Queens Residents Protect Cyclists on 43rd and Skillman With Their Bodies, and Demand to Be Counted

"This is a moment of reckoning for our elected leaders."

Photo: Laura Shepard
Photo: Laura Shepard

Yesterday afternoon, U.S. Representative Joe Crowley came out against protected bike lanes and pedestrian safety upgrades for Skillman and 43rd avenues, claiming to speak for “the community.” A few hours later, more than 100 members of the community put their bodies on the line to show support for the project.

Participants formed a human chain on 43rd Avenue, separating the street’s painted bike lane from moving traffic and protecting people biking to their homes in Queens after work.

A protected bike lane could have saved the life of Gelacio Reyes, who was struck and killed by a motorist last spring as he was biking home on 43rd Avenue at 39th Street. Ten days later, a driver critically injured cyclist David Nunes at the same location.

The protected bike lane plan was first presented by DOT in November, but it’s been delayed in the face of merchant opposition to repurposing parking spots, with Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer sitting on the fence. The “human-protected bike lane” was a final demonstration of why these street safety upgrades matter to Queens residents before a critical vote on the plan coming up at Community Board 2 tonight.

“How many lives is a parking spot worth?” went the chants, while passing cyclists smiled and cheered.

“This is a moment of reckoning for our elected leaders,” said Macartney Morris, chair of the Transportation Alternatives Queens Volunteer Committee. “It’s a moment of reckoning for Community Board 2. You can’t say you support bike lanes, but just not this one. You can’t say you’re for safety, but not if it takes one parking spot.”

Macartney Morris addresses the crowd. Photo: Laura Shepard

The CB 2 transportation committee voted 5-2 vote in support on Monday. The plan has been reworked several times in response to complaints about safe intersection treatments that remove parking spaces for cars, but board chair Denise Keehan-Smith remains opposed to the current version.

Angela Stach commutes daily from Jackson Heights to Manhattan via Skillman and 43rd Avenues. “I’m a very experienced cyclist and yet riding here is constant stress, constant fear every day,” she said. “Getting right hooked by cars who take a quick right turn off the avenues. Having to swerve around cars that are constantly, constantly double parked in the bike lanes, which is a double risk.”

For residents of many Queens neighborhoods, 43rd and Skillman are critical bike connections to and from the Queensboro Bridge. They came out to show that despite what Joe Crowley says, people in the community want protected bike lanes on these streets. During the demonstration, people on bikes often outnumbered people driving, who were scarce even during peak p.m. commute hours.

“We’re full residents here,” said Laura Newman, who lives in Jackson Heights and often bikes to Sunnyside, “and we do everything on our bikes.”

Geraldo Diaz commutes by bike from Corona to work at a restaurant in Long Island City along Skillman and 43rd. He’s been injured by a driver who doored him on Roosevelt Avenue and constantly worries about the risk of another dooring collision, which protected bike lanes would eliminate.

Keisuke Inoue spoke about the need for safe bike lanes — for him and his young daughter Ena, who was seated on the back of his bike, as she often is on her way to and from daycare.

Several people noted the fatal crash on 21st Street in Long Island City last week, caused by a driver who opened her door without looking and knocked cyclist Aaron Padwee into the path of an unlicensed box truck driver.

Eric Auerdach bikes to his job at the JetBlue building in Long Island City from Bed-Stuy every day. After Padwee’s death, he felt it was important to come out and increase awareness of the need for a protected bike network.

Conrad Gangone, a Woodsider who rides on Skillman and 43rd Avenues almost every day, came out because he routinely has to weave around parked cars and has been hit by turning drivers.

“I’m hoping that people notice that we’re here, and with the transportation committee vote the other day, I hope the full board approves this,” he said.

Photo: Laura Shepard
Photo: Laura Shepard