June 20, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer has rejected the Department of Transportation’s proposed redesign for Skillman and 43rd Avenues, according to a statement he provided exclusively to the Times Ledger.
In a long statement he released today, Van Bramer said the city’s plan, which includes installing protected bike lanes on the two avenues and eliminating about 120 parking spaces, can’t proceed.
“I don’t believe we can move forward with this DOT plan at this time,” Van Bramer said to the paper.
The Council Member began his statement by saying that the most important duty of an elected official is to protect lives, and to respond and improve safety “each time someone dies in a crash on our streets.”
He noted that he remains a supporter of a protected bike lane on 43rd Ave., as he demanded after the death of Gelacio Reyes last April. He also recalled that he stood next to Flor Jimenez, Reyes’ widow, when he made the statement.
“After Gelacio Reyes was killed, I called for a protected bike lane on 43rd Avenue,” Van Bramer said. “I continue to believe a protected bike lane would make this street safer.”
Van Bramer then said that the DOT’s initial community outreach on the plan was “disastrous,” which made the entire process “more painful.” But the Council Member says community engagement was certainly held during the seven months since the agency released their initial plan.
“We had that process, often difficult, and sometimes ugly,” he said. “But we had it.”
While the plan has seen three versions, and has seen support from many residents, both new and old, Van Bramer noted that it still failed to gain enough support among residents, community institutions, elected officials, and Community Board 2.
The Council Member reiterated a stance he’s long held—that bike lanes make streets safer for everyone. He added that he rejects the “vilification of cyclists”.
But the conversation on making streets safer, he said, must not stop.
“…[W]hat has emerged from this process is apparent near unanimity among opponents of this plan for a protected bike lane on Northern Boulevard in CB2,” Van Bramer said. “That’s some progress, but I hope we can continue to do more to build even more support for comprehensive street safety measures, including protected bike lanes.”
Van Bramer’s announcement comes after the Sunnyside Post requested comment from him six days ago on the DOT’s plan. It also comes close to two weeks after Community Board 2 voted no to the agency’s proposal.
The Department of Transportation office did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but said in a statement to Streetsblog that its plan is the correct one for the area, and that two-way protected bike lanes solely on 43rd Avenue “would not work.”
The DOT studied a two-way protected bike lane on 43rd Avenue, as Van Bramer called for in his announcement, but said it would lead to more conflicts between street users, slower vehicle traffic, and likely just as much parking loss as the Skillman and 43rd Avenue plan already on the table.
“For all these reasons, the Skillman/43rd Avenue redesign remains the best plan for protecting all street users while addressing the growth of cycling in communities across Queens,” the agency said.
Seth Stein, a spokesperson for Mayor Bill de Blasio, said the office would have “more to say on this soon.”
Transportation Alternatives also did not immediately respond to a request for comment.
Queens Streets, a group of businesses and neighborhood organizations against the DOT’s plan, said it was pleased to hear Van Bramer support their call.
“We do not favor changes proposed for either Skillman or 43rd Avenues, however, because all of our concerns apply to both avenues equally,” the group said in a statement. “If another plan is to be considered, we ask for the opportunity to give input in advance, and once again request that Northern Blvd. we studied as a possible site for protected bike lanes.”