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.

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