Disappointment from the Parks Department

A while ago, at the suggestion of one of the owners of the Thai Malay Cafe, I called 311 about the tree branches blocking the “ALL TRAFFIC ->” sign at the corner of 52nd and Skillman – as well as the branches blocking the view up Skillman.  Here’s the response the Parks people put into 311.  They can’t find the reported condition, so do they ask us?  No, they just close the ticket.  This system sure has a ways to go.

In the meantime, anyone know people in the Parks Department?

SERVICE REQUEST #: 1-1-426443579
09/11/2008 1:10:56 PM
Overgrown Tree/Branches
Traffic Sign or Signal Blocked
INCIDENT ADDRESS: 52 STREET AND SKILLMAN AVENUE
INCIDENT BOROUGH: QUEENS
Upon inspection the reported condition was not found, and, therefore, no action was taken.
10/02/2008 1:29:59 PM
Closed – No Further Updates

Corrections to Al Volpe’s letter

In this week’s Woodside Herald there is a letter from our neighbor Al Volpe, who clearly believes that the current level of danger on Skillman Avenue is acceptable. Unfortunately, his letter contains several factual inaccuracies. To paraphrase the late Senator Moynihan, Al is entitled to his own opinion, but not to his own facts.

  1. Al claims that “If there is a pedestrian accident, it is because of the pedestrian jaywalking.” This does not account for the pedestrians hit by cars when they were on the sidewalk.
  2. Al claims that at the May meeting of Community Board 2, he suggested retiming the signals on Skillman Avenue, and that “Al Volpe and the DOT ‘calmed’ Skillman and 43rd in one week!” The signal retiming was suggested by Transportation Alternatives in November, the suggestion was conveyed to the DOT in January, and the signals were retimed at the end of March.
  3. Al claims that “Transportation Alternatives insists that at least 1 parking space per corner at each intersection should be removed – ‘daylighted’. They could remove 8 parking spots per intersection. Eight!” The daylighting suggestion is to remove between one and three parking spaces at each problematic corner. Since these are one-way streets, this means at most one corner per intersection. It only applies to intersections without traffic signals, of which there are a total of seven on the entire 33-block length of Skillman Avenue from Hunterspoint to Roosevelt (four in Woodside and three in the industrial area of Sunnyside). That means giving up a maximum of twenty-one spaces, but more likely only fourteen.
  4. Al claims that “If Transportation Alternatives’ plans were fully implemented – widened sidewalks, protected bike lanes, angle parking – Skillman Avenue will end up as a 1-lane street.” These suggestions are alternatives, not meant to be implemented together.
  5. Al claims that “Transportation Alternatives reports that in the seven-year period, 1995- 2001, there were, horrors!, 11 pedestrian accidents on Skillman Avenue.”  The figure of eleven crashes that resulted in pedestrian injuries is only for the two block stretch between 50th and 52nd Streets; along the 33-block length of Skillman there were 32 pedestrians and 11 cyclists injured during that period.  This figure does not include injuries to motor vehicle operators or passengers, or crashes that only resulted in property damage.

The rest of Al’s letter engages in various logical fallacies, but it is the factual inaccuracies that concern me the most. I have tried several times to correct Al in person, but he just repeats his version. It disappoints me that someone who has been a community leader for so long would be so disinclined to listen to his neighbors.

If you hear anyone repeating these erroneous statements, please make sure they know the truth.

Traffic lights “Not recommended” at Skillman and 51st or 52nd

Via our champion, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, comes a letter from the DOT:

Dear Assembly Member Nolan:

This is in response in part to your request on behalf of Mr. Angus B. Grieve-Smith regarding the traffic controls at the intersections of Skillman Avenue with both 51st and 52nd Streets.

We completed our analyses last month. Factors such as vehicular and pedestrian volumes, accident experience, vehicular speeds, visibility, and signal spacing were all taken into consideration in making our determination. Based upon our evaluation of the data collected, it is our judgment that traffic signals are not recommended at this time.

Sincerely,

Maura McCarthy
Queens Borough Commissioner

I suspected that this would be the result, since from everything I’ve heard, the DOT must have received at least a hundred requests for a signal at 51st Street, and maybe as many for 52nd Street. Whenever a traffic signal is requested, the DOT has to do a study like this and make a determination based on federal guidelines. I guessed that they had done a study before, and come up with a similar conclusion.

Fortunately for us, traffic lights are just one of many ways to make an intersection safer. I asked Amy Pfeiffer from Transportation Alternatives to visit Skillman Avenue because I knew that they know about these tools. She, Will Sherman and their colleagues recommended a diverse set of strategies to improve safety in our area. A traffic light was only one of those strategies, and in fact Amy explained to me in an email that the other strategies, when taken together, could do more for safety than a light:

From a safety perspective [the other traffic calming measures, such as daylighting, crosswalk marking and sidewalk extensions] achieve a much higher level of 24-hour compliance than a traffic light. Traffic lights should really be viewed as a somewhat antiquated means for managing streets that are primarily residential with some commercial uses, like Skillman. They are necessary for arterials like a Queens Boulevard, but on streets like Skillman I think they actually do more harm than good.

We’ve already gotten the signals retimed, and bike lanes for part of the avenues. At our meeting this past week, we talked with Will about possible strategies for accomplishing the remaining goals. Send us an email if you want to help!

76 year-old woman killed at 70th Street and Queens Boulevard

The Boulevard of Death has claimed another victim. The Daily News and New York 1 are reporting that a woman was killed crossing the Boulevard at 70th Street. Here’s a satellite photo of the intersection from Google Maps, and an aerial photo from Live Maps. Jeff Saltzman has pictures from the ground.

Back in 2001, Saltzman wrote:

Queens Boulevard is one of several similarly designed, multi-lane, multi-medianed thoroughfares strewn about the 5 boroughs of NYC. It was first widened in the 1920’s, when it was renamed from Hoffman Road and modeled on the Grand Concourse of the Bronx, which itself was an Americanized attempt to echo the great promenades and boulevards of France. Other cousins of this expansive roadway include Brooklyn’s Linden Blvd, Kings Highway, Eastern and Ocean Parkways, the Richmond Hill section of Woodhaven Boulevard, a short section of Little Neck Pkwy, the pre expressway Bruckner Boulevard in the Bronx and pre expressway Horace Harding Boulevard that ran from Queens Boulevard out to the Nassau County line.

Sadly, both the witness who called 911 after the crash and an obnoxious commenter on the Daily News site both think that there’s nothing that can be done to make the Boulevard safer. I hope they’re wrong. I don’t want to lose any friends or neighbors to it.

Thanks to Streetsblog for bringing the story to my attention.

Skillman/43rd Avenue Bike Lane Update

On Tuesday I attended the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce‘s monthly luncheon at Dazie’s.  The Chamber’s Board of Directors voted last week to support the bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd Avenues.

That evening there was a hearing of Community Board 2 to discuss transportation-related issues.  Skillman Avenue was on the agenda, but when I got there I found out that it wouldn’t be discussed after all.  I did get a chance to ask Commissioner McCarthy about some of my requested bike lane improvements.  She was noncommital about the idea of extending the lanes to Roosevelt Avenue, but accepted the request and said, “You’ll probably be seeing more bike lanes in the near future.”  I didn’t get a chance to ask about the idea of making the ones on 43rd and Skillman protected cycle tracks, or about making the route on 48th Street and 39th Avenue striped or separated.

I did ask about bike racks near the planned route, though.  The Commissioner said that bike racks near businesses are best requested by the businesses.  She said that her staff could canvass the businesses, but I think it would be good if we also suggested it to them.  Request forms (PDF) can be downloaded from the DOT’s website.  Feel free to print them out and bring them to your favorite businesses.  If I can find the time I’ll try to coordinate a group effort, but if anyone else wants to coordinate it, please send a message to our mailing list!

Follow-up to Tuesday’s Collision

Since my wife saw a girl get knocked down by a slow-moving SUV at the corner of 52nd Street and Skillman Avenue on Tuesday, I’ve made it a priority to improve that particular intersection.

First, an update: I talked to the girl’s father today, and he said that she was feeling much better, and able to walk okay. It sounds like she’s just bruised. That’s a relief.

Fortunately, that evening was the Community Board meeting. I rushed over there, only to discover that they weren’t going to be talking about Skillman Avenue that night after all. However, I did have a nice chat with Commissioner McCarthy for a few minutes after the meeting. I told her about the collision, and asked about the possibility of daylighting-related improvements in the area. I don’t remember her exact answer, but I think she said it was likely.

The other improvement that would really help make that intersection safer is sidewalk extensions. I asked the Commissioner about those, and she said that they would probably be not be done for a while. She confirmed that this was for budgetary reasons. I asked if they could be funded with member items, and she said, “We’ll take anybody’s money!” So we should work on finding funding for more expensive items like sidewalk extensions.

Today I was talking with a neighbor who lives on 52nd Street, and she told me that on Wednesday she went home for lunch and they were installing a new school crossing sign just before the stop sign. I tried to take a picture of it, but my camera phone wanted to focus on the Honda in front of it:

It might be a coincidence (apparently the DOT has been installing them in other places), but it might not. It won’t solve the problem by itself, but every little bit helps. Thanks, Commissioner!