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Opponents, Supporters of City’s Project for Skillman, 43rd Aves Up the Ante on the Brink of Town Hall

39th Street and 43rd Avenue (DOT)

Dec. 14, 2017 By Nathaly Pesantez

The city’s ongoing safety improvement project—by way of protected bike lanes—for two of Sunnyside’s main throughways has people on each side of the issue rallying on behalf of their cause, with one group fighting to preserve all parking spaces along the avenues and another arguing safety over parking.

The increased efforts come days before the town hall planned for Dec. 19, where the Department of Transportation is set to unveil an updated proposal for Skillman and 43rd Avenues and receive community feedback.

The update was spurred after an initial proposal, presented in November, caused much alarm within the community for the 158 parking spaces needed to be removed to make way for protected bike lanes.

The Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, led by executive director Patricia Dorfman, launched an online petition earlier this week as a supplement to their paper petition released weeks ago. With a title written in all caps, the renewed effort begs the city to not remove parking spaces for fears of its effect on businesses and on resident quality of life.

The online petition also calls for any and all plans for the two avenues to be done away with.

“On behalf of the many businesses and residents who have reached out to us, we request that the DOT’s proposal for street safety improvements on 43rd and Skillman Avenues be shelved entirely until an agreeable solution is met,” reads part of the petition.

The online petition has gathered 42 signatures as of Thursday afternoon, and has a goal of reaching 2,500.

Meanwhile, Transportation Alternatives, the advocacy group, has spent the last couple of days canvassing on Skillman Avenue, bringing along signs that take a jab at the parking question, and renewing efforts to get signatures on a petition started in July to bring protected bike lanes to 43rd and Skillman Avenues.

“Lives > Parking,” reads a sign held by several people photographed along the avenue last week, along with “Sunnyside residents support safer Skillman and 43rd Ave”.

The transportation advocacy group has also gone to businesses along Skillman Avenue to speak about the DOT’s initial proposal and its would-be effect on parking. Some business owners, posed for a photo, are seen holding a page from the DOT’s proposal presented in early November.

Juan Restrepo, the Queens organizer for Transportation Alternatives, laments that the city’s proposal for the two avenues has become centered on parking.

“There are some people who really want to say that this is a wedge issue,” Restrepo said. “You’re either on the parking side or on the save lives side, and we don’t believe that.”

Restrepo says the two avenues have enough parking as it is, and that thought needs to be given to residents who have raised concerns over issues like speeding on Skillman Avenue.

Plenty of residents he spoke to over the past couple of days, he added, have expressed support for the protected bike lanes in spite of their worries over parking spaces being lost.

“The fact of the matter is that lives matter more than an indeterminate number of parking spaces,” he said. “Our message sticks true—parking is a less concern than lives.”

Both the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and Transportation Alternatives are pushing for residents to attend the town hall and make their voices heard.

“We have very little time,” the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce wrote on Facebook with a link to the petiiton. “And a well funded group is backing the city’s plan.”

Restrepo says the group plans on canvassing once more on Skillman Avenue over the weekend before the event, which he describes as a pivotal moment.

With the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce calling for all street safety improvements to be tabled if a single parking spot is touched, and as the DOT prepares to present an updated proposal, Restrepo has an idea on how next week’s town hall will play out.

“There’s no way that this plan can be effective if it does not remove parking or car lanes,” he said. “At the end of the day, there will be a controversial plan.”

The town hall, free and open to all, will take place on Dec. 19 at Sunnyside Community Services at 43-31 39th St. from 6 p.m. to 8 p.m., and was organized by Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and Community Board 2.

To RSVP, email jbernatovicz@council.nyc.gov.

58 Comments

Liz Evers

Can’t we all just get along? 😉 Seriously though…I am not a ‘car person’. Never owned a car, nor do I ever want to. That said, if others want to own a car, fine. I don’t get it…don’t understand the ‘need’ to own a private car in a place such as NYC, which is obviously full of food delivery services, FreshDirect, laundry pickup/droppoff, Zipcar, taxis, MTA, Uber, etc. But again, if folks feel the need to own a private car, fine. But what we should NOT have to cater to is the excessive number of cars that many families possess.

Think about it. Back in the day we had families of 4, 6, 8 or sometimes even more than that. And those families had ONE car, and it was a CAR, not a massive SUV. And yet somehow, we managed. We carpooled. We dropped people off here and there. But now, every family member feels the need to have their ‘own’ car. This in turn has creating the parking crunch that many car owners grumble about. Add to that the fact that (at least in my neighborhood of Astoria), many car owners’ own home garages are not available to them to use to park a car. Why you ask?? Well, because their garages are instead used to store JUNK. (I can’t tell you how many of my neighbors’ garages are used for ‘storage’, with stuffed often piled to the ceiling. ) So then the family’s multiple cars must be parked in the driveway leading to the garage, and in the street in front of their homes. Why, I’ve even seen cars parked on the sidewalk in my neighborhood. That’s right. I said ON the sidewalk…with the front of the car on top of the sidewalk, and the back of the car reaching into the street between two other legally parked cars. Pedestrians walking on the sidewalk must then walk around the front of such cars to pass by.

Owning a car, or multiple cars for that matter, and then expecting the city to provide unlimited parking, is unreasonable. But many ‘car people’ seem to be almost militant (almost to the same degree as gun owners) and say things like ‘they’re not taking OUR parking spaces (guns) away from US!”

Now as for the ‘bike people’. I get it, that it’s an ‘us’ vs ‘them’ thing for the most part, that is occurring here. You have the long-standing residents of many neighborhoods in Queens (who own cars) up against the ‘newbies’ (generally more affluent, or ‘PC’, or ‘hipster types’) who come in and suddenly want to change the neighborhood or ‘improve it’ according to their standards.

We have two very different groups of people who both feel very strongly. We’ve already made plenty of accommodations for the cars here (lanes of traffic, highways, parking spaces) so now we need to do the same for those who prefer to commute by bike. However, if cyclists want to be taken seriously, they must obey all traffic laws. As a cyclist, I do so, and always stop at red lights, give hand signals when making turns. I wear a helmet at all times, and use flashing lights at night. I have a bell which I use when necessary, to make sure that cars/pedestrians are aware of me in the vicinity.

Food delivery guys should be licensed and required to wear their license # on their backs and chests. Those guys are a danger to many. (I appreciate that their jobs are very difficult, dangerous, and they work for every tip they get. But that does not excuse their reckless driving.) Part of the problem is that many of them now use electric bikes or scooters that are virtually ‘silent’, so you don’t realize when they are coming right up alongside or behind you. In addition, many of them do this really slick trick of bypassing red lights ahead of them, and instead they will pull up alongside the first stopped car at the red light. Then they and their scooter will take a quick, tiny right turn the adjoining side street, ‘pretend’ they were actually on that side street (which now has the green light) the entire time, and now they will make an official ‘right turn’ onto the street where they were riding originally and which had the red light!




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WouldCyde

The real enemies of the car folks is actually people driving here from Long Island to take the trains to the city. It’s misdirected towards the bike folks because this project involves swapping those lanes.




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babsp

There are bike lanes on Skillman and riders go through red lights and dont wear helmets. There are apt house bldgs, okder people snd private homes- we need the parking spaces!!!! There is too much through traffic to go to the city to go to one lane




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BR

I am a cyclist, who regularly uses the bike lane on Skillman Avenue.
The bike line provides safety and works fine.
Leave Skillman Avenue alone!!
It is fine the way it is.
JVB, I have yet to see you riding in this lane.




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Jake

Yes! Sunnyside needs more protected bike lanes so badly! This plan is only the beginning. Keep ’em coming! Lives over parking!




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Anonymous

Store owners along Queens Boulevard claim to have lost up to 25 percent of their business due to the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) taking away parking spaces. Now, they are organizing to have the implementation reversed.

The new bike lanes, aimed at easing congestion and traffic fatalities, have taken up parking spaces utilized by customers of shops, bars and restaurants near the Rego Center Mall.

Gary Taylor, the owner of Tropix Bar & Lounge, estimated that local businesses on his block—between 63rd Avenue and 64th Road—lost 17 parking spaces due to the new bike lane and loading zones.

Due to the new nature of the eastbound service road, Taylor believes, “It’s much more dangerous now than it’s ever been.”

In nearly three years, there have been no deaths on Queens Boulevard, but now shoppers cannot find parking, leading them to double-park and forcing other vehicles to drive into the bike lane to get around them.

Taylor and other business owners on the corridor stated they have lost much of their business as a result of the bike lanes.

“I work hard to make my place a destination,” said Jay Parker, owner of Ben’s Best Delicatessen, located at 120-55 Queens Blvd.

Ben’s Best has hosted famous chefs—such as Guy Fieri of Diners, Drive-Ins and Dives—and such actors as Danny DeVito and Robert De Niro, who filmed a scene from the film The Comedian at the deli. Parker said that his father opened Ben’s Best 71 years ago and he took it over after his father died.

But if business doesn’t pick up, Parker will have to continue cutting hours on Jan. 1 and consider layoffs.

Yasin Labuk—one of the owners of the Black Sea, a Mediterranean restaurant located at 95-36 Queens Blvd.—said that the new loading zones cause double-parking and two- to three-block traffic backups on the service road in front of his store. He noted that he has lost $6,000 to $8,000 per month since the bike lanes were implemented in the fall.

Labuk, who has owned the restaurant for four years, said that his eatery’s proximity to the Rego Center Mall frequently leads to an increase in business during the holiday season. Instead, he has seen a 30 percent decrease from last year.

Labuk said that he and his partner struggle to pay their rent and have already cut hours for their employees. He added that he might be forced to lay off employees if business does not pick up. Nicole Lim, owner of Sake Sushi at 95-34 Queens Blvd., said that she has seen a 30 percent drop in her business, while Angelo Sabino—whose family opened Avellino Pizzeria in 1977—said that his customers complain of a lack of parking and his suppliers get $115 tickets when dropping off $300 worth of deliveries.

On Dec. 11, Taylor said that he walked around, spoke to 40 store owners and invited them to a Dec. 18 meeting at his establishment to discuss how they can organize and present their case to the community board, DOT and mayor’s office.

Business owners said that not only are they losing business, but the bike lanes are hardly being utilized.

“Maybe in Brooklyn it’s more popular,” said Parker. “This isn’t a young community.”

George Raptis, manager of The Diner Bar at 97-45 Queens Blvd., said that when he works a 10-hour shift, he often won’t see even one person using the bike lane.

“It’s terrible,” he said. “All my guests—that’s the number-one complaint.”

A DOT spokesman said that the safety redesign was installed to protect those who travel by foot, bike and car during this year’s construction between Eliot Avenue and Yellowstone Boulevard.

“We collected surveys and feedback from businesses and community members through workshops, online interaction and real-time engagements,” the spokesman said.

The spokesman noted that during planning, the agency received feedback from 500 individuals and visited 89 businesses. He added that the delivery zones are based on merchants’ own observations regarding how to prevent double-parking.




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WouldCyde

Honestly put up a parking structure instead of more luxury condos. LIC is already jam packed with those.




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George Kelly

I wonder if the parking garage at 47th and Queens Blvd is at capacity? So many say we need parking garages, but no one seems to want to build one




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Susan

By this logic, malls should be thriving. They have tons of parking, yet they close as well. Out of touch retailers can point to parking, but it’s not the true cause of their decline.




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@realDonaldTrump

Biggest waste of money in NYC history… Rip out all the bike lanes. DiBlasio is a loser…. worst mayor ever! SAD!




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Emily

I bike and drive because there isn’t an easy way to get around Queens. Forget trying to get to parts of Brooklyn from Queens. Biking is great for those headed to Manhattan. There are very few parking garages in Sunnyside so car owners don’t have choices. When I have to move my car, I use my car. Build a few garages for the locals – will keep more cars off the streets. I know I would use mine less!




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Damon Strub

I can empathize with drivers who struggle to find parking daily and not wanting to make it any worse. However, I suspect that the parking issue is about supply and demand – not just supply. In my opinion, the key is to reduce demand by improving alternative modes of transportation to draw some drivers out of their cars.

I live on 50th and ride my bicycle everywhere every day, lane or not. (and do not own a car) I know that there are many more potential riders in queens who would commute but feel (rightly so) that it is not safe enough. They feel, and statistics seem to prove that protected bike lanes are safer. So.. Safer streets = more cyclist = fewer cars = less congestion. Traffic congestion in western queens is already insane – and will only get worse as the population swells. I would say that the current car based transportation infrastructure on its own is not going to be adequate to serve a city as dense as New York. And bicycle commuting is far less costly than say subways.

I suspect that the DOT is not proposing this just to be nice to the “bike lobby” They understand that high rates of bike commuting can significantly reduce road congestion; this benefits all new yorkers, even those who prefer to drive a car. And protecting the cyclist will reduce the chance that drivers will run over them – a messy situation to be avoided – with repairing the dent in the car, cops and insurance and all that.

I find the tone of some of the posts above disheartening; Trumpian intransigence and intolerance. The bike lanes could and should be a win win for all of us. It would be better to come to the table to discuss their objectives and negotiate the plan, understanding that some of our neighbors might have other equally valid ideas.




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Pat P

How old are you? I bet, younger than 50 with no major health issues. Look around at the neighborhood you bike through. Increase road congestion and well as less parking spots on our street has correlated to the allowance of more private livery services.




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anonymous

What will be done to keep cyclists out of the pedestrian lane on the 59 Street Bridge? They are not allowed on the sidewalks but routinely ride in the pedestrian lane on the bridge




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Maria

Yes drives me insane! Can’t even obey that…bicyclists seem to have the right of way over everyone




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Theorem Ox

Didn’t you learn anything from the single laning of the service road of Queens Blvd. (especially in eastern Woodside and in Rego Park/Forest Hills)? And that’s after considering the fact that it is a larger thoroughfare with an express road “relief valve” option to begin with!

Skillman/43rd may not be an arterial road like Queens Blvd., but in recent years have seen increasing traffic volume despite the relative lack of new high density residential properties alongside it. While I am willing to concede that restricting traffic will curb some discretionary driving currently taking place, I will also warn that it will also strongly impact services that many of us take for granted (and are likely unfamiliar of the logistics behind them). Beware of unintended and “unforeseen” consequences!

If the idea does pass – I do not EVER want to see/hear you and supporters of the same idea complaining about increased pollution caused by outright gridlock, longer response times by emergency services and delivery services refusing to service your home/business directly (or charge much higher fees).




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George Kelly

I disagree. There’s no need for two lanes on most of Skillman. There won’t be gridlock, just slower and safer traffic. I’ve just spoken with the Dept. of Street Lanes, and this idea is moving forward. Thanks to all




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WouldCyde

I don’t mind the bike lanes the way they are now but designated-protected lanes are better. Sunny/Woodside residents don’t need cars. We live in the most accessible parts of Queens. Take public transports, rent a Car2Go, walk across the QB bridge. The rare exception is handicapped/elderly folks. This is not LA. Please re-evaluate your car-as-a-second-home mindset.




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Optics

I mostly agree, but the older I get, the less I want to drive. I don’t understand the “old people need cars” thing.




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Sunnyside_Lady

Seriously. Sunnyside residents seem to forget that they live in the geographic center of NYC in 2017. Most people do not need cars here.

And free street parking isn’t a “right” for people. Want “free” parking? Move to the suburbs and buy a house with a garage. Otherwise, pay for it. There’s plenty of parking listings all throughout the neighborhood.




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Theorem Ox

(1) The “geographic center” doesn’t have everything one may need to live. Here’s two to start:

Healthcare is a big one right now – In addition to the terrible state of emergency centers near Sunnyside, there are very few specialty outpatient treatment centers in this area (especially if you’re reliant on private insurance with a narrow network and/or are cost conscious). Many tend to be difficult/overly time consuming to go to with public transportation.

The geographic area for jobs in New York Metro is particularly broad and expansive. Businesses and industries are no longer clustered in/near Manhattan anymore. Anybody with a special skill/training and aspire to earn the best wage they can get practicing their trade may be expected to commute to Long Island, Hudson Valley, New Jersey and even Connecticut. Not everybody works in desk jobs either. Depending on the job-site location and time of the shifts, public transportation is either nonexistent or simply impractical as a daily commute option.

(2) It’s not like motorists pay nothing for the privilege – for many people, it’s quite an expensive undertaking. Biennial registration, annual inspections, mandatory insurance, taxes on gasoline, parking, etc. ALL of them come with additional fees and surcharges imposed by NYS/NYC (some of them allegedly to support infrastructure among others) beyond their nominal cost/rate. Some may own a car as a discretionary thing, but for others, it’s to maintain their livelihood. Which brings us to:

(3) This isn’t the 1980’s/early 1990’s anymore. Real estate is unaffordable or just about there (even in bad neighborhoods with little amenities and also outside New York City) for most people who work for a living. Plenty of people stuck where they are and trying to make the best of their situation. Think the city deciding to add another cost/problem (which did not previously exist) to people who are trying hard to hold the line will go over well?




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ann

The proposed massive changes to the neighborhood are poorly thought out and will be disastrous. Why run bike lanes through a residential area, when they could be on Queens Blvd? 43rd and Skillman can be made safer without massively impacting all residents. ‘Bike safety’ would require helmets for bikers and enforcement of traffic rules. The biggest threat to my safety in the past few years has come from bikers – many near misses, from bikes, not cars – as most go through red lights and wrong-way on one way streets and not even in the much-clamored for bike lanes. The entire plan is a scam.




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Theorem Ox

Seeing where the ideas are originating from and who are strongly pushing for them, I am inclined to doubt that the proposals are “poorly thought out.” As the saying goes: “It’s a feature, not a bug.”

Unfortunately, I believe there are too many people that are ignorant and/or apathetic about the logistics supporting their lifestyles. Understandably, it’s something that one rarely thinks about when everything seems to be going well. They’ll happily support ideas that “sounds good” until they’re caught completely by surprise about unexpected (to them) consequences.

It’s fine to take bold steps and make mistakes from time to time, but I fear we don’t have much more room for mistakes anymore.




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NoFool

Why are the bike lanes going through the neighborhood anyway?Van Beamer made a big deal about putting them on QB just a year or two ago. They should stay there. The city has been cloaking its plan to turn this former sleepy place into a moneymaker in veils of “safety” and “public benefit” for years. They extol the peace and beauty to distract you from the fact that they are destroying both in order to transform this place into a moneymaker for real estate, big business and the politicians they own. The disingenuity is revolting.




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Me

Put bike ezpass readers and charge them for using these roads. The whole thing doesn’t make sense, most of the bike lanes are almost invisible, not to mention still dangerous. I don’t know the agenda behind all this, but it stinks and I don’t like it.




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Tree of Liberty

Hey the city pays for peoples housing, I suggest they pay for bikes for people who can’t afford parking garages etc. While where talking about parking, maybe the city can also give me a handicap placard, cause I got a ingrown toe nail…




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Carbie Barbie

All of our taxes pay for the roads. Why should car owners get exclusive use of those parking spots?




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Keeping it real

This is not really about making Skillman Avenue safer but the bicycle lobby.
I’m sure these roads can be made safer without the loss of parking spaces.
It can be made safer through the addition of traffic lights, curb extensions, stop signs, speed bumps.
This argument put forward by Transportation Alternatives that the only way to make it safer is through the installation of bicycle lanes and lost parking is a false. They are using safety as their Trojan horse.




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Kristen McGowan

Yes! Especially since I have had speed bumps denied on major streets, such as in front of the park. No one cares. Their agenda is ridiculous. Pedestrians don’t matter is the feeling I’m getting. No lights by schools, no crosswalks, no speed cameras at least etc but yes protected bike lanes…come on




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No longer our guy

Van Bramer is pushing very hard for this.
He is trying to persuade all the business owners not to oppose it. He is being a bully.
Meanwhile, his husband is on the board of Transportation Alternatives that is advocating for this.
You can thank Van Bramer for all the bike lanes throughout queens. He started it with Queens Boulevard. Look it up. His former staff member Jason Banrey is high up in the DOT.
He is pro tolling on the Queensboro bridge. He is pro bicycle lanes to the detriment of parking. He is bad for Sunnyside. Bad for Queens. He is no longer Jimmy fighting for Sunnysiders.
He’s Jimmy fighting for Jimmy.




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Anonymous

Your comment assumes a majority of Sunnysiders don’t support these initiatives. There are many of us who do, in fact, support expanded bike lanes. I live near Skillman I would love to see protected bike lanes. As the city builds a better infrastructure for bicyclist, we all benefit from reduced traffic, reduced demands on mass transit, safer streets, and less air pollution.




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Me

I haven’t seen a single thing that improved living conditions in Sunnyside in recent years, all this bike lane nonsense is grabbing way too much attention. Our roads are crumbling, drivers ignore signs, speed limits, even lights. It’s total chaos and nobody really cares, just go cross the queens blvd a few seconds after light changes to Walk, the idiot drivers race like they got something waiting for them only to hit another red light and wait there. Nothing but idiots, seriously, if it were me I’d block all left/right turns on queens blvd, make them only straight from side streets, no left/right turn, case closed, safe pedestrians.




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George kelly

What are you talking about? The roads are constantly being repaved. All the soot and dirt comes into my house when they do it.

No turning allowed? Lol




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Theorem Ox

The NYCDOT did re-pave some (but not all) of the roads in Sunnyside/western Woodside this summer.

On the other hand, virtually all of the roads that they didn’t touch (mostly outside of Sunnyside Gardens and immediate adjacent sections of Woodside) are in shambles. Potholes and uneven pavement everywhere – a hazard to bicyclists, motorists and pedestrians alike.




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Anonymous

how much is JVB paying these people holding up these signs and business owners — no business owner in their right mind would agree with bike lanes that is a lie also — another Soros thing JVB is doing —




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Carbie Barbie

I just want to be clear about what you’re saying: George Soros is paying JVB to pay people to hold up signs to support bike lanes?




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Anonymous

my response to you is that I wonder who is paying for these Soros-like
professionally made signs




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Carbie Barbie

You seem a little hung up on this Soros thing. I don’t want to presume anything about you, but a lot of the Soros critiques come from anti-semitic right wing nuts. I hope you’re not in that camp.

On the signs: Anyone can make signs with few bucks. Any of the big chain joints or mom and pop places or even a good home printer can make signs. The signs those people are holding up are nothing notable. Your local schools all have that kind of paper and laminating machines. Is it so hard to believe that some like-minded people donated their time, effort and some money to make those?




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