Crash at 51st Street sends driver to the hospital

A neighbor writes: There was a bad car accident yesterday morning [June 5] on 51st and Skillman outside La Marjolaine. An SUV taxi blew the stop sign coming down 51st and t-boned a big SUV coming down Skillman. The driver of the private car was taken to the hospital, but it didn’t seem life threatening. Of course, both vehicles nearly ended up on the curb.

This intersection is better than it was, but it still needs work, like visibility improvements and sidewalk extensions.

Injuries down on Skillman and 43rd Avenues

This article appears on Page 6 of today’s Woodside Herald (PDF).

Skillman Avenue's new bike lane extension
Skillman Avenue's new bike lane extension

The efforts of Sunnyside and Woodside residents to make Skillman and 43rd Avenues safer have paid off in a big way, according to a new report from the city Department of Transportation.  When the traffic signals were retimed and bicycle lanes installed on the two avenues, people drove slower, and there was a dramatic reduction in the number of crashes resulting in injury.  The project was one of twelve highlighted in the 2009 Sustainable Streets Index, available on the Department’s website at nyc.gov.

In the fall of 2007, residents along Skillman Avenue, frustrated with dangerous conditions, formed the Safer Skillman Avenue Coalition. They called in traffic safety experts from Transportation Alternatives to survey the avenue. Transportation Alternatives recommended a series of actions, which the Coalition passed on to the Department of Transportation on January 24, 2008, with the support of Assemblymember Catherine Nolan and then-Councilmember Eric Gioia.

The first recommendation was to change the timing of the traffic signals, because the old pattern encouraged drivers to speed.  When the light at 52nd Street turned green, a driver would see green lights all the way ahead, and could avoid red lights all the way by driving at thirty miles per hour.  The second recommendation was to narrow the traffic lanes, because drivers tend to drive faster with wider lanes.  This narrowing could have been done by widening sidewalks or installing bike lanes or angle parking. The third was to repaint the lines on the street, which had not been done in a while.  Another recommendation was to add a traffic light at the corner of 51st Street and Skillman Avenue.

The Department of Transportation responded promptly.  They studied the intersection of 51st and Skillman, but recommended against installing a traffic signal.  In March 2008, they adjusted the traffic signals on Skillman and 43rd Avenues so that a car moving faster than twenty miles per hour would be stopped by a red light.  In May 2008 they painted bicycle lanes on the avenues between Queens Boulevard and 48th Street, and repainted the other lane markings.

According to the Sustainable Streets report, these actions have worked.  Average speeds on Skillman Avenue between 46th and 47th Streets during the morning rush went down from 30 miles per hour to 22 mph when the signals were retimed, and then to 19 mph when the bicycle lanes were installed.  On 43rd Avenue between 44th and 45th Streets, average speeds fell from 28 to 22 miles per hour when the signals were retimed.

Most importantly, injuries have declined.  In 2005-2006, there were 46 crashes resulting in injuries, in 2006-2007 there were 43, and in 2007-2008 there were 33.  In the twenty months between March 2008 and November 2009, there were 38 crashes resulting in injuries, an average of 23 per year.  That is a 50% drop from the high point, and a 25% drop from the average of the three preceding years.  It is also another twenty months when there have been no fatal crashes on either of the avenues.

The changes have benefited automobile drivers and their passengers even more than pedestrians and bicyclists.  There were six crashes resulting in injuries to cyclists per year after the changes were made, which is a slight increase over the previous year.  Crashes resulting in injuries to motor vehicle occupants fell from 28 to 13, and those resulting in injuries to pedestrians also dropped from 15 to 4.

The Safer Skillman Avenue Coalition is thrilled to know that their efforts have paid off.  “That’s eighteen to twenty-three people who could have been injured this past year but weren’t,” said Coalition member Angus Grieve-Smith. “Everyone who has supported these safety improvements can be proud of that.  We are particularly grateful to our neighbor Al Volpe.  He did not support the bicycle lanes, but he has been a strong advocate for retiming traffic signals.”

Injury rates may have continued dropping since the study period ended. The bike lanes were extended from 48th Street east to Roosevelt Avenue in November 2009. According to John Vogt, former President of the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce, this was done at the request of the Coalition and the Chamber.

There is still room to reduce these numbers further. The World Health Organization recommends that “Residential access roads should have speed limits of no more than 30 km/h [19 mph] and design features that calm traffic,” but average speeds on Skillman and 43rd Avenues are still above 19 mph.

Coalition members also point out that cars frequently drive the wrong way on Skillman and 43rd Avenues, sometimes at full speed.  “Just the other day I saw a car going east on Skillman,” says Coalition member Victor Lopez.  The avenues were converted from two-way to one-way in the early 1960s, a change which has been shown to encourage speeding in cities across the country.

The Coalition has also asked for sidewalk extensions to be installed at crosswalks, but the Department of Transportation says that with current budgeting priorities it may be years before there is enough money for them.
“I walk my 3 year old son to daycare along Skillman every day and have noticed that traffic has slowed a little due to the improvements,” said Coalition member Abigail Schoneboom.  “I am still nervous about the crossings at 51st, 48th and 43rd Streets, where drivers continue to turn recklessly without slowing down for pedestrians. I am very happy about the changes but a lot remains to be done to make the streets safe for kids.”

Woodside residents cheer bike lane extensions

This article appeared in the November 20 edition of the Woodside Herald (PDF).

Skillman Avenue bike lane
Skillman Avenue bike lane

WOODSIDE – For the past year and a half, our neighborhoods have benefited from new bicycle lanes on Skillman and 43rd Avenues.  “I feel safer riding in the dedicated bike lane,” said Sunnyside resident Mary Giancoli.  “I’m definitely using it for work errands and to get around the neighborhood.”

The lanes have also helped cut down on the avenues’ chronic speeding problem.  “A friend witnessed a senior citizen making the sign of the cross before she tried to cross the street,” Woodside resident Susan Santangelo wrote to the Herald in 2007.  “To me, that tells it all.”

That fall, frustrated residents contacted pedestrian safety advocates at Transportation Alternatives.  Amy Pfeiffer, who was then Director of Planning at the organization, visited the area and said, “One of 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.”

The bike lanes were painted from Long Island City to 48th Street in May 2008, as part of a route from the Queensboro Bridge to Flushing Meadows Park. In Sunnyside they have had the desired effect of slowing car traffic and creating a safer space for cyclists.  But when they reach the border with Woodside, the bike route turned north on 48th Street to 39th Avenue as a shared lane.

The Safer Skillman Avenue Coalition asked Queens Transportation Commissioner Maura McCarthy to extend the lanes east to Roosevelt Avenue to alleviate the speeding in that area and help Woodside residents to get around by bicycle.  Assemblywoman Catherine Nolan and the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce added their voice to the extension request.  The bike lanes brought customers to businesses west of 48th Street, and the Chamber wanted the businesses east of 48th to receive the same benefit.

Now, that request has been granted.  The Department of Transportation has painted lane markings on 43rd Avenue east to 51st Street, and on Skillman Avenue all the way to its beginning at Roosevelt. Sunnyside Gardens resident Sandra Robishaw cheered the city’s response, noting that it will “benefit us all.”

Erik Baard, founder of the Long Island City Boathouse and a frequent visiter to the neighborhood, was impressed when he saw the bike lane running the length of 43rd Avenue with the Empire State and Chrysler Buildings in the background on Sunday, and said, “I think it might be among the most attractive views of a bike lane in NYC.”

A similar program of bike lane construction in Copenhagen has made cycling safer and broadened its appeal beyond the young and the poor, to the point where 36% of commuters in the city travel by bicycle.  The lanes in Sunnyside and Woodside are tempting many residents to try cycling. “Before the new bicycle lanes were put in, it never even crossed my mind to own a bike much less ride one on Queens streets,” said Bill Sage, a semi-retired Woodside resident.  “Now that the lanes are instituted and drivers are becoming more cautious with their driving, I plan to buy a bike and use it. It’s good for me.”  Sunnyside artist Patricia Dorfman said, “this is exciting. I’m looking for something with a side car for large art pieces and/or groceries!”

Sunnyside Gardens resident and Green Party activist Ann Eagan notes that the new lanes have the potential to decrease pollution and oil dependence by encouraging people to bicycle instead of driving.  “Our small part of the planet, western Queens, is doing something, also small but significant, to save our planet, and to make our community safer,” she said.

Daylighting reinforced on 39th Avenue

A good example of the kind of daylighting we want to see on 52nd Street can be found at the corner of 49th Street and 39th Avenue. There are “no parking” signs marking an area about one car length. This makes it easier for drivers from 49th Street to see traffic on 39th Avenue.

Daylighting on 39th Avenue
Daylighting on 39th Avenue

Last year, when the DOT painted the bike sharrows on 39th Avenue, they also painted lines around the parking lane.  By mistake, they marked that spot as parking, leading people to park in it and get ticketed.

This fall, the DOT used stimulus money to repave 39th Avenue.  I knew they would need to repaint the lines, so I asked Commissioner McCarthy to double-check and make sure that the painters knew to mark the daylighting space as no-parking.  They came through earlier this month, and put down some lovely zebra stripes!  Thanks to the Commissioner, the crew and everyone else who helped.

Car on sidewalk at 51st Street

This morning at about 9AM, two cars crashed at the corner of 51st and Skillman.  One car went up on the sidewalk in front of the laundromat, but was stopped by the bollards protecting the fire hydrant.

Car on the sidewalk at 51st and Skillman
Car on the sidewalk at 51st and Skillman

I talked to the driver of the green car, and she said that she had been going north on 51st and looked for cars going west on Skillman before proceeding.  She claimed that she didn’t see the grey car because it was speeding, but the fact that her passenger-side door window was covered with cardboard might have had something to do with that as well.

Green car and its front bumper
Green car and its front bumper

The front bumper came off her car; you can see it on the sidewalk in the picture above.  Everyone involved was alert and walking around.  The ambulance was ready to take some of them to the hospital, but I don’t know if anyone went.

We’re lucky that no one was badly hurt here.  Clearly some people (I can’t tell which ones for sure) weren’t as careful as they should have been, but our street should be more tolerant of that kind of failure.  That means not encouraging drivers to speed, which in turn means sidewalk extensions and possibly two-way traffic.

Three-car crash today

I was walking home and saw fire trucks and an ambulance on Skillman just east of 50th Street.  I saw John Millus, who caught some photos of the scene:

Three-car crash
Photo by J. Millus

He said that the green van appears to have tried to make a left turn from the right lane, and didn’t see the grey van in the left lane.  It also hit the black Mustang that was parked at the corner.  At least one person was taken away in an ambulance:

Three-car crash
Photo by J. Millus

I took a couple of my own photos, including this close-up:

2009-08-19 17.26.08
Close-up of three-car crash

This is the same place where three cars have crashed into Aubergine Cafe, and there was another fender-bender a few months ago. Sidewalk extensions would help, and so would making Skillman two-way.  Join our mailing list to be updated on our campaign.