Cyclist hit at 43rd Street and Skillman Avenue

Neighbor Catherine Leopando posted this report on the Sunnyside Yahoo Group:

We were out for a walk a bit ago and there had just been an accident
at the intersection of 43rd & Skillman. A biker had been hit by a car
– it must have just happened when we got there – he was lying on the
ground, unable to move other than just move his head a bit.
Fortunately the driver stayed, and the police arrived when we were
leaving. I’m not sure of the condition of the biker (definitely some
major injuries), but even if he will be fine I think this is good time
to point out an issue discussed here a while ago. There are always
drivers going way too fast on Skillman, and a suggestion to prevent
that is making Skillman and 43rd ave two-way streets. It seems like
everytime I cross Skillman I see people treating it like an
expressway. Of course, I didn’t see the accident so I can’t tell you
how fast he was driving — but clearly two-way streets are less
conducive to these types of accidents.

I’m glad that she agrees about two-way streets, but I’m very concerned about this cyclist. If anyone has any more details, please let us know.

This morning the DOT striped the new bike lanes. I hope that they weren’t a factor in this crash.  If they were, I hope we can change the lanes to be physically separated like the Ninth Avenue lanes.

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!

Girl Injured at 52nd and Skillman

This morning my wife called to tell me that she had seen a crash at the corner of 52nd Street and Skillman Avenue. She was walking our son to school, and she saw a girl, about six or seven years old get knocked down by an SUV. The SUV was going south on 52nd Street and did not stop at the stop sign. The girl got up immediately. The driver of the SUV got out and asked the girl if she was okay, and the girl said yes, and the driver got back in and drove away.

The girl was not okay, however. Almost immediately after the driver left, she complained about pain. A man had gotten the license number of the SUV and gave it to the girl’s mother, and my wife left our phone number and went to work.

A few minutes later I got a call from the girl’s father. He didn’t speak much English, and didn’t know what to do. He didn’t know that the 911 service has operators who speak almost every language. I went downstairs and helped them call 911. The girl’s foot was swollen, and she couldn’t walk on it. Within a few minutes the fire department came, and then an ambulance, and then the police. Officers Morse and Crooks of the 108th Precinct filed an accident report, and the ambulance took the family to Elmhurst Hospital. If anyone has more information about the collision, please call 311.

My wife has been saying for a long time that this is one of the most dangerous of the dangerous conditions on Skillman Avenue. As you can see from the photos I took in February, drivers have difficulty seeing traffic coming down Skillman, so they pull out into the crosswalk without always looking for pedestrians. In addition, the width of the street and the lack of parking on the west side of the intersection encourage drivers to roll through the stop sign without stopping.

The solution to the lack of visibility is to remove parking spaces. I know that it’s difficult to find a parking space in the area, but I don’t believe that a few parking spaces are worth putting children in danger. None of the drivers I’ve talked to about this do, either.

Removing those parking spaces will make it easier for drivers to stop at the stop sign, but some will still be tempted to roll through. To discourage that and to shorten the walking distance, the sidewalk should be extended on both sides, leaving just enough room for vehicles to get through.

Tonight I will be attending the DOT’s presentation to Community Board 2 about safety improvements on Skillman. I will ask that the plans include removing these parking spaces and adding sidewalk extensions at this intersection. I hope to see you all there.

Support from Elected and Appointed Officials

Various government officials have expressed concern about conditions on Skillman Avenue, and support for our efforts and the DOT’s plans to make the avenue safer. Early in our campaign, neighbor David Rosasco contacted Councilmember Eric Gioia’s office, and his staff has contacted the DOT on our behalf and kept in touch about our efforts. Neighbor Ann Eagan contacted Community Board Chair Joe Conley, and he has also been working in support of safety improvements.

I have also been in touch with Assemblymember Cathy Nolan, a customer of mine. I made the argument that congestion pricing would reduce the number of vehicles using Skillman Avenue, making it easier for the DOT to make improvements. Cathy was not persuaded by my reasoning, but she did hear my concerns about safety, and passed them on to DOT Commissioner Sadik-Khan in the following letter:

In reply, Cathy received a letter from the Commissioner, promising that the DOT would look for ways to make the avenue safer:

Since Cathy did not advocate for congestion pricing, she may be trying to prove me wrong by managing to make the avenue safer without it. In this case, I would love to be proven wrong.

Bike Lanes Coming to Skillman and 43rd Avenues!

You may remember one of Transportation Alternatives’ medium-term recommendations for Skillman Avenue:

Reduce street width: 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. 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.

Here’s what I saw this afternoon on Skillman Avenue and 46th Street.

Chalk markings for a new bike lane! It’s also on the 2008 bike map (available by calling 311).

That’s right, the DOT will be painting bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd Avenues between 48th Street and the Queens Boulevard Bridge. From 43rd Avenue north to 39th Avenue, then east on 39th to 60th Street and north on 59th and 60th Streets to the 34th Avenue bike lane will be a series of “Share the Road” signs. They call this the “Sunnyside Connector,” and it’s on their schedule to be painted in May (which is also Bike Month).

I personally believe that this will be good for the neighborhood in many ways. It will be good for business because it will bring cyclists through the neighborhood as they travel between Manhattan/LIC/Greenpoint/Williamsburg and points east. They will see all the inviting shops and restaurants on Skillman and 43rd Avenues and stop in. It’s already happening – this past November the Five Borough Bike Club visited La Marjolaine Bakery on their Choco-Loco Ride.

Most importantly, of course, the lanes will allow cyclists to be safer when they travel around the neighborhood – including my son when he’s old enough to ride on the street. They will also narrow the roadways, discouraging speeding.

There are a few things that I think would make these lanes even better:

  1. Extend the lanes all the way to Roosevelt Avenue, making the eastern ends of Skillman and 43rd safer and providing routes for cyclists to and from Woodside.
  2. Make the eastern part of the route, on 48th Street and 39th Avenue, painted instead of signs where possible.
  3. Place the lanes on Skillman and 43rd between the parked cars and the sidewalk for added safety.
  4. Install adequate bicycle parking along the route, especially near businesses and restaurants.

We can work on those in the future. In the meantime, I’m definitely looking forward to these lanes. I hope all you angle parking fans won’t be too disappointed. Thanks to DOT, and to all those who have been working towards these safety improvements!

Community Board 2: Uniting for Safety

On April 3 I attended the monthly meeting of Community Board 2. Commissioner McCarthy spoke briefly about the light timing change, and there was discussion of the proposals to change Barnett Avenue to one-way and install speed humps on the side streets.

CB2 member Al Volpe confirmed what we heard from John Millus: it’s now almost impossible to drive faster than 20 miles per hour without running a red light. In gratitude for this important safety step, the Board and attendees gave a round of applause to Commissioner McCarthy and her staff, and to Board Chair Joe Conley and our neighbor Ann Eagan for their work on bringing the issue to DOT’s attention.

It was very heartening to see such a large number of people come out to speak in favor of safer streets. Unfortunately, they were not able to unite and accomplish their goals: the Board voted to table the Barnett Avenue question and only recommend speed humps on 46th Street. There were several residents of 39th Avenue who were afraid that traffic would be diverted from Barnett to their street, and no one made much of an effort to reassure them. Joe Conley reported that he had received several emails in opposition to both the Barnett Avenue plan and the speed humps. On the way to the meeting I encountered two residents of 46th Street that I knew, who had come specifically to speak against the Barnett Avenue plan. The Board voted to recommend speed humps on 46th Street because one resident went door-to-door and got 80% of her neighbors to sign a petition in favor.

The lessons are clear: if there’s a project you really care about, get support from your neighbors, show up to speak in favor of it, and find ways to assuage any concerns your neighbors might have. In particular, the notion of induced demand could have used a lot more airing there. I’ll try to write something about it soon for future use.

During my three minutes of fame, I mentioned how happy I was to see so many pedestrian safety advocates in the neighborhood, but how I was disappointed to see that they were not united. I suggested a neighborhood pedestrian safety workshop, where a street safety expert could present an overview of the various tools available for safety improvements, and then people from the neighborhood could take a few minutes to talk about their problem areas. The expert would then give suggestions about ways to make those areas safer, and the neighbors could react to those suggestions. This would provide a low-pressure context for people to work together to find solutions and resolve conflicts.

I was very pleased when, right after I suggested this, Joe Conley quietly said, “Okay, we’ll set that up.” I’ve asked him to keep me informed about the dates so that I can pass them on to you.

Community Board to Discuss Street Safety

Thursday, April 3 at 7 PM, Community Board 2 will be discussing several proposals related to street safety:

A street conversion of Barnett Avenue to a one-way westbound from Woodside Avenue to 39th Avenue, and a request for speed bumps to be placed at the following locations:

45th Street between 39th Avenue and Skillman Avenue
46th Street between 39th Avenue and Skillman Avenue
49th Street between 39th Avenue and Skillman Avenue
50th Street between 39th Avenue and Skillman Avenue
51st Street between 39th Avenue and Skillman Avenue

We will be at the meeting to support these measures, and to thank Commissioner McCarthy for the light retiming and discuss crosswalk improvements.  Please join us!

Sunnyside Community Center
43-31 39th St. (bet. Queens Blvd. & 43rd Av.), 2nd floor
Sunnyside,  NY 11104

Signal timing success!

DOT letterI just got a letter from Maura McCarthy, Queens Borough Commissioner for the DOT. Here’s what it says:

Dear Mr. Grieve-Smith:

This is in reply to your January 24th letter regarding traffic conditions on both Skillman and 43rd Avenues.

We have evaluated conditions on these arteries and will implement a signal timing plan that we expect will enhance pedestrian safety and discourage motorists from speeding. At each signalized intersection additional time will be provided for pedestrians to cross both Skillman and 43rd Avenues and the design speed of the progressive signal pattern will be reduced to 20 mph.

Thank you for your interest in this matter.

Sincerely, Maura McCarthy, Queens Borough Commissioner

Of course I’d still like to see a lot more done, but this is a great start! Let’s all thank Commissioner McCarthy and her staff for taking the time to study our avenue and implement these changes. Thanks also to Amy and Will from T.A., and everyone else who’s helped out!

People are looking at safety!

On March 6, we had some high-profile visitors: City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. They came to look at the dangerous conditions on Barnett Avenue, particularly between 46th Street and Woodside Avenue. This was covered by the Gazette, the Chronicle and the Times Ledger.

I’m very glad they came. I’ve personally avoided that stretch of Barnett ever since I saw that it was so pedestrian-unfriendly. Having it available to walk on again would be a big improvement.

Before reading these articles, I didn’t even know there were that many people interested in safety on Barnett Avenue. Skillman, Barnett, 43rd Avenue, 39th Avenue … there are lots of people who want improvements all over the neighborhood. It’s silly for us to all be working separately. I hope we can make contact and work together.