July 23, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
A group of Sunnyside businesses and organizations will rally this week in opposition to the city’s plans to redesign Skillman and 43rd Avenues.
The rally, organized by Queens Streets for All, calls on the city to “save our neighborhoods” by doing away with the Department of Transportation’s safety plan for Skillman and 43rd Avenues, which includes the installation of protected bike lanes through a roughly 25-block stretch and the elimination of 116 parking spaces.
The Sunnyside-based group, formed as the DOT began introducing its plans to the public in November, includes businesses and schools along the project corridor, a number of churches, and merchant groups like the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce.
Melissa Orlando, president of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, said the rally is a way to stand up to the mayor, who recently gave the DOT the go-ahead to implement the project weeks after Community Board 2 and elected officials said no to it.
“Our hope is really to have an opportunity to have the mayor hear our voices collectively as a community,” Orlando said. “We believe in safety and protected bike lanes, but we don’t feel Skillman and 43rd Avenues are the best place for them.”
While the plan has seen many supporters from those living in the community and some from other neighborhoods, the group feels the vast majority of residents are strongly opposed to the plan, and will be most impacted by the changes.
“Nobody knows a community better than its residents,” said Jean Clancy, owner of Claret Wine Bar and member of Queens Streets For All. “We are overwhelmingly opposed to this. It’s the entire community across the board that’s saying no.”
Queens Streets For All has multiple reasons for opposing the DOT’s plan. The loss of parking spaces, they claim, will put a strain on small businesses, with some also claiming that increased numbers of cyclists on the protected bike lanes will pose a safety risk to pedestrians and students crossing into the corridor’s schools.
The group also believes Northern Boulevard is where the protected bike lanes should go rather than the two avenues, believing the boulevard would benefit more from protected bike lanes while Skillman and 43rd would best be suited for alternative safety changes.
“The threats have been exaggerated to justify putting lanes here,” said Pat Dorfman, a Queens Streets organizer. “We want the mayor to come here and meet with us to see the actual, on the ground situation.”
The group started planning the rally after the mayor’s announcement two weeks ago, and have invited elected officials to the event including Assemblywoman Nolan, Congressman Joe Crowley, and Queens Borough President Melinda Katz.
Queens Streets For All, however, has not invited Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer. The group said Van Bramer did not come out as strongly against the proposal as the group wanted, as he said in his June statement that he supports a protected bike lane on 43rd Avenue. In addition, Van Bramer noted he “respects the Mayor’s” decision, while Queens Streets overwhelmingly opposes the city’s plan.
While the DOT said it will begin implementing the redesign next month, and will wrap up by the fall, the group’s aim is to have the mayor reconsider, but also to demonstrate what they say is the community’s overwhelming opposition to the plan.
“It’s not a few grumpy old people that like to keep their cars. It’s a cross section of the community.” said Gary O’Neill, owner of Aubergine Cafe and a member of Queens Streets For All. “The point is to send a message to the mayor that we are not happy—that the will of the majority of people are being ignored.”
The mayor’s office, however, said it has done extensive outreach and listened to voices across the community.
“We are moving forward with this redesign because it will make Skillman and 43rd Avenue safer for everyone, and help move the City closer to our Vision Zero goal,” said Seth Stein, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio. “DOT will be on the ground after installation to continue gathering feedback and ensuring this project works well for the neighborhood.”
The rally will be held on July 25 at 6 p.m. at the Sunnyside Arch, located on the south side of Queens Boulevard and 46th Street.