Recommendations from Transportation Alternatives

Amy Pfeiffer, Director of Planning for Transportation Alternatives, visited our neighborhood with her colleague Will Sherman and saw the dangerous conditions firsthand. Here are their recommendations:

December 10, 2007

This letter broadly describes what could be done on Skillman Avenue, from 56th Street to 39th Street to improve pedestrian, cyclist and motorist safety in the immediate future. This letter does not prescribe specific remedies for each intersection as further field work needs to be completed before detailed recommendations can be made. This is simply meant as language that can be turned into a letter to DOT requesting a site visit with the Queens Borough Commissioner of DOT to alert them of the dangers that exist on this street. We’ll all continue to work together on this to make sure we get these changes made.

Skillman Avenue is an overly wide street with inconsistent placement of traffic control devices and signal timing, creating a dangerous corridor for pedestrians, cyclists and motorists. The slope of the street and the angles of the intersections along Skillman Avenue make it difficult for all users to see each other while using this street. There are many modifications that could be made to slow down speeds, improve the behavior of motorists and create livable, complete streets for this residential area.

The excess width along Skillman, from 56th Street to 39th Street is due to the fact that it was once a two-way corridor. Now the width is a major contributor to crashes, potential and real. Cars speed down Skillman Avenue because they have the space and because the lighting sequence promotes driving above the speed limit in over to hit all of the lights in their green phase. The slope of the street allows motorists to view the next light in the progression, which also encourages speeding.

There are a number of measures that could be implemented on this corridor in the near, mid-term and long term that would vastly enhance this street for the residents of Sunnyside. The primary goal of these recommendations is to reprogram at least 10 feet of street space on Skillman Avenue for pedestrians and cyclists rather than motorists.

The recommendations are as follows:

Short term: Immediately

  1. Improve visibility and communication between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians: One or more parking spots should be removed from each corner of each intersection along Skillman Avenue. This traffic calming measure is called “daylighting”, and it is used to greatly increase the visibility between all street users. Where each parking spot used to be, flexible bollards should be considered for installation around the outline of what would be a parked car to ensure that motorists make turns at the appropriate angle rather than cutting the corner short. Flexible bollards come in a variety of colors and styles and would not be the day-glo orange variety used at construction sites, though they would have a ribbon of retro-reflectivity at the top so people could see them at night.
  2. Give priority to pedestrians: There are three main ways to improve pedestrian safety in the short term that give priority of street use to people over motorists. First, all crosswalks should be clearly marked. Old crosswalks should be restriped and new crosswalks should be added for continuous traffic calming throughout the corridor. Second, the lights for motorists need to be retimed to force people to drive at and below the speed limit. The current all green phase flows through the entire corridor simultaneously, creating a speed zone. Staggering the lights would help this situation. Finally, pedestrians should be given the priority over motorists at every crossing by lengthening the crossing time for pedestrians and timing the first 5-10 seconds of the crossing as an “all ped” phase. In this manner, vehicles must wait to begin their turning movements for 5-10 seconds, allowing pedestrians to establish themselves in the crosswalk. This is especially important for children and senior citizens.

Medium-Term: Spring/Summer 2008

  1. Improve visibility and communication between motorists, cyclists and pedestrians: “Daylighting” Skillman Avenue can serve as an initial pilot to the medium term, and more significant build out of curbs to create safe refuges at every block. Each former parking spot that was vacated for daylighting will now be permanently filled in, extending the curb into the crosswalk and main road. Similar curb extensions can be installed at the other corners of each intersection. These curb extensions will be lined with non-flexible, steel posted fixed bollards to ensure safety. This traffic calming measure has been proven in NYC to save lives.
  2. Reduce street width: On the best ways to control speed is through the width of the street. The more narrow the street the slower the traffic. The two best, least expensive, and easiest ways to narrow a street are bike lanes and perpendicular parking. Installing a protected bicycle lane would accomplish the goal of taking away ten feet from motorists and provide a safe place for people to ride along Skillman. Substituting parallel parking with perpendicular parking creates parking for those spots that were removed around the curbs and also slows down motorists.

Other potential improvements

  1. Improve traffic management: Consideration should be given to installing traffic control devices at key intersections that currently lack street lights. Most of these locations meet the warrant for installation. However, we have recommended reducing street width ahead of this, because it is generally cheaper, more effective and easier to implement.
  2. Restore two-way traffic flow: One-way streets tend to encourage speeding and decrease pedestrian safety. Returning Skillman Avenue to its original two-way configuration, in combination with the other enhancements described above, would have the opposite effect.
  3. Reduce street width: Another nice approach to absorbing street width is removing parking spaces at various locations to create a “serpentine” design for the street. This traffic calming measure is called a chicane. These spaces can be built out with concrete to become planters, areas with benches and lighting, and bike parking.
  4. Create A Complete Street: The goal of modifying Skillman Avenue is to create a complete street, an area where everyone can interact in this public space without the fear of getting run over and instead enjoying the life around the street as a community. This is done by installing the traffic calming measures listed above as well as making each intersection stand out with various paving materials, pedestrian scale lighting, and other amenities that beautify the street.

First consultation

This morning, Amy and Will from Transportation Alternatives came to take a look at the problem spots in our neighborhood. We gave them a lot to work with. Susan and her neighbor Estelle met up with us at the corner of 51st and Skillman, and we walked my son to school. On the way back we walked around 54th Street and 39th Drive so that Will could see the problems there. Back at Skillman and 51st we met up with David, and Amy joined us; she had made a wrong turn in Blissville. We looked at that intersection and then went down to 52nd where we were joined by Marykate from Eric Gioia’s office. We talked for a while, and then Susan and Estelle had to go to work. The rest of us went into Aubergine and sat down to discuss strategies. Eventually, David and Marykate had to leave, and I gave Amy and Will a tour of the rest of Skillman and 43rd Avenues.

Amy and Will had a bunch of great ideas already: converting the parallel parking on the north side of Skillman to angle parking, converting from parking meters to muni-meters, adding a cycle track, removing parking spaces near corners to increase visibility (known as “daylighting”), sidewalk extensions, well-marked crosswalks. They will digest the notes they took and probably come back at least once to gather more information. Then they will process it all and give us some suggestions.

Marykate had some interesting information. Apparently since he’s been in office Eric has received a large number of letters from people all over the neighborhood asking for traffic safety improvements. They pass everything on to the DOT, but most of the requests get rejected. I also heard from a friend this weekend that some of our neighbors are competing against each other for improvements (“How come she got a bump? I need a bump on my street!”). If we take a bigger-picture approach and work on a multi-block traffic safety plan, it will probably be more effective.

There are some principles that I want to keep to as much as possible in this process.

  1. Keep the focus on our goal: safety. Amy and Will had a lot of suggestions to improve safety, and adding stoplights was only one of them. I don’t want any of us to get too invested in a particular solution and miss other possibilities.
  2. Aim for a united approach. Susan had her petition in Chinese and Korean as well as English, and I think that’s a great idea. We want a plan that works for as many people as possible, and we don’t want to take anyone by surprise.

This afternoon I had to do some work at Berkeley Towers, and Cay Volpe was very interested in some of the ideas. She was intrigued by Estelle’s suggestion to make 39th Drive one-way and Will’s idea of angle parking. If 39th Drive is made one-way, she thougth that angle parking might work well there. She said that we would probably be able to use the Berkeley Towers rec room for a meeting, but was afraid that there would be enough people interested in just the three Berkeley Towers and the Parc Plaza to fill the 90 seats, leaving no room for anyone else!

I also stopped in the corner deli on 52nd and mentioned our project to Kazi.   He liked the idea and wanted to have a say, and said that we were welcome to drop off materials when we need to.  Maybe we can get him a loading zone.