A Queens community board voted down a Department of Transportation proposal for a protected bike lane running through Sunnyside and Woodside last night, the latest sign of neighborhood opposition to a street redesign proposed after one cyclist was killed and another was injured at the intersection of 43rd Avenue and 39th Street.
Community Board 2 voted 27-8 against the proposal, which would have installed parking-protected lanes from Queens Boulevard to Roosevelt Avenue on Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenue. The push for the protected lanes was spurred by the death of Gelacio Reyes, a deliveryman who was killed by a drunk driver at the intersection of 43rd and 39th last April while he was biking home from work.
Earlier this week, the bike lane even became a flashpoint in the Congressional primary between incumbent Joe Crowley (who came out against it) and challenger Alexandria Ocasio-Cortes (who came out in favor of it), despite the lack of federal involvement in planning city bike lanes.
Last night’s meeting, held down the block from the intersection where Reyes was killed, was contentious and emotional, as cycling advocates pushed for protected lanes as a necessary life-saving measure, and those against the lanes complained they hadn’t been listened to in the year-long process.
Issues besides the bike lane itself bubbled up from the crowd as well. Early on, a woman in the crowd shouted, “I don’t give a darn about cyclists, I care about me,” while a bike lane supporter was told to “go back to Jackson Heights” by a member of the crowd. The first speaker during a public comment section said that since a cyclist snatched her mother’s purse, all cyclists should be required to have license plates, in order to be more easily identified.
A number of speakers also claimed the installation of the bike lanes, which will take over 64 parking spaces, would negatively impact local businesses, despite city data to the contrary. Some bike lane opponents also suggested that a protected bike lane wouldn’t have saved Reyes’s life, either because he was hit by a drunk driver or because he ran a red light. CB2 chair Denise Keehan-Smith made this case during a meeting of the board’s transportation committee earlier this week, where the protected lanes were approved 5-2.
Despite an initial push from City Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and Denise Keehan-Smith, both backed off from supporting the safety improvements as the process to put in the bike lane became more contentious. During the final vote last night, Keehan-Smith informed the audience that while the transportation committee’s vote was 5-2, two unnamed members of the committee had changed their votes and that the board should consider the committee having voted 4-3 against the proposal.
Van Bramer sent his chief of staff, Matthew Wallace, to the meeting, who told the crowd the council member would weigh in on what he thinks should be done after the board came to their decision. (As of press time, Van Bramer’s office could not be reached for comment.)
As the vote was just advisory, the DOT left the door open to moving ahead with the bike lane anyway, as it did with a nearby bike lane proposal in Elmhurst on Queens Boulevard. In a statement after the meeting, the DOT said that engineers “reworked the design to preserve as many parking spaces as possible,” and that “DOT always appreciates community board feedback, but considers the vote to be advisory on substantive safety projects.”