I 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!
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.
Some of you may have noticed the wires across 51st Street, 52nd Street and Skillman Avenue:
When I got home, I emailed Commissioner McCarthy to ask her about it. Leaving for an appointment I came across two vans with DOT logos on the sides. I went up to one and told the men inside that we were trying to get safety improvements. I offered them my card and asked them to update me, but one of them said it would be better to call 311. He told me that they were just collecting data, and that it was a different group that would decide what changes would be made based on that data.
In Pasadena, CA, walkability advocates took a stroll around the neighborhood, pointing out the good and the bad. I think we could do a few of these in Sunnyside and Woodside.
Tonight I had some tea at Aubergine and was served by Maya, the sister of Ongma, who was hit by a taxi at the bus stop on the corner of 52nd Street and Queens Boulevard. She says that Ongma is recovering and able to walk a little, though with difficulty.
John Millus posted more details and some photos on the bulletin board at Aubergine, over on Queens Crap. It turns out that the taxi had been heading west on Queens Boulevard, made an illegal U-turn, lost control and flew into Ongma and the bus shelter.
Here’s an aerial photo from Live Search, showing the intersection as it was before the 2004 safety improvements. As far as I can tell, though, the safety improvements did not address the main issue with this intersection, which is that it’s way too wide (east-west). At most, it needs to be wide enough for a car going south on 52nd Street and a car going north out of the cemetary to comfortably pass each other.
Take a look at the black van going down 52nd Street. By the time you get to the furthest traffic lane, the intersection is easily 20 times the width of the van. No wonder crazy cab drivers think nothing of making high-speed U-turns there.
Now look at the south side of the boulevard. The sidewalk doesn’t match up with the cemetary gates. Imagine that you fixed that. Then imagine extending the median dividers to match up with the sidewalk, so that the gap between them is never more than 20 feet wide. Plenty of space for a car from 52nd Street and a car from the cemetary to pass each other at legal speeds. Finally, imagine a driver trying to take a U-turn at high speeds with that configuration; they’d wipe out long before they got across the road, probably at the first median divider. With any luck, that would have a concrete barrier protecting pedestrians. More likely, they’d have clear visual signals that would tell them it’s unsafe to turn at that speed, and not do it.
Here’s where I make the connection to 43rd Avenue, and then to Skillman. The whole reason that the intersection has that funny trapezoid shape is to make it easier for eastbound cars from 43rd Avenue to turn onto Queens Boulevard. Reduce the number of those cars, and you reduce the pressure to make that intersection so dangerous.
One of the recommendations made by Transportation Alternatives for immediate implementation is “daylighting.” What is daylighting? Very simply, it’s the removal of parking spaces where cars block the view of drivers entering the avenue.
Here’s a scene we’re all familiar with. Why is this car blocking the crosswalk? Because the driver can’t see the cars coming down Skillman. Here’s what the driver would have seen if they had stopped at the stop line:
Yup, that’s right, a big ol’ SUV, with two cars behind it. If you view the full-size picture and squint, you can kind of see that there’s a car coming behind it. If your seat was up high enough to see through the SUV, that is. But with the speed those cars are going, are you going to come to a full stop and trust that kind of judgment? No, you’re going to pull as far out into the crosswalk, and into the avenue, as you can, to make sure nothing’s coming.
When “daylighting” is implemented, those parking spaces are eliminated and usually filled in with curb extensions and bollards to keep people from parking there anyway. This allows the drivers to see if cars are coming down the avenue.
Just half a block away is an example of daylighting in action. “No Parking” signs were put up along 52nd Street at the corner of 39th Drive. This works very well when placard abusers don’t park there. It’s a lot easier to see cars coming up the block, isn’t it?
When I got to the corner of 51st and Skillman, I discovered that we had an example of “accidental daylighting,” caused, I believe, by alternate side rules and the big pickup truck not leaving enough room for a space. Here’s the driver’s view: clear!
This is why we want daylighting on Skillman: it reduces the likelihood of a crash, and it reduces the motivation for a driver to sit in the crosswalk in order to see cars coming. Isn’t that worth giving up a few parking spaces?
The improvements implemented in 2004 have made Queens Boulevard a bit safer, but obviously not safe enough:
I took this picture on my phone yesterday. A brand new bus shelter was smashed up at the corner of 52nd Street, by the cemetary gates..
Today I found out from John Millus that this was done by a taxi a few nights ago. Ongma, the waitress from Aubergine, was waiting for the bus, and is now in the hospital with a broken hip.
Added 9PM: I was just thinking about how this intersection is actually part of the same system as Skillman and 43rd Avenues. If you stand at the end of 43rd Avenue at 52nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue, you see that a large number of cars turn down 52nd Street and head for Queens Boulevard. Reduce the number of cars coming down 43rd Avenue, and you reduce the number turning at this intersection. Hopefully we’ll be able to do something about it soon.
I found the Ridgewood Times obituary (by Sunnyside’s own Rob MacKay) for Kevin Harkin, the man who was killed in the collision at the corner of 43rd Avenue and 51st Street on Octber 29, 2004. This is the same collision that put my old college friend, John Pavlakis, in the hospital.
Sadly, Harkin did not survive. John was hit by Harkin’s motorcycle and knocked unconscious. He suffered 8 fractures, mostly in his shin and knee, requiring four surgeries. Recovery required a month in the hospital, two months confined to his apartment and three months in a wheelchair. He was not able to walk without some kind of assistance until nine months later. He writes, “while I have regained mobility, pain is an unpredictable foe, preventing a return to normalcy.”
On warm days, some of our neighbors sit and socialize on the benches in the triangle park across the street, on the north side of 43rd Avenue. But not all the benches. One day, they pointed out to me a “new guy” who was sitting on the bench facing the eastbound traffic on the avenue. They said, “we never sit there, since a car ran into it a few years back.”
Here’s a recent article from the Louisville Courier-Journal about the relative merits of one-way and two-way streets. Here are some choice quotes from the article:
One-way streets pose many threats for pedestrian and motorist safety, make city streets seem less safe, disproportionately impact poor and minority neighborhoods, hurt downtown businesses, reduce the property values of homes and negatively impact the environment and contribute to global warming. Conversions to two-way have already happened in more than 100 cities around the United States.
These one-way streets also constitute a kind of “environmental racism,” where speeding motorists on one-way streets increase the levels of exhaust, noise and pollution. […]
One-way streets have hurt downtown commercial businesses. For instance, on Vine Street in Cincinnati, 40 percent of the businesses closed after conversion from a two-way to a one-way street. One-way streets have a negative impact on storefront exposure, which is lost when one direction of travel is eliminated and traffic is speeded up.
It seems pretty clear that the same thing has happened on Skillman and 43rd Avenues. Making them two-way again would do a lot to help safety and businesses.