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Jimmy Van Bramer

Van Bramer Won’t Say Whether He Supports Protected Bike Lanes on Skillman and 43rd

Jimmy Van Bramer, podium, in April speaking alongside CB 2 chair Denise Keehan-Smith, right, and Flor Jimenez, left, whose husband Gelacio Reyes was killed biking on 43rd Avenue. Photo: David Meyer

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer insists he's working to advance the implementation of protected bike lanes on 43rd Avenue and Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside, but the process he envisions could delay the project indefinitely.

A year ago, Van Bramer called for immediate action from DOT after a driver struck and killed Gelacio Reyes on 43rd Avenue as he biked home from his delivery job in Manhattan. With the protected bike lanes DOT put forward a few months later, 43rd and Skillman would finally provide a safe connection between central Queens and the Queensboro Bridge.

Yesterday, after we ran a post pointing out that Van Bramer hasn't been out in front on the issue for months, he told Streetsblog that DOT has to address pedestrian crossings at PS 11 before he'll consider holding a town hall on the protected bike lane project.

Van Bramer objected to Streetsblog's characterization that he's been "MIA," but he also would not say that he supports the DOT redesign [PDF].

"I take great exception to the notion that I've tried to run from this," he said. "It's something that I have and continue to work on. Maybe it's not the speed at which someone likes, but it is a far cry from truth [to say otherwise] when in fact I have continued to dialogue with everyone on all sides."

"Once DOT came up with a plan and we saw it, you know, we had some things about it that we liked and some things about it that are problematic for people in the community," he said.

I asked what was "problematic" about the project, and Van Bramer cited "grave concerns from business owners" and "points" raised at the November Community Board 2 transportation committee meeting where DOT presented the project.

The big sticking point at that meeting was curbside car storage. CB 2 chair Denise Keehan-Smith, who like Van Bramer called for swift action from the city after the death of Gelacio Reyes, said at the meeting that the conversion of 158 parking spots to make room for the bike lanes "is highly unreasonable."

Similar merchant anxiety accompanies every bike project that repurposes parking spaces, but the record shows that retailers tend to do just as well after the streets are redesigned. DOT also has safer intersection designs in its toolkit that happen to repurpose fewer parking spots, which could temper some of those "grave concerns."

In January, Van Bramer said his support for the 43rd/Skillman project was conditioned on safer pedestrian crossings near P.S. 11 on Skillman and P.S. 343 on 47th Avenue. Yesterday, he said that if DOT addresses those crossings, he would only support holding a "town hall meeting" his office canceled in December.

"If and when we get those traffic calming measures, then I certainly support a town hall meeting on the protected bike lanes," he said. "I believe in protected bike lanes. I believe they make it safer. Having said that, I want to hear from the community, I want to hear from the community board, and that's the process."

It's a very different message from last April, when Van Bramer said 43rd Avenue "needs to be safe for every single New Yorker at every single moment of every single day" and that "we can't wait months."

It's also much more equivocal than the message from other council members who've shepherded major street safety projects past reluctant community boards.

On Sunday, Queens residents will rally at the Sunnyside St. Pat’s For All parade to call on Van Bramer to advance the redesign. To participate, head to 41-15 Skillman Avenue this Sunday at 1:30 p.m.

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