[Update below] The debate over bike lanes and street safety improvements took an ugly turn last night in Queens when a member of Queens' Community Board 4's transportation committee allegedly said that once Donald Trump rounds up "all the illegals, there won't be anybody to ride in bike lanes."
Juan Restrepo, an organizer with Transportation Alternatives who tweeted the Darby quote, told Gothamist that member Ann Pfoser Darby may not have said "remove" or "deport" but instead might have termed things as after Trump "sends home" undocumented immigrants.
"She said something to the effect of 'Why are we working so hard to put bike lanes in? When Donald Trump sends all the illegals back, who is going to be using all these bike lanes?'" Restrepo told us.
This isn't the first time Darby has suggested bike lanes are merely "for immigrants." In a 2015 CB4 transportation committee meeting about a DOT plan for safety changes to 111th Street, Darby and another board member suggested Council Member Ferreras had only spoken to immigrants:
One of the committee members claimed that Ferreras only talked to immigrants. “I felt blatant disrespect,” she said. “This is a project for everyone in Queens. It was a very unpleasant and frustrating meeting, but not one that we can’t overcome.”
Restrepo said that the reaction in the room to Darby's comments was "visible silence" and that another member of the community board who's opposed to the plan, James Lisa, "had to step in and tell her she overstepped. He had to give her a gentle touch on the shoulder, it was to the effect of let's not go any further than this."
Council Member Julissa Ferreras, who represents East Elmhurst, Elmhurst, Corona and Jackson Heights, put out a statement denouncing the comments as "shockingly racist and xenophobic" and called for Darby to be removed from her position on the board. Ferreras also claimed that the comments could explain CB4 opposition to the DOT's proposed safety improvements to 111th Street, which have been under consideration for three years now.
— Lillian Zepeda (@Lillian_Zepeda) March 1, 2017
Damian Vargas, the chair of CB4, released a statement on the board's Facebook page in which he apologized for Darby's comments and wrote that board leadership "will further investigate this matter." But Vargas took issue with Ferreras's criticism of the entire Community Board, demanding an apology from the Council member:
Unsubstantiated suggestions that 42 members of Queens Community Board 4 are racists, xenophobes, share Ms. Darby’s point of view, and is the basis for requesting additional safety improvement studies along 111th Street are themselves shockingly inappropriate coming from a elected official.
Restrepo told us that he felt the statement from Darby "wasn't the kind of thing you would hear if Trump wasn't elected and people felt empowered in their anti-immigrant views." He also said that Darby, who's been on the board since 1987 and has been a "notorious" foe of bike lanes, might have felt comfortable making a xenophobic statement because "you get that sense of comfort and think you can vent instead of being a community servant" after you've been on a community board for so long.
A recording of the meeting exists, according to Community Board 4, but has not been made available to Gothamist yet. A motion was passed to move the plan for safety improvements on 111th Street to the full Community Board 4, and will be voted on at the next meeting, according to Restrepo. Gothamist also requested a comment from Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, and will update this story if we receive one. (Darby could not be reached for comment.)
[Update 6:11 p.m.]DNAinfo spoke to Darby, who stuck by her comments about bike lanes and immigrants.
"I see who goes by and who doesn't, and there was a lot of people going by to work early in the morning and like about 90 percent of them are gone," she said — adding that she took it as a sign that these people have been "picked up by ICE [Immigrations Customs Enforcement.]"
"It looks like they were illegal aliens, I don't know, I didn't speak to them," she added.
When asked how she could tell someone's immigration status from afar, she said it's "observation and logic."
"You can kind of tell, especially sometimes the way they dress," she said, adding later that it's obvious if "someone speaks only Chinese."