Van Bramer won’t support Skillman, 43rd safety plan
by Benjamin Fang
Jun 26, 2018 | 855 views | 0 0 comments | 41 41 recommendations | email to a friend | print
At Community Board 2’s meeting earlier this month, Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer’s chief of staff told the crowd that the councilman wanted to hear the board’s position on the Department of Transportation (DOT)’s Skillman and 43rd avenues safety plan before making a decision.

After the board voted against the proposal, both street safety advocates in favor of the plan and business leaders opposed to it said all eyes were on Van Bramer.

Last week, the Queens councilman announced that he won’t support the plan.

“I don’t believe we can move forward with this DOT plan at this time,” Van Bramer said. “The DOT’s plan, while changed a few times, still failed to gain enough support among residents, community institutions, elected officials and Community Board 2.”

DOT came up with the proposal after the death of Gelasio Reyes, who was killed by a drunk driver while biking on 43rd Avenue last April. Van Bramer and CB2 chair Denise Keehan-Smith were among those who called for a protected bike lane on the corridor.

The controversial plan would add protected bike lanes along Skillman and 43rd avenues, along with pedestrian islands and other street safety measures. But the plan would have also taken away a total of 116 parking spots, to which business owners, residents and the school communities objected.

In his extended statement, Van Bramer made it clear he continues to believe a protected bike lane would make the street safer.

“For me, the most important duty as an elected official is to protect lives,” he said. “Each time someone dies in a crash on our streets, it must be our duty to respond and improve safety.”

But the councilman blamed DOT for their “disastrous” initial community outreach, which made “this process even more painful.”

“I wanted to have a meaningful period of community engagement so all could be heard and no one could say anything was rushed,” he said. “And we had that process, often difficult, and sometimes ugly. But we had it.”

Van Bramer added that he rejects the “vilification of cyclists” and reiterated his support of bike lanes generally. He said he remains committed to what he promised Flor Jimenez, Reyes’s widow, which is a protected lane on 43rd Avenue.

“I urge all of us to listen to each other, respect our differing viewpoints and, above all else, put the safety of each other first,” he said. “The quest for safer streets must continue.”

The councilman concluded his statement by saying that there was “near unanimity” among opponents of this plan that there should be a protected bike lane on Northern Boulevard.

“That’s some progress, but I hope we can continue to do more to build even more support for comprehensive street safety measures, including protected bike lanes,” Van Bramer said.

In response to the councilman’s decision, Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said in a statement that denying Sunnyside residents of safety benefits is a “troubling shift in priorities.”

“His backpedaling on a previous call to install protected bike lanes in this corridor is disappointing,” White said, “and flies in the face of Vision Zero and his record.”

Van Bramer’s opposition to the project can still be overridden by the mayor, who has ultimate say over the project.

When asked about the project on WNYC two weeks ago, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he “has no problem” with overruling a community board’s vote, which is advisory, in the name of protecting lives.

“I do like to hear from communities,” de Blasio said. “I do like to see if we can balance concerns and get people to hear that we’re actually trying to adjust where we can for real and honest needs.

“But we’re not going to give in to some loud voices who want to keep the status quo in place that actually endangers people’s lives,” he added. “We’re going to keep building the Vision Zero model.”
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