the parking burden from Skillman Avenue to 43rd Avenue, meaning there would likely be just as much parking loss.

“Finally, if we were to remove Skillman Avenue from the project, there would be no traffic calming elements along that corridor, including the shortened pedestrian crossings that are part of the current proposal — traffic calming elements that the community has requested from DOT for several years,” the spokesman said.

Reach reporter Bill Parry by e-mail at bparry@cnglocal.com or by phone at (718) 260–4538.

Updated 12:32 am, July 10, 2018
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Reader feedback

Steve from LIC says:
Just cowardly. How dare he stand with a grieving widow - a WIDOW! - and promise to prevent future tragedies and then go back on that promise. Vote him out!
June 20, 2:44 pm
Brian Howald from Brooklyn Heights says:
For all the work that NYC DOT did in response to Council Member Van Bramer and CB2 Chair Keehan-Smith's demand for a protected bike lane in the wake of Mr. Reyes's death, for all the community meetings they held, for all the plan changes they made at the request of the board, it is clear that for some no amount of concessions would have led them to support this safety plan. In fact, the parking obsession displayed by some recalls the famous Bob Mankoff New Yorker cartoon: "No, Thursday's out. How about never – is never good for you?"

An editorial of the Queens Chronicle last week called those in favor of safer streets absolutists, zealots, and ideologues, but it's pretty clear that those demanding, "not one parking spot lost," in the service of saving lives are the true extremists.
June 20, 3:55 pm
Sam from Sunnyside says:
Another spineless politician.
June 20, 4:16 pm
Nick from Sunnyside says:
Quoting your article: "community board meetings that pitted Sunnyside residents against cyclist groups and safe streets advocates, "

When you write it that way, it makes it sound like Sunnyside residents all oppose the plan and that only outside groups supported the plan. This is misleading to say the least.
June 20, 4:24 pm
Peter Beadle from Rego Park says:
Deeply disappointed in this decision. CM Van Bramer has earned a reputation as being a safe streets advocate. He was right to support, and continue to support, the redesign of Queens Blvd and has fought alongside advocates - who are also residents of his District - in several instances to make our streets safer. Which is what makes this decision all the more disappointing.

43rd Ave and Skillman are a matched pair - Skillman carries people on bikes down to the QBB and 43rd returns them. Not to mention it brings cyclists to the stores, homes and schools along both of these streets. The idea of making only one of these streets safer, when DOT's data shows there is a need for both streets to be made safer is honestly just absurd.

Also, what has been lost here is that this isn't really about the bike lane. That is just where everyone has been planting their prejudice against cyclists (not JVB, but those who fought against this). The protected bike lane does not cause the majority of the parking loss. Most of that loss is due to the improvements for pedestrian safety - improvements the crash data proves are needed. It is just astounding that without any data to support the contention that this design might hurt businesses, but in the face of actual data that shows the street needs changes in its design to save lives, that a Council Member who bikes, and knows that these designs work, would abandon this project that began after he called for the study. This smacks of a political calculation, and while I understand the reality of politics, its sad to see it play out this way.

I hope the Mayor and DOT move forward with the plan. DOT bent over backwards to obtain community input and revised its plan 3 times to find ways to retain parking, and also to make the design safer for cyclists. They were very responsive in the face of significant abuse heaped upon them at public meetings. Crash data shows there is a need for this plan, the testimony of riders and pedestrians show that there is a need for this plan, and there is a strong case to be made that if the City fails to implement these safety changes, it could be held liable if, god forbid, someone is seriously hurt or killed on these streets - something that is an inevitability if changes are not made. And in the end, that is what should matter more than anything else.
June 20, 4:25 pm
Maria from Sunnyside says:
Thank you! You are finally listening to the majority of your constituents, although I’m not sure why it took this long. Again, for those of you who are for these bike lanes, most of you don’t live here, don’t shop here, and have no respect for pedestrians. That is why so many of us don’t want it. You can say it’s about parking all you want and you can talk about how dangerous our little avenues are. It’s all crap. The most dangerous streets that run through our neighborhood are Queens Blvd and Northern. Please stop saying Skillman and 43 rd Ave are so dangerous. Yes a man was killed. Yes it is horrible and tragic. It happened at an intersection where protected bike lanes wouldn’t have helped anyway and both parties involved were not obeying traffic laws. Every single time I cross 43rd Ave multiple times a day, I have to dodge cyclists who zoom past pedestrians who have the right of way. If you had an ounce of respect for the people who live here, maybe you would have more people on your side. But all you do is show up at meetings or troll all over social media and badger and bully us.
June 20, 4:52 pm
Tom from Queens says:
Bike lanes on Queens Blvd are an even dumber idea than bike lanes on Northern Blvd. What I don’t get is, why the NYPD doesn’t do a better job of patrolling Queens Blvd knowing it’s a cesspool of reckless drivers at all times every day of the week. Drivers would immediately calm down and drive safer knowing that there could be a patrol car Pulling up at any moment.
June 20, 7:01 pm
Brian from Sunnyside says:
Only people who own cars can decide whats best. The rest of us can eat cake.
June 20, 7:38 pm
Tom from Queens says:
Only short-sighted, self-serving people would think that significantly inconveniencing an overwhelming majority of the population to serve a tiny fraction of people would be a good idea. We should just ban vehicles altogether and go back to using bicycles, rickshaws and horse drawn carriages to travel and transport goods.
June 20, 7:59 pm
Tom from Sunnyside says:
Every time there is a vote on protected bike lanes, a choice is being made. The choice is this — when some maniac is barreling down Skillman, and that maniac hits something, what is he or she going to hit? Will it be a parked car, or will it be a human bicyclist? When the vote is against protected bike lanes, we are saying it is better to kill or maim a human rather than to damage a car. It is infuriating that cars and parking spaces are considered more valuable than human lives.
June 20, 8:44 pm
John from Sunnyside says:
I find the characterization that only cyclist groups supported the plan misleading at best. I'm a resident and I support the DOT plan. I'm very disappointed in Jimmy - how are we to "put the safety of each other first" by not putting in protected lanes which are there to protect everyone? I encourage everyone who supports the DOT plan to contact the Mayor's Office and voice your concern.
June 20, 9:30 pm
Martin Wallace from Morningside Heights says:
I'm curious to know how many of the members of CB2's transportation committee, and how many of the members of the board at large, are car owners. In spite of what Maria from Sunnyside and Tom from Queens say, the reality is that the majority of New Yorkers do not own a car. 54.5% of New York City households are car free. Staten Island is the only borough where a majority of workers commute to work by car (56.3%) Source: (http://blog.tstc.org/2017/04/21/car-free-new-york-city/). You can also verify this by looking at DMV records.

On the Community Board where I serve, the majority of members on the Transportation Committee are car owners. Frequently, when issues of traffic violence come up and the DOT offers a plan for calming traffic, the plan gets voted down. Just as frequently, these decisions are defended, incorrectly, as representing the needs or desires of the community we are supposed to represent. In Harlem, less than 24% of households own a car.

I believe we have a serious problem when it comes to fair representation on our community boards and in our city government. Our mayor is driven around the city in an SUV caravan and, while he claims he will not buy a car when he goes back to civilian life, he could insist on taking public transit or stop insisting on being driven to his gym in Brooklyn. The same goes for all of our city council members. I'll bet anyone that the majority of our council members are car owners and commute by car, not to mention those who represent us in Albany and resist the idea of allowing more red light and speeding cameras to be installed near schools.

If we want to see real change on these issues, we also need to get busy electing people who are not addicted to cars and are ready to truly reshape our city to make it accessible to everyone who lives here. Better public transit and better road conditions for cyclists, pedestrians, and drivers will follow.
June 21, 11:58 am

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