All Eyes on Van Bramer After Town Hall on Sunnyside Protected Bike Lanes

Nearly 300 people showed up to last night's town hall on DOT's redesign for 43rd Avenue and Skillman Avenue. Photo: David Meyer
Nearly 300 people showed up to last night's town hall on DOT's redesign for 43rd Avenue and Skillman Avenue. Photo: David Meyer

DOT held a town hall on the protected bike lane plan for Skillman and 43rd avenues in Sunnyside last night, and after much testimony, the key question remains the same: Will Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer support this critical street safety project for his district?

Van Bramer called for a redesign last year after a driver struck and killed Gelacio Reyes as he biked home from work at 43rd Avenue and 39th Street. But when DOT put forward a plan to protect people biking on 43rd and Skillman, local merchants complained about the conversion of curbside parking to make room for the bike lanes, and Van Bramer said he didn’t support the project.

A year ago, Van Bramer stood with Reyes’s widow, Flor Jimenez, to demand the city make 43rd Avenue “safe for every single New Yorker, every single moment of every single day,” specifically with protected bike lanes. Protected bikeways on 43rd and Skillman would provide a safer bike route to and from the Queensboro Bridge for thousands of Queens residents.

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
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

At the town hall yesterday, Jimenez addressed the crowd of about 300 people, speaking in Spanish with the help of a translator. Fighting back tears, she urged the city to redesign the streets for safety.

“If something can be done, please do it, so there are no more families left as we are now,” she said.

DOT has adjusted its plan since November, mainly to appease the cantankerous merchants by repurposing fewer curbside parking spaces [PDF]. Some of those changes will also result in a safer design — at a few intersections, for instance, the plan now calls for DOT’s new bikeway intersection treatments (the agency calls them “off-set crossings”) instead of mixing zones.

The people who were opposed to the project before, however, remained opposed.

“Our concerns have not changed from the proposal that was presented in December,” said Gary O’Neill, owner of the Aubergine Café on Skillman. “Protected bike lanes do not guarantee safer streets, but it will mean a loss of business. The only guarantee with a protected bike lane is a loss of parking, not just for businesses but for the community as a whole.”

O’Neill is wrong on a few counts. The safety record of protected bike lanes is unambiguously positive, with reductions in traffic injuries averaging 20 percent after implementation.

There is no evidence, meanwhile, that claiming a few parking spaces to make walking and biking safer is detrimental to local merchants. New York has been implementing protected bike lanes on commercial streets for more than a decade. There are always some skittish merchants like O’Neill, but retail activity on streets like Kent Avenue in Brooklyn and Columbus Avenue in Manhattan continues to flourish.

The DOT plan converts unprotected bike lanes on Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenue to parking-protected lanes. Image: DOT
The DOT plan converts unprotected bike lanes on Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenue to parking-protected lanes. Image: DOT

Other attendees were convinced the plan would be a net benefit. Anna Thea Bridge, who lives on Skillman and owns a car, was won over by the shorter crossing distances for pedestrians. “I came here very much on the fence, without an agenda,” said Anna Thea Bridge, who lives on Skillman and owns a car. “This is compelling — the idea of having to get 28 feet across as opposed to 44.”

Orlando Gonzalez, who also lives in the neighborhood and owns a car, said that even though “parking is a pain, no doubt,” he has more pressing priorities. Gonzalez wants the redesign so he can feel safe carrying his child on his bike. “When I’m by myself, I weave in and out of traffic, and I bypass the double-parked cars,” he said. “But when I’m [biking] with my son in the back, the bicycle becomes a lot heavier. It’s harder to move, and it’s just awfully scary.”

All eyes are now on Van Bramer, whose support could make the redesign a reality. At the end of the town hall, he told the audience he remained undecided. “Nothing is a done deal, this is a proposal,” he said. “I listened to every single word that every single person said here today.”

  • Reader

    How can JVB remain undecided? What is left to decide? DOT amended their plan to appease the cranks and they remain upset. That’s a sign nothing can appease them and political courage – the courage to stop people from getting killed, one should add – is required now. Step up, sir.

  • He can remain undecided because he is checking to see how the wind is blowing. He’s hearing from the anti-bike crazies, who are having success in influencing him.

    This means that bicyclists were wrong to ever have considered Van Bramer an ally. He is evidently unlike his colleagues Reynoso and Rodriguez, who support bicycle infrastructure on principle, out of an understanding of the benefits that it brings to the entire community.

  • JarekFA

    That’s what made me so angry. I thought he was one of the principled ones. Maybe I just wanted to believe that since he’s supported bike lanes in the past and he’s a CM for Queens (albeit densely populated eastern Queens), that he must’ve taken those positions on principles. And his husband is on the Board of Directors for Transportation Alternatives. But the about face he did on this was quite stunning. We’re talking saving lives v. private car storage.

    I hate pols who have no political courage. Take a stand and describe why and people will respect you more. Put your finger in the air to see which way the wind is blowing will always bring more grief. I disagreed with the soda tax, but that was strong leadership by Bloomberg. I respected him more after he pushed for it, even if the courts struck it down and I was personally opposed to it.

    It’s not even that many car parking spots. My random little side street has 60! spots. So this removes, what, 90? And still provides ample parking. FFS — parking will ALWAYS be difficult in the dense parts of the city. Induced demand and all that. So shameful to see the “Parent Coordinator” come out against this. They’re so dumb. I saw someone tweet, she should be called the “Parking Coordinator.”

  • Blwndrpwrmlk

    If Van Bramer is reading this, turn to page 4 of the DOTs presentation:
    April 2017 – “Majority Leader Van Bramer and Community Request Traffic Safety Improvements and Call for Analysis of Protected Bike Lane on 43rd Av / Skillman Av”

    Beggars can’t be choosers, Jimmy. You requested this!

    There’s no excuse to delay or table the plan, all the DOT did was dig into their toolkit of designs and copied-and-pasted treatments that they’ve been implementing for the past 10 years. Except for the offset crossings, none of this was new, go to or even earlier and you’ll see repeating elements. And parking loss, and its backlash, was inevitable, it’s a zero sum game. What did you think the DOT will design, a tunnel? Requesting something from a municipal agency and becoming flat-footed with the results doesn’t look good for a politician.

    2 fatalities and 280 people injured in a Vision Zero Priority Corridor, and you’re still on the fence? You either endorse or table the plan, but more importantly stop wasting our time!

    If I want theatrics, I’ll go see Hamilton.

  • Guest

    Possibly related: JVB opted out of public financing in his last election campaign. All this says to me that he’s abandoning whatever principles he had and becoming a typical pol. I assume he has his eye on higher office, but I’m glad he’ll be term-limited out of the council.

  • wquietguy

    If Mr Van Bramer is reading this article we, the residents of Sunnyside and Woodside, ask that he stand up like a man and represent the interests of the people who elected him. It is amazing how you could cover the town hall and not mention the fact that no matter how hard DOT tried to manufacture a positive response to their plan,80% of the people attending the meeting were against the proposal. This, by itself, is reason to not only delay but to cancel the entire project altogether.
    indicate dents, are tired of both DOT’s misstatements and your untruthful restatements of their falsehoods. DOT says they have counted a day with 1400 bikes coming through this area. They specify the day was May 17, 2017, bike ride to work day, which cannot be representative and they have not counted any other day. We do not believe that DOT ever actually counted. If they had they could provide the hour by hour counts that we requested 6 weeks ago. We call BS. Our independent studies indicate. that the average weekday bike traffic in this area is 8 riders per hour or less than 100 a day on average the vast majority of which are involved in the morning and evening commutes. There is no way that there has ever been a day with 1400 riders in this area nor will there ever be. DOT is lying about this and this blog is willfully spreading their lies

    What is it with you people that you are willing to lie cheat and steal to try to force the will of a tiny minority on the vast majority who oppose this plan. We, the residents of Sunnyside and Woodside, are perfectly comfortable with the way things are in our community. Notice, I said OUR community. If you bike through OUR area you do so because you know that the area is already safe. If you don’t feel safe biking here we suggest that Astoria is very pretty these days and might be suitable for you bikers who obviously do not know how to bike safely.

    Again, Mr. Van Bramer, if you read this realize that you should be representing the will of your constituents. The time is now to be a man and stand up to the bully force representing a tiny minority. The time is now to stand up and say not only no but HELL NO to this assault on our freedom. We, the residents of Sunnyside and Woodside, have a right to expect no less of you.

  • WellAdjustedAndroid

    Sunnyside and Woodside aren’t gated communities. You don’t own the roads. I live in Forest Hills and need the lanes in Sunnyside and Woodside to get to the Queensborough Bridge.

    If you want to drive in NYC, go ahead, that’s your prerogative. But stop expecting anyone not in a car to bend over backwards to make it easier for you to park…at the expense of their own safety. As a driver, YOU are the minority here. Not the other way around.

  • wquietguy

    I, Would love to meet with you in person to discuss this.However, let me paraphrase you so you can get some understand. If you want to bike through Sunnyside and Woodside go ahead, there is no one stopping you. As you have said you should not expect everyone to go out of their way to make it easy for you. Riding a bike, like driving and parking is not a God-given right. If you do not feel safe there are other routes to the queensboro bridge.
    Also please get your facts staights. In NYC bikers are a tiny minority.
    According to DOT statistics less than 12% of new Yorkers ride a bike at least once a month on average. Dot stats also tell us that automobile use in this area is larger than bike riding by a factor of some 80 to 1.
    Even if these were not facts you are missing the concept that the local areas should have control over their streets. Let me give you an example. In Forest Hills where you are from there is near your major commercial area that has near it a residential area THAT HAS ONLY RESIDENT PARKING. This is clearly only for the benefit of residents. By your theory this should be disbanded first. Please do so and then we will talk about bike lanes here.
    As anice person I am also going to solve your safety issue biking through our area. If you are coming down Queens blvd as would be the most logical place to ride when you reach 49th street instead of going 2 blocks north to Skillman go one block south to 47th avenue. You will find an onstreet bike lane and very little traffic. Ride to 32nd street and then go 1 block north to catch the bridge that goes over the trainyard and leads to the queensboro bridge. This is both shorter and safer. The reason this is so is that Automobiles for whatever reason feel that the only way west through this area is on Skillman. Now, do me a favor and tell me where I can park easily in Forest Hills