May 22, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Community Board 2 held a workshop Monday to solicit ideas from the public as to how to make Skillman and 43rd Avenues safer for motorists, bicyclists and pedestrians.
The workshop was held in response to public outcry over the Department of Transportation’s controversial plan to install protected bicycle lanes through the two avenues that would result in the loss of 116 parking spaces along the 20-block stretches.
The purpose of the meeting was for the board to gather suggestions from the public and send them on to the DOT to be evaluated and reviewed.
“I want everyone to feel like they’re being heard,” said Denise Keehan-Smith, Community Board 2 Chair and head of its Transportation Committee.
The suggestions, she said, would be forwarded to the DOT ahead of Community Board 2’s June meeting, where the full board will take a vote on the proposal.
While the meeting was conceived by the community board, the DOT was present during last night’s workshop. “We’re here to observe and listen,” said Nicole Garcia, DOT Queens Borough Commissioner.
More than 100 attendees participated in the workshop including residents, business owners and those who live outside of Sunnyside. Attendees spent just over an hour sitting at separated tables either examining the details of the DOT’s proposal page-by-page or engaging in a larger conversation on cyclists, cars, and parking in New York City.
Many, however, felt that the workshop would not bring about any change and left dejected. Others viewed it as worthwhile.
Janet Roberts, a Sunnyside resident in her 60s, said her table was largely against the protected bike lanes due to the difficulties in finding parking.
Roberts said her group came up with suggestions like installing the protected bike lanes through Northern Boulevard instead, or to use the money required for the project to help bring additional buses during rush hour on Queens Boulevard.
Frank Trotty, who has lived in Woodside for 50 years and owns real estate on Skillman Avenue, said the workshop was a “waste of time.” Trotty, who is against the plan because of its potential effect on business, claims the majority of the neighborhood is against the city’s plan, and has made itself clear.
But Patricia Dorfman, the executive director of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce and an outspoken critic of the plan, said the workshop was “excellent,” and showed that the city’s proposal was “not a done deal.”
“Everyone spoke sincerely,” Dorfman said of her table. “People were very open to a lot of things.”
Some suggestions her table came up with included changing the timing of the traffic lights to allow pedestrians to cross first, and moving the bike lanes to another corridor.
Many at the table, however, including Dorfman, still questioned the plan’s origins, and claimed the DOT is trying to move quickly to expedite the plan’s implementation.
Macartney Morris, Chair of the Transportation Alternatives Queens Activist Committee, who sat at the same table as Dorfman, said he repeatedly took to addressing “misinformation” said at the table, along with inaccurate descriptions of the DOT and the project’s timeline.
He noted, for example, that the plan was in response to Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer’s call for safety improvements following a cyclist’s death in April 2017.
He also said the proposal just followed on from past DOT initiatives concerning the two avenues. He said the DOT had painted bike lanes on both avenues a decade ago, demonstrating that the agency’s proposal was a long time coming.
Morris said the workshop, at the very outset, was meant for one purpose—to “come out against the plan.” He said that Keehan-Smith’s decision requiring the removal of pro-bike lanes flyers from the tables indicated hostility toward the plan.
There was no mention, however, of removing flyers prepared by Queens Streets, the name of Dorfman’s new group, which called for parking to be saved.
“How is this democracy in action or community engagement when one point of view of a Sunnyside resident was blocked, meanwhile other engagement was allowed?” Morris said. “For anyone who cares about safe streets in Queens, last night was particularly frustrating.”
Juan Restrepo, Queens Organizer for Transportation Alternatives, said the meeting was difficult to gauge.
He added that the workshop, while appearing to give another opportunity for the neighborhood to weigh in, was delaying the implementation of the plan.
“You’re constantly adding one additional step,” Restrepo said. “Before, it was that people wouldn’t feel they’ve been heard unless there was a town hall.”
Community Board 2 will vote on the DOT’s proposal on June 7