March 2, 2018 By Christian Murray
A fringe group of bicycle advocates who want protected bike lanes on 43rd and Skillman Avenues in Sunnyside have stepped up the rhetoric, with one taking to twitter yesterday to intimidate Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer.
Members of the group have been lashing out at Van Bramer in recent weeks for not being an outspoken supporter of the protected bicycle lanes. One tweet directed at Van Bramer, however, stood out from the rest.
“The next time someone dies, and they will, can someone please throw fake blood (or real) at @jimmyVanBramer” reads the tweet sent.
Van Bramer said that the vitriol and threats coming from some of the bicycle advocates have gone too far. “The more fanatical element is coming out of the woodwork,” he said.
“Anyone can express themselves, but this tweet crosses the line,” he said, adding that “bullying tweets and threats drive me further away from wanting to work with these people.”
He said he often hears from constituents who oppose the lanes, but he has never been threatened before.
The plan for protected bicycle lanes—which Van Bramer initially called for after the death of two cyclists last April—were stalled when business owners expressed concern that the loss of parking spaces would hurt commerce and when parents from P.S. 11 argued the lanes would put children at risk while crossing on Skillman Avenue.
The school, located at 54-25 Skillman Ave., also called for traffic safety measures of its own, such as a traffic light at Skillman and 55th Street.
Van Bramer adopted the policy that the plan for protected bicycle lanes would not go forward until Skillman Avenue was made safe for the children of P.S. 11. This stance disappointed bicycle advocates, who were counting on his complete support.
Bicycle advocates will be in Sunnyside on Sunday to voice their discontent when they march under the Transportation Alternatives Queens banner in the St. Pat’s for All parade.
The advocacy group has been calling on its supporters across the city to come to the event and “loudly demand the safety improvements in Sunnyside.”
On a Facebook event page, the group wrote, “It’s time for us to come together and use our strength in numbers to remind everyone why thy this plan is so desperately needed.”
Van Bramer said that he was disappointed by Transportation Alternatives. “I think hijacking the parade and disrupting the parade is not going to work,” he said. He was concerned that the individual who sent the tweet might be in attendance.
“The parade is a joyous event…and while it is their right to protest…it is poor form to say the least,” Van Bramer said.
Van Bramer also said that he has always been a big champion of Vision Zero and was instrumental in making sure safety changes—including protected bicycle lanes—came to Queens Boulevard. “Some of these folks have short memories.”
Juan Restrepo, Queens Organizer for Transportation Alternatives, condemned the tweet that targeted Van Bramer and said he doesn’t know the individual who sent the tweet. “I saw it [the tweet] and thought, ‘oh no’.”
Restrepo said it was wrong to refer to the group’s participation in the march as a protest.
“We just want to bring awareness to the neighborhood that there are people who support the plan,” Restrepo said. “This will be positive event where we will be advocating for lifesaving changes to the community.”
He said advocates were concerned that the plan for the protected bicycle lanes would fade away, and couldn’t understand why the changes needed at P.S. 11 and the bicycle lanes couldn’t all be rolled into one plan.
“The cyclists are being pitted against the parents [at P.S. 11], but we should all be in this together,” Restrepo said.
Restrepo, who hopes to get a group of about 25 together for Sunday’s march, was hesitant to criticize Van Bramer.
“Jimmy has been a safe streets advocate for a long time but there is some frustration that a plan discussed a year ago is moving so slowly. We don’t want this to take too long or else more cyclists will get killed,” Restrepo said.