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Jimmy Van Bramer Called for a Protected Bike Lane on 43rd Avenue a Year Ago Today. Now He’s Undecided.

One year ago today: Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer, podium, and CB 2 Chair Denise Keehan-Smith, to the right, called for protected bike lanes alongside Flor Jimenez, whose partner Gelacio Reyes was killed by a driver as he biked on 43rd Avenue 12 days earlier. Photo: David Meyer

One year ago today, Queens Community Board 2 chair Denise Keehan-Smith and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer stood with the family of Gelacio Reyes to call for protected bike lanes on 43rd Avenue in Sunnyside, where a driver had struck and killed Reyes 10 days earlier.

"43rd Avenue can be updated to have protected bike lanes, I think it's necessary, I think it's something that needs to be done," Keehan-Smith said at the time. "I want to say publicly that we do support this effort, and we will write a letter in support of that to the Department of Transportation."

Van Bramer said the protected bike lane should be installed before another year passed.

"Quite frankly DOT should be out here right now, going over not if they’ll put a protected bike lane, but how they’ll put in a protected bike lane," he said. “Who’s to say that this weekend, someone else won’t be killed?”

What a difference a year makes.

Even with a plan from the city ready to roll, 12 months have now passed with no redesign, and that's fine with Van Bramer and Keehan-Smith.

With merchants griping about repurposing curbside parking spots to make room for protected bike lanes on 43rd Avenue and its westbound counterpart, Skillman Avenue, Van Bramer's undecided.

And Keehan-Smith, who also chairs CB 2's transportation committee, is refusing to allow the committee to vote on the plan. She's now saying DOT should abandon protected bike lanes for the sake of curbside parking spots.

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

In November, Keehan-Smith called the conversion of 158 parking spots to create a safer street alignment "highly unreasonable." DOT has since adjusted its plan to repurpose fewer parking spots, but Keehan-Smith is not satisfied and wants to water down the safety improvements.

She asked DOT Borough Commissioner Nicole Garcia at a meeting on Monday to drop the protected bike lanes and consider tweaks like painting the unprotected bike lanes green, adding speed humps, and adjusting signals with leading pedestrian intervals.

"I don't understand why you don't take smaller incremental changes and see if that makes an impact. And then if it doesn't, then I'm behind you," she said. "Do you understand my hesitation? There's so much opposition to this, and I get it -- I mean, people are concerned about their businesses."

"I don't want people dying either, obviously, but you're really gnawing away at the fabric of the neighborhood," she added.

Got that? Subtracting a few parking spots "gnaws away at the fabric of the neighborhood" but "people dying" apparently does not.

The changes Keehan-Smith suggested would not make the existing bike lanes on Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenue much safer than when Gelacio Reyes was struck and killed. They would remain unprotected and often obstructed by double-parked cars.

Those conditions discourage Sunnyside and Woodside residents from biking.

"Several years ago, I was on 39th Avenue, I'm a doctor, and I was going to see a patient in the city, on a bike, and I got hit by a New York City Police Department patrol vehicle," longtime Sunnyside resident Roz Gianutsos told the committee on Monday. "We need much clearer and defined physical barriers. I could have had a ghost bike. I think you need to take that seriously."

Instead, Keehan-Smith wants to drag the process out with yet another "town hall" meeting on the project. After an earlier town hall in March (where she arrived late), she's now calling on DOT to host another one because "a number of people in the community" "felt like a number of their questions weren't really answered."

Town hall, delay, repeat.

The merchant attitudes in Sunnyside are the same fears that accompany bike lanes elsewhere in New York, and a decade of experience shows they're unwarranted. Commercial streets like Kent Avenue in Brooklyn and Columbus Avenue in Manhattan are flourishing with protected bike lanes and safer conditions for walking and biking. Another town hall won't convince anyone -- only moving forward with a redesign proven to save lives can do that.

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