Sept. 10, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Community Board 2 members and area residents are criticizing the city’s protected bike lane implementation on Skillman and 43rd Avenues, claiming the roll out has been unorganized and done in a “haphazard” way.
Several business owners, community leaders, and board members spoke to their frustrations during the Sept. 6 Community Board 2 meeting, the first full meeting since the board voted down the controversial DOT project in June.
Many were angry that the Department of Transportation went ahead with the project despite the board’s rejection of it. In addition, many claimed that the DOT’s actual implementation of the redesign–which began last month– was being done “hastily,” with little communication and poor planning.
“While the project is only partially complete, many of our worst fears have already come to fruition,” said Roque Rodriguez, co-owner of Suryaside Yoga on Skillman Avenue, speaking on behalf of Queens Streets For All, a group that opposes the city’s plans for the avenues.
Rodriguez claimed that there’s been “massive confusion” for cyclists and drivers, along with more traffic backups. Some areas of the corridor, according to people he’s spoken to, also feel less safe than before, he said.
Gary O’Neil, owner of Aubergine Cafe on Skillman Avenue, echoed Rodriguez’ statement and claimed the unfinished rollout has caused “even more danger to pedestrians, cyclists, and drivers.”
For Melissa Orlando, president of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, the implementation was done too rapidly and in a “haphazard way.” She said “no standing” and other signs have gone up without notice, and that cars have been towed and ticketed as a result. She was also disappointed that the project had yet to be finished despite the start of school.
Her biggest concern, she said, is lack of information.
“There’s been no education from the DOT to drivers, to cyclists, or to pedestrians,” Orlando said. “They are nowhere to be found. It is irresponsible for them not to be here, educating the community on such a big change.”
Denise Keehan-Smith, chairperson of Community Board 2 and a strong opponent of the plan, agreed with the shared concerns. She claimed the streets, done out of sequence and with unfinished lines in the middle of the street, caused confusion for drivers looking for parking. The DOT, she added, did not put up signage explaining what kind of work was happening.
“It was not handled well at all, so it’s very frustrating,” she said.
Keehan-Smith confirmed that several “no parking” signs have gone up on side streets along the corridor, which has resulted in 15 parking spots–on top of the 116 in the DOT’s plan– being taken.
Many board members also applauded each person who spoke out against the city’s plan, with virtually all speakers pledging to not give up in their opposition against the protected bike lanes.
Rodriguez, for instance, said the neighborhood should continue to fight for their removal. He pointed to the DOT’s recent announcement to remove the protected bike lane on Dyckman Street in Manhattan as evidence that it’s not too late.
While Mayor Bill de Blasio has since intervened and halted the removal pending his review, the DOT said its decision came from extensive community feedback, according to Streetsblog. The DOT did not state specifically what led to the change, but many small business owners and an FDNY captain from a nearby firehouse had voiced their concerns about it previously.
“This is the same situation that we have here,” Rodriguez said, referring to a meeting the DOT and FDNY had on the Skillman and 43rd Avenues plan earlier this summer. “…But that was pushed aside and they moved forward anyway.”
The DOT, however, made minor changes to the plan in response to concerns, which has received full support from the FDNY.
In response to concerns from residents and the board, the DOT said it has followed its general outreach procedures and distributed “What’s Happening Here” flyers about the project to the community and elected officials in late July.
DOT staff, according to a spokesperson, also went out on the first day of school to make sure drop-off ran smoothly.
The agency said the project, for the most part, has been implemented in sequence, but the number of elements in it made for some items being done first over others. It put in crosswalks first on 43rd Avenue, for example, and had to work around construction at P.S. 11. It also had to wait for the loading zone installation at Fresh N Save on Skillman Avenue to go in.
“In general, we have taken advantage of alternate side parking rules for access to the curb and given a standard 48 hours’ notice in advance of work,” a DOT spokesperson said.
While several claimed the rollout was confusing and possibly dangerous for road users, some cyclists on the two avenues said the prior configuration was more troublesome.
Santos Vigueras, a 28-year-old deliveryman for a local business, said he rides down Skillman Avenue just about every day for his job, and that the protected lane makes it easier for everyone to know what to do.
“I know there’s some more left to do, and people aren’t used to it, but once it’s done I think it will be better for everyone,” Vigueras said in Spanish.
Cynthia Angel, a 34-year-old resident who bikes several times a week to and from her job in Manhattan, said the weeks-long implementation is just part of the process.
“Obviously they’re not going to paint it all in one day,” Angel said. “It’s just a normal process and it’s easy to be impatient about it.”
The DOT is currently prepping and painting markings on the two avenues, and is expected to finish work some time this fall.