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

Queens Community Board 2 Chair Denise Keehan-Smith has also flip-flopped, saying she doesn't want protected bike lanes on 43rd and Skillman.

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: 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

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.

  • Reader

    What’s more important? Parking or people? That no more people die and go through the suffering that Flor Jimenez experienced, or that Jimmy Van Bramer gets elected borough president? What a disgrace.

  • This is disappointing for anyone who thought Van Bramer was an ally. It is similar to Tish James failing to support the Clinton Avenue bike lane after having gone on record saying that bike lanes should be part of all street designs.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Was that a before re-election/after re-election thing too?

  • William Farrell

    I was at the StreetsBall when Van Bramer was honored for his commitment to ending traffic violence. It’s incredibly disappointing to now see him dither about whether or not to implement these life saving improvements.

  • No, James bailed on Clinton Avenue even before her re-election last fall.

    https://nyc.streetsblog.org/2016/05/18/james-and-cumbo-wilt-under-pressure-oppose-clinton-ave-bikeway/

    My guess is that she wanted to have that on her record for when she runs for mayor, so that she can rebut any opponent who would attack her for her support for bike lanes. Maybe Van Bramer has a similar strategy, as he is term limited out of the Counsel after his current term.

  • I’m fine with an elected leader trying to make a plan the best it can be. Heck, every so often better ideas or compromises can emerge. However, to be undecided is not an option. He needs to embrace the project and state that protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety must be part of the final project, then try to reasonably negotiate any smaller details or adjustments.

    Again: why do we allow Community Board members that have no expertise in a field block plans to save lives? This is the craziest process we have in NYC. If we had a West Nile outbreak we wouldn’t stop to have many Town hall meetings and not vote. If we had a massive Category Five hurricane on the way we wouldn’t halt preparations for days to talk it over with businesses. Just let the NYC DOT – the experts – do their job, in this case trying to save lives while encouraging options for Queens residents who desperately need to get around better with a booming population and failing transit system, especially in Sunnyside. It is the last link in what will eventually be a real enticement to get people, children, seniors around safely.

  • Simon Phearson

    You know, this project is right in my neck of the woods, and Van Bramer is my rep. I should be showing up to meetings and writing in support of this project. But I’m not.

    Why not? Because I see how these projects end up. I’m a fast cyclist; I’m experienced and comfortable in vehicular traffic. And I’m tired of seeing favored arterials like these be transformed into streets that are safer but ultimately subordinate my interests. It’s happened again and again on streets this blog has featured.

    I used to ride on 20th Avenue in Ditmars-Steinway all the time. Then the two-way bike lane went in. I tried it a couple of times, found it filled with gravel and unworkable at 37th Street, and then switched to 21st Avenue and Ditmars Boulevard. I used to ride up First Avenue from midtown to get to the QB bridge, but then the protected bike lane went in. I rode in that a few more times, found the mixing zones dangerously unpredictable and unsafe-feeling (particularly at 59th street where, if you stop for the light, you have to risk drivers cutting the corner too tightly), and switched to Park. And never mind the whole mess on Second Avenue.

    If Skillman/43rd gets protected bike lanes, there’s a good chance it’s going to be more of the same – poorly maintained bike lanes designed to prioritize car traffic. That’s what all of the Trottenberg-era lanes seem to amount to. If these ever go in, I’l probably switch to 39th Avenue through Sunnyside Gardens, until I can’t avoid Skillman any longer. The only Trottenberg-era lane I actually like is on Shore Boulevard, by Astoria Park. But, of course, that’s primarily because it’s a place where I can ride slow and take in the scenery. It’s not like anyone else is actually using it, except to jog.

    I am so sick of the high-temperature rhetoric on this blog, pushing projects that have consistently, in my experience, degraded my ability to get around as a cyclist and pushed me to use infrastructure that is less safe-feeling but objectively just better for getting around. It just starts to seem like you’re pushing for mileage and modeshare, and not anyone’s actual interests. Van Bramer gets a pass from me here. I wouldn’t listen to you guys, either.

  • Give me a minute and I’ll post something about how your personal preferences, not safety stats and ridership trends, should guide all bike infrastructure in a city of 8.5 million people.

  • Wobbly cyclist

    I’m not fast nor am I all that comfortable in traffic. Not that DOT’s designs are perfect, but “do nothing because they don’t benefit me, an experienced cyclist” is really selfish.

  • Simon Phearson

    Hey, be a dick about it, that’s fine. Treat the experiences of the people actually throwing their bodies at this stupid infrastructure you’re pushing as less relevant than the “interested but concerned” demographic you’re trying to entice with safe-seeming but still dangerous infrastructure that you promote.

    There’s absolutely no reason why cycling infrastructure can’t serve both me and the hypothetical riders waiting to get out. But until it does, you’re losing an ally on these efforts. Good luck getting hypothetical riders to help you out.

  • NYCBK123

    Yep. Politicians are all transactional. We have to push them to do the right thing and applaud them when they do it, but never believe that we can be complacent. If we stop pushing or let the ‘other side’ be vocal without a response, our ‘allies’ can suddenly turn against us.

  • “And I’m tired of seeing favored arterials like these be transformed into streets that are safer but ultimately subordinate my interests.”

    My goodness.

    Translation: “I’m tired of streets where fewer people die but make things slightly more inconvenient for me.”

    How is that different from a community board member who wants to preserve parking or thinks that his business will suffer if this goes in?

  • Simon Phearson

    If a business owner’s business actually did suffer on account of a bike lane going in, would you be surprised if he objected to the bike lane?

    Just take a look at these fucking bike lanes. Are you letting your kids ride east on 20th Avenue past 37th Street? Are you advising your cautious friends on the UES to take Second Avenue downtown? Do you think First Avenue in midtown is any place for an inexperienced cyclist? Has Vernon Boulevard’s protected two-way lane ever been unobstructed?

    I just want to get to where I’m going. There are protected bike lanes in this city where I’m happy to use them, because they do make things safer. When it’s not obstructed by construction, Kent Avenue is wonderful. The approach to the QB is beautiful, even if you can’t (shouldn’t) go very fast. This isn’t just about speed. This is about actual safety on projects that get promoted here just because they seem like easy lifts and will notch a few more miles in the stats.

  • My point is this:

    I agree with you that these bike lanes are often poorly maintained and that mixing zones are not even less than ideal, but almost criminally bad design.

    So… fight to improve them. Fight to get DOT to nix mixing zones in favor of protected intersections. Fight to get the city to install wider bike lanes that work for fast cyclists AND newbies, as is standard practice elsewhere. But “I’m tired of seeing favored arterials like these be transformed into streets that are safer but ultimately subordinate my interests” is just crap.

    In some magical world where we could get people to wake up to the reality that there are great designs out there that we could just install, that’s what we’d do. Instead, the political reality is that this is what DOT can install right now, if they can even do that, as JVB’s feebleness shows.

    This stuff builds political support for the next generation of infrastructure that will hopefully be more in line with what I think you and I agree would work for everyone.

  • Jimmy just tweeted saying article is incorrect. That he never was contacted by that reporter.

  • Wow, anger issues?

  • Simon Phearson

    So, your argument is: take a step back, and hopefully you won’t die before we manage to take a step forward.

  • Simon Phearson

    I’m a vehicular cyclist. Anger comes with the territory.

  • This is a step forward, and the safety stats alone support that.

  • Simon Phearson

    A step forward for other people, you mean. Which is great. I’ll die a martyr, I guess.

  • The joke will be on you, because after you die we’ll make sure the city installs a protected bike lane on the street. [smiley face emoji]

  • JarekFA

    They don’t really need the parking that bad. This one’s been abandoned ever since the Ghost Bike was installed! https://twitter.com/radlerkoenigin/status/984202967497748482

  • JarekFA

    Feel free to take the lane!

  • Simon Phearson

    A ton of the parking around here is just for weekend commutes, if that, and park-and-riders. I don’t have any idea what the demand on Skillman is supposed to be. Lots of shops, but I don’t often see anyone double-parking to “drop in,” like I routinely do on Steinway.

  • Simon Phearson

    If I could legally take the lane, I would, and I would have literally no complaint. Everybody would get what they want. But that’s not the law, and certainly not what the NYPD believes to be the law. I myself have gotten audible “warnings” from cops who were displeased with my taking the lane when a bike lane was available.

    Of course, Streetsblog is aware of the law and of the way it’s selectively used to trap cyclists. Why don’t they oppose the law? Why don’t they push for its repeal, the same way they’re pushing the LPI law? Well, it’s because they don’t want cycling traffic to bifurcate like that. They want us all using these stupid bike lanes, no matter how many mixing zones, split-phases, gravel-pits, thoughtless pedestrians, salmoning cyclists, etc., they have. That’s how you build “political capital” to push for more bike lane mileage.

  • Simon Phearson

    I’m not saying, “do nothing.” I’m saying, “if this is the best you’re going to do, you’re going to have to do it without me.”

  • JarekFA

    I take the lane if the bike lane is too slow. The law is extremely permissive so long as you have a reason. The bike lane is in shitty condition and I’m able to maintain car speeds should be sufficient. If the bike lane has another bike in it, then that, under the law, is an expressly sufficient reason.

  • qrt145

    “If the bike lane has another bike in it, then that, under the law, is an expressly sufficient reason.”

    I don’t know if that argument has been tested. The law says you can leave the bike lane if it is obstructed, but a judge might decide that a moving bike doesn’t count as an “obstruction”, but just a part of normal traffic.

  • Simon Phearson

    Even if this were colorable as a matter of law (and it’s not), it certainly wouldn’t reflect the NYPD’s view. The time I was “warned” about biking outside of the lane, I was passing another cyclist and hadn’t gotten back into the bike lane quickly enough.

  • Joe R.

    The reason for CB involvement is very simple—a certain cohort feels they’re entitled to store their private property on public streets, usually for free. These people are overwhelming represented on community boards. Parking, parking, parking is all you ever hear when a safe streets project is proposed. If the Mayor and Trottenberg are guilty of anything, it’s failing to impress on motorists that you can only park on public streets by the good graces of NYC. That privilege can be revoked any time, for any reason (or even for no reason) and motorists have zero legal recourse. That’s the message which needs to go out. If a project results in loss of parking, that’s just the way it is. Motorists can lump it, or leave the city. NYC shouldn’t be in the business of subsidizing car ownership.

  • Joe R.

    The law seems pretty open ended to me as far as reasons for leaving the bike lane. The clause “including but not limited to” fixed or moving objects, motor vehicles, bicycles, pedestrians, pushcarts, animals, surface hazards gives the cyclist carte blanche to leave the bike lane for any reason he/she deems it unsafe. That could include riding at a speed which is less than or equal to the speed limit but higher than what might be safe in the bike lane.

    That said, I’d like to see a repeal of any laws requiring cyclists to use bike lanes, even if they have conditions which allow a cyclist to leave the lane. The NYPD will always misinterpret bike laws and give cyclists tickets without merit.

  • 43rd Street resident

    The “save the businesses” excuse is a red herring. First of all, there are hardly any businesses on many of the affected blocks; they are mostly quiet and residential. The main business strips in the neighborhood are Queens Boulevard and Greenpoint Ave.

    What few storefronts exist primarily serve the people living within walking distance. If you’re driving, you go five minutes away to Astoria where there’s much, much greater selection and gobs of free parking. If the owners of the high-priced neighborhood markets who have posted inflammatory anti-safety flyers believe they are successfully competing with the likes of Stop & Shop to attract drivers because they have a half dozen street parking spaces in front, they are dreaming.

    The CB has also failed, from what I can tell, to do any sort of planning or analysis of what the future of the commercial storefronts should actually be, how much parking they need, and who benefits from them. Why do we residents care if investors who own rental buildings can successfully rent to high-margin specialty restaurants that attract drivers? I’d rather have neighborhood-serving businesses. There may be too many storefronts, anyway, as more and more of my neighbors are doing their shopping online. Some of them–especially the blighted, vacant ones–ought to be razed and replaced with housing.

    I think the real agenda, as usual, is preserving overnight parking spaces for the minority who own cars. But that is selfish; these residential streets are public property.

  • Driver

    Even if you are technically within the law, if you have to take a part of a day or more from your life to prove it you have already been severely penalized.

  • Vooch

    Simon,

    I used to also be a vehicular cyclist but a few times riding on the 9th ave PBL 10 years ago changed my life.

    for the better.

    get one of these – used and add some dorky racks plus 42mm tires.

    You will be so happy

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/775985467f6a295aa8b2a0119c7852c20d8ef84f13676d423ebadb010bf29af2.jpg

  • qrt145

    Like they say, “tell that to the judge”… 🙂 There can be a disagreement as to whether leaving a bike lane to pass a slower cyclist was actually for safety or merely for convenience.

  • Vouch. I ride a Dutch bike that weighs 60 pounds. That gives me a workout but doesn’t let me go lightning fast (unless I am zooming down the QBB!)

    And about vehicular cycling: I have nothing against the practice. In fact, I utilize a lot of vehicular cycling techniques when there aren’t bike lanes. It’s smart riding when you are on more dangerous streets or streets without good, safe bike lanes. But to espouse it like the true my-way-or-the-highway-one-size-thinking-fits-all-for-all-bike-riders, then VC fails the test.

  • Vooch

    Clarence

    Agreed 1000%. on certain streets – one needs to go into vehicular cyclist mode. However, that should be an exception.

    And the Upright position of the Dutch style bike is a revelation. My beloved has a Dutch style bike. Should be the default.

    Double Dog dare you to carry a big potted plant on your bike or suitcases 🙂

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/00c3cd9e0592d7c3d864bc3927667262f3c99e91dd030b6a05f13521dde608e0.jpg https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/2396ed863d4c2e8d5ab76e7cbd3dfdbb158d001a910f3c883fcc95b81d20f53c.jpg

  • Vooch

    Ben,

    could you write a short story on this amazing winter for Citibike ? Look at this graph ?

    maybe with a link to our favorite comedian to remind us of success.

    https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1c3327773d63ace7e4b5da27c88cf5e7f6803dae3ac195bb6eacf607b21b7366.png

    https://crooksandliars.com/cltv/2013/06/colbert-skewers-wsjs-rabinowitz-rant

  • Simon Phearson

    I have one of these. Dutch-style, upright, comfortable handles, fenders, generator lights, belt-drive, drum brakes, rear rack. It’s a fun bike to ride around the neighborhood over flat terrain, and the fact that nothing on it is quick-release means I don’t have to worry as much about it when I lock it up at my destinations.

    But the fact is that most of the miles I log are in traffic, without protected bike lanes, and long distances. My dutch-style commuter would be a pain in the ass on any east river bridge, and it’s not great in congested traffic. I have different tools and styles for different purposes. I VC with my road bike, stick to bike lanes with my single-speed bike.

  • Vooch

    Dude,

    so you ARE a tolerant nice guy which we always thought

    ???

  • KeNYC2030

    Keehan-Smith wants incremental changes to see if they make a difference, i.e, whether people keep dying? Wouldn’t it make more sense to do the full redesign and see if business owners’ concerns are real (which, btw, hasn’t been the case anywhere else in the city)?

  • Joe R.

    “Business owner’s concerns” have been smoke and mirrors all along. I just wish they would state the real reason for their opposition to these projects, namely that it would prevent them from parking in front of their businesses, instead of using the excuse of imaginary customers who need parking to patronize their business.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG