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Cyclists Call for Protected Bike Lane, Enforcement After Sunnyside Crashes

 A photo of Gelasio Reyes taped to a post at 43rd Avenue and 39th Street, where he was struck and killed on April 1 while riding his bike. Nearby, an NYPD car blocks the bike lane.
A photo of Gelasio Reyes taped to a post at 43rd Avenue and 39th Street, where he was struck and killed on April 1 while riding his bike. Nearby, an NYPD car blocks the bike lane.
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DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly

SUNNYSIDE — Cyclists are calling for greater enforcement for drivers who park in bike lanes and commit other traffic offenses following two crashes at the same intersection in recent weeks, including one that killed a man riding his bike.

Advocates and local leaders also want safety upgrades — including a protected bike lane — for the intersection of 43rd Avenue and 39th Street, where Gelasio Reyes, 32, was struck and killed by a drunk driver while cycling there April 1.

Another cyclist was seriously injured after being hit by a turning truck at the same corner Tuesday. The drivers were arrested in both incidents, officials said.

"The road is treated as the exclusive domain to people in cars when it needs to be used by all of us," Peter Beadle, an attorney representing Reyes' wife, Floribadar Jimenez, said at a press conference Thursday at the intersection, where a memorial with flowers and photos had been set up.

"These are lives. It affects a wife, children," Beadle said as he stood beside a tearful Jimenez, who has two children at home, including an infant. "Her living room is full of relatives and family that can’t get over this."

43rd Avenue Press Conference Attorney Peter Beadle and Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer with Floribadar Jimenez, the widow of Gelasio Reyes, who was struck and killed while riding his bike on 43rd Avenue and 39th Street. (DNAinfo/Jeanmarie Evelly)

Forty-third Avenue is a popular corridor for cyclists heading east through Queens, though those who use it say it can be dangerous at times, as the route is frequented by trucks as well as cars blocking the bike lane, which forces riders into traffic in order to pass the vehicles.

"Cars in the bike lane is an absolute epidemic there," said Angela Stach, a transportation advocate who regularly bikes along the street to her home in Jackson Heights.

In the hours after Tuesday's crash, she witnessed police officers ticketing at least two cyclists in the area, one on 43rd Avenue near 37th or 38th Street and another on 34th Avenue in Woodside.

She tweeted a photo of the cyclist getting ticketed on 43rd Avenue, which shows the police car blocking the bike lane while pulling the rider over. The tweet sparked several fellow cyclists to chime in, saying they feel police don't equally enforce traffic violations committed by drivers in the area.

"Whenever a cyclist gets killed by a car violating the law, it seems that the reaction of the NYPD is to punish cyclists," Stach said.

Laura Newman, a member of the advocacy group Make Queens Safer who rides along 43rd Avenue almost daily during her commute home from work, echoed these concerns.

"I've never seen a car getting ticketed, even though they are really constantly double-parked, parked in the bike lane," she said. "It just seems so misguided to be ticketing cyclists when the cyclists are the ones getting killed and hurt."

The NYPD, however, says drivers are ticketed at a greater rate than cyclists in the 108th Precinct, which include Sunnyside, Woodside and parts of Long Island City.

This year as of April 9, the precinct had issued 3,414 moving summonses to vehicles — for things such as failure to yield to pedestrians, failure to obey traffic signs or running red lights — compared to 213 summons given to bicyclists during that period, according to Lieutenant John Grimpel.

Between April 1 and 12, the precinct gave out 340 vehicle summons but only 50 to cyclists, Grimpel said. Those numbers do not include summonses given to cars for parking violations.

Still, advocates say they're frustrated by what they describe as a transportation system that values cars over cyclists or pedestrians. At the start of Thursday's press conference, an NYPD car was parked for several minutes blocking the 43rd Avenue bike lane at the intersection where both recent crashes took place.

"We need to change the culture," Beadle said. "One way we can do that is by completely changing how we design our roads."

City Councilman Jimmy Van Bramer, who represents the neighborhood, is asking the Department of Transportation to conduct a traffic study of the intersection and come up with a redesign that would make it safer.

He and others are also pushing for a protected bike lane along 43rd Avenue, which would erect a concrete barrier between cyclists and the traffic lane, and would also prevent cars from parking in the bike path.

"This intersection, this street, needs to be safe for every single New Yorker," he said.

DOT plans to study the intersection for potential safety enhancements, a spokeswoman said. The April 1 crashed that killed Reyes was the first traffic fatality at this corner since 2009, according to the agency.