June 6, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Congressman Joseph Crowley has come out against the city’s plans for Skillman and 43rd Avenues, just one day before Community Board 2 is set to vote on the plan.
Crowley took to social media to bash the Department of Transportation’s proposal, stating that the plan, involving the installation of protected bike lanes and the elimination of roughly 120 parking spaces, would “upend the neighborhood.”
“I cannot support the proposal as it currently stands,” reads Crowley’s statement on Facebook. “The community is right – adding these bike lanes would have far too great of an economic cost and impact on our neighborhood.”
Crowley added that he is for expanding transportation options and supporting biking as an affordable and healthy option to get around, but that the project should not be approved without “major, fundamental changes.”
The congressman, who does not have the power to nix the city’s plan, said his office received over 2,200 petitions from constituents opposing the bike lanes.
The petitions came from Queens Streets, a relatively new group led by Patricia Dorfman, former executive director of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, and an outspoken critic of the plan. The group mainly advocates for a safety plan that does not involve a loss of parking spaces in the neighborhood.
Dorfman said the organization, made up of neighborhood groups and institutions like PS 11’s PTA, Queen of Angels Church, Sunnyside Reformed Church, Saint Sebastian Catholic Academy, and more, delivered a packet of letters they penned against the DOT’s proposal to Crowley’s office yesterday, and noted the collection of over 2,200 signatures in the seven months since the DOT released their initial plan.
“We had asked for their [Crowley’s] support, but I was surprised and gratified to hear it,” Dorfman said, adding that her group has been in touch with the congressman and other elected officials for months.
Gary O’Neill, owner of Aubergine Cafe on Skillman Avenue and a member of the Skillman Project, one of the groups backing Queens Streets, said Crowley’s announcement also came as a surprise, but could be expected after a meeting with his office months ago.
O’Neill said the 90-minute meeting, which included DOT officials and other neighborhood business owners, was meant as a chance to talk through concerns he and others in the neighborhood have raised. The business owners believe that their customers will struggle to find parking and shop elsewhere.
“He saw where we were coming from,” O’Neill said. “It was very productive for us. We came through clearly.”
O’Neill took issue with many of the DOT’s explanations during the meeting, including the agency’s belief that it would not hurt Sunnyside and Woodside businesses. The DOT based its argument on a study that found that businesses on Ninth Avenue in Manhattan were not affected by the installation of protected bike lanes there.
The DOT also argued the plan was necessary given the uptick in bike ridership it has recorded off the Queensboro Bridge.
“Just because it works on Ninth Avenue doesn’t mean it’s going to work on Skillman and 43rd Avenues,” he said. He added that the increased ridership off the bridge could be from people moving into Long Island City, which has seen a development boom since the early 2000s.
“It is like apples and oranges,” he said.
O’Neill insists that he is not against protected bike lanes and is in in favor of safer streets, but says the current plan is not the best one for the corridor.
Crowley’s statement comes two days after the Community Board 2’s transportation committee voted 5-2 in support of the plan, which came as a surprise to both supporters and opponents of the plan.
Today’s announcement also comes after Macartney Morris, chair of Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Activist Committee, tweeted yesterday to Crowley and his challenger for New York’s 14th Congressional District, Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez, asking for their stance on the DOT’s plan.
“Sad day for ‘cyclist’ Joe Crowley but not the first time he’s been out of touch with his district or the future,” Macartney tweeted in response to Crowley’s announcement. “We heard rumblings that he was whipping up opposition at #QueensCB2…”
Juan Restrepo, Queens Organizer for Transportation Alternatives, said the group is focusing on the transportation committee’s vote made on Monday.
“We’re operating based upon the transportation committee voting in favor of the project,” Restrepo said. “That’s what should matter to the community board.”
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, who has not spoken for or against the proposal, reiterated that he wants to hear from the community before taking a stance.
“An opportunity for all viewpoints to be heard at Community Board 2, followed by a vote of the full board, is part of this community process. I’ll share more of my thinking on this following the vote tomorrow night.”
The implementation of the plan, however, will ultimately be determined by Mayor de Blasio.