July 26, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
More than 100 neighborhood residents, business owners, and local leaders gathered at Bliss Street Plaza yesterday to rebuke the city’s plans for Skillman and 43rd Avenues.
The “Save Our Neighborhoods” rally, organized by Queens Streets For All, called on the mayor to reconsider his decision to install protected bike lanes and eliminate 116 parking spaces through the two avenues.
“We have to protect our small businesses, our churches, our civic groups,” said Patricia Dorfman, a Queens Streets For All organizer. “Parking is already a nightmare.”
Rally-goers demanded that de Blasio, who told the Department of Transportation to move forward with the plan despite strong opposition from Community Board 2 and some elected officials, and come out to Sunnyside to meet face-to-face with the plan’s many opponents.
Representatives from the offices of Congressman Joseph Crowley and Assemblyperson Catherine Nolan, along with Assemblymember Brian Barnwell, were at the event in support of the rally-goers.
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, however, was not invited to the rally due to his stance on the mayor’s decision. He said in a recent tweet that he “respects the mayor’s” decision, much to the chagrin of plan opponents.
“The greatest violation right now…is that our mayor, de Blasio, is going against the will of the people,” said Manny Gomez, chairman of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, later adding, “Please mayor, listen to our voices and meet with us.”
The rally is the latest installment in the tangle of meetings, petitions, letters, and public forums on the issue since the DOT first released its vision for the community eight months ago, prompted by calls to action after the death of a cyclist on 43rd Avenue last year.
The rally’s attendees repeated the same concerns that have been shared since the initial plan was unveiled in November—that the loss of parking spaces along the 25-block stretch of the corridor will threaten businesses and make parking in the area even more difficult.
Northern Boulevard, they say as of late, is better suited and in need of protected bike lanes more than the Sunnyside corridor.
The redesign’s supporters, however, argue that the plan will make all road users safer and that the parking losses are a necessary sacrifice to obtain those benefits.
Still, attendees at the Queens Streets For All rally claimed that protected bike lanes will actually do the opposite and make the corridor less safe.
Mindy Bichler-Greene, co-president of P.S. 11’s PTA on Skillman Avenue, said the protected lanes to be installed directly in front of the 54-25 Skillman Ave. school will pose a danger to the over 1,000 children who cross the street to enter the building, which the DOT has refuted in the past.
“We’re worried that they’ll get hit by cyclists who don’t yield to pedestrians,” she said.
Others claim cyclists seldom obey the rules of the road, and that the protected bike lanes will wreak havoc on a residential corridor, another point that the DOT has rejected.
“They want to run a bike highway through the community,” said Dorothy Morehead, a real estate broker and member of Community Board 2.
Among the litany of claims and concerns was an air of resentment against the mayor, distrust over the DOT’s statistics and intent behind the plan, and ire against Transportation Alternatives, the group that has been at the forefront of gathering support for the plan.
Several attendees also expressed disappointment at Van Bramer, who they feel did not come out strongly enough against the plan and was too quick to back the mayor’s call.
“The DOT tried to pull a fast one on us, and we’re fighting back,” said Gary O’Neill, owner of Aubergine Cafe, later adding, “I think if a person only listened to TA, one would think the business community doesn’t care about safety.”
He said the goal should still be to create safer streets, but that issues along the corridor can be fixed without a protected bike lane.
“We want to see incremental changes that we can be all in favor of instead of this take no prisoners attitude from the mayors office and from the DOT,” O’Neill said.
The mayor’s office did not say whether de Blasio will or won’t pay a visit to Sunnyside, but provided the following statement: “The City has engaged in significant community engagement around this project. Changes have already been made to the project as a result of that feedback, and the City will continue working engaging the community during and after installation, making adjustments to make it as effective as possible.”
The DOT is set to begin construction work on the project some time in August, and wrap up in the fall.