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 [email protected].