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Queens CB 2’s “Safety Workshop” for 43rd and Skillman Was a Pointless Gripefest. Mission Accomplished.

An extremely productive session advancing the cause of public safety. Photo: David Meyer

Last night's Community Board 2 "safety workshop" lived down to expectations. It was a disorganized mess that continued to sap momentum from DOT's plan for protected bike lanes on 43rd and Skillman avenues, which the city first presented seven months ago.

With Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer failing to support the project (despite calling for DOT to act after a driver struck and killed cyclist Gelacio Reyes on 43rd Avenue last year), CB 2 Chair Denise Keehan-Smith has been overseeing an increasingly farcical public process consisting of one delay tactic after another.

Keehan-Smith billed the evening as a "workshop" to collect "safety ideas other than simply putting in a bike lane," but the event was a typical anti-bike gripe session about cyclist behavior and the repurposing of parking spots. About 120 people came, argued, and went home.

That wasn't enough venting to satisfy local resident Kevin Duffy, who spoke up at the end of the meeting to complain that not enough attention had been paid to parking. "This meeting was focused on the safety, but there are a significant number of people who are stressed homeowners, apartment owners, who are losing a significant number of parking spaces," he said.

"This meeting's not about parking," Keehan-Smith insisted.

But it's the potential reduction in on-street parking spaces that spooked Van Bramer after DOT put forward its safety plan, which repurposes about 100 spots to make room for protected bike lanes. Especially vocal have been a few Skillman Avenue merchants, including Aubergine Cafe owner Gary O'Neill, who said at an earlier meeting that “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."

Last night's meeting was the latest installment in an interminable series of town halls and workshops to appease opponents like O'Neill. The impetus for protected bike lanes on 43rd and Skillman is getting lost in the process.

Together the streets are an essential east-west bike connection linking central and eastern Queens to the Queensboro Bridge. The excessive width for cars and the lack of physical protection for cyclists contributed to the crash that killed Reyes at 43rd Avenue and 39th Street last year.

Van Bramer and Keehan-Smith understood this when they stood next to Flor Jimenez, Reyes's widow, and called for a protected bike lane on 43rd Avenue. It's the parking reduction that gave them cold feet. No amount of foot-dragging and handwaving about other "safety ideas" will make protected bike lanes on 43rd and Skillman less necessary.

CB 2 will share the feedback from last night with DOT before the next CB 2 transportation committee meeting, Keehan-Smith said. The committee meets on June 4 at the community board office at 43-22 50th Street. The full board will vote on the project on June 7 at Sunnyside Community Services, located at 43-31 39th Street.

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