June 8, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Community Board 2 rejected the city’s controversial plan to redesign Skillman and 43rd Avenues last night in what was a long and contentious meeting, culminating after months of deliberation on the topic.
The Department of Transportation’s plan to reconfigure the corridor, mainly by installing protected bike lanes and eliminating roughly 120 parking spaces, was voted down by 27 to 8.
The full board’s vote came just three days after the Transportation Committee approved the proposal in a 5 to 2 vote. Chairperson Denise Keehan-Smith, however, told the board that two members had changed their minds since, meaning that the official vote was not truly reflective of the committee’s view.
The proposal, revised two times after the initial design was presented in November 2017, has been a point of fierce debate since.
Many opposed the plan outright, believing that the number of parking spots needed to be eliminated would put a burden on a difficult parking situation and harm businesses.
But those in support of the plan saw it as a measure that would immediately enhance safety for all street users, with the loss of parking spaces as a necessary trade-off to get the benefits outlined by the DOT.
Last night’s Community Board 2 meeting saw the public and board members make their final cases for or against the plan, with DOT officials on hand to go over the proposal and answer questions.
Several board members expressed fears over changes they believed would be caused by the DOT’s proposal, including snarled traffic with the two to one lane change, and asked the agency why the corridor couldn’t see another plan instead or be moved entirely to Northern Boulevard—a question posed to the DOT multiple times before.
Sean Quinn, Senior Director of the Office of Bicycle and Pedestrian’s Programs, said the proposal was ultimately “right-fitted” for the neighborhood, with pedestrians especially gaining the most from the redesign.
In response to complaints about the proposal being pushed too quickly on the neighborhood, Nicole Garcia, DOT Queens Borough Commissioner, reiterated that the plan came after the community asked for it on 43rd and Skillman Avenues, especially after the death of Gelacio Reyes.
“We don’t feel this is rushed,” Garcia said. “We feel we have been hyper responsive to something the community and elected officials asked for.”
The majority of the roughly 35 people that signed up to speak were against the proposal in a heated public comment section that at times resorted to jeers and applause.
“We are definitely very concerned that this is very harsh for the community,” said Manny Gomez, chairperson of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce. “Why can’t we start with baby steps?”
Kristen McGowan, a Sunnyside resident, said she is not opposed to protected bike lanes, but that they do not belong on Skillman and 43rd Avenues. Northern Boulevard, she said, where multiple people have been killed, should be looked at instead.
“You do not care about Vision Zero,” McGowan said to DOT officials, referring to the lack of a plan on Northern Boulevard. “You care about pushing this bike lane to our community where it is not needed.”
Macartney Morris, chair of Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Activist Committee, said the plan and its origins have been forgotten by the community.
“I think we’ve lost sight of why we are all here,” he said, referring the death of Reyes on 39th Street and 43rd Avenue and a cyclist injury at the same spot. He spoke to Keehan-Smith and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer’s press conference last year, where they called for a study of the area after the two incidents, along with a protected bike lane on 43rd Avenue.
“You owe Flor [Reyes’ widow] an explanation why you don’t think a protected bike lane is necessary here anymore,” Morris said.
Keehan-Smith, however, said a protected bike lane would not have saved Reyes’ life at an intersection.
In a statement released today, the DOT said it was disappointed in the board’s full vote, and considers it advisory.
“We are disappointed that the CB2 full board vote did not reflect the overwhelming 5-2 vote in support of this same safety design by its Transportation Committee this Monday,” a DOT spokesperson said. “DOT stands by its track record that protected bike lanes calm traffic and reduce injuries and fatalities, particularly for pedestrians, the most vulnerable group of street users.”
The DOT added that it has been working with the community during the redesign, noting that it had reduced the number of parking spaces to be eliminated to ease local concerns.
“DOT always appreciates community board feedback , but considers the vote to be advisory on substantive safety projects. We will review our options for moving forward and continue the dialogue with the Board and other local stakeholders about making these streets safer for the local community and all Queens residents who use these corridors to shop and commute.”
The Sunnyside Post has reached out to Council Member Van Bramer’s office for comment, as well as the Mayor’s office, and is awaiting response.
For the plan, click here