Traffic lights “Not recommended” at Skillman and 51st or 52nd

Via our champion, Assemblywoman Cathy Nolan, comes a letter from the DOT:

Dear Assembly Member Nolan:

This is in response in part to your request on behalf of Mr. Angus B. Grieve-Smith regarding the traffic controls at the intersections of Skillman Avenue with both 51st and 52nd Streets.

We completed our analyses last month. Factors such as vehicular and pedestrian volumes, accident experience, vehicular speeds, visibility, and signal spacing were all taken into consideration in making our determination. Based upon our evaluation of the data collected, it is our judgment that traffic signals are not recommended at this time.


Maura McCarthy
Queens Borough Commissioner

I suspected that this would be the result, since from everything I’ve heard, the DOT must have received at least a hundred requests for a signal at 51st Street, and maybe as many for 52nd Street. Whenever a traffic signal is requested, the DOT has to do a study like this and make a determination based on federal guidelines. I guessed that they had done a study before, and come up with a similar conclusion.

Fortunately for us, traffic lights are just one of many ways to make an intersection safer. I asked Amy Pfeiffer from Transportation Alternatives to visit Skillman Avenue because I knew that they know about these tools. She, Will Sherman and their colleagues recommended a diverse set of strategies to improve safety in our area. A traffic light was only one of those strategies, and in fact Amy explained to me in an email that the other strategies, when taken together, could do more for safety than a light:

From a safety perspective [the other traffic calming measures, such as daylighting, crosswalk marking and sidewalk extensions] achieve a much higher level of 24-hour compliance than a traffic light. Traffic lights should really be viewed as a somewhat antiquated means for managing streets that are primarily residential with some commercial uses, like Skillman. They are necessary for arterials like a Queens Boulevard, but on streets like Skillman I think they actually do more harm than good.

We’ve already gotten the signals retimed, and bike lanes for part of the avenues. At our meeting this past week, we talked with Will about possible strategies for accomplishing the remaining goals. Send us an email if you want to help!

3 comments on “Traffic lights “Not recommended” at Skillman and 51st or 52nd

  • As a resident of Sunnyside and someone who lives right around the corner from Skillman Avenue, I appreciate your efforts to create a safer street for all. However, I think you may be misguided in your efforts to increase safety by increasing stop lights, and creating more regulations on the roads of Sunnyside.

    An interesting article ( recently appeared in The Atlantic about just this issue. In it, the author compares the American and UK road systems and notes how they differ in that the UK has far fewer regulations and signage (warning signs, ‘reduced speed ahead’ signs and such) though they actually have fewer accidents – the article notes:

    “Detailed statistics show that as of 2003, fatalities per mile traveled were 36 percent greater in the U.S. than they were in the U.K. Traffic deaths per million people show an even greater disparity through 2006, the most recent year for which full statistics are available. If the U.S. death rate were the same as the U.K.’s, roughly 6,000 fewer Americans would die each year—that’s half again as many Americans as have died in Iraq in the past five years.”

    What the author suggests, and what I agree with, is that creating more regulations and signs trains drivers to drive solely based on signage and not their common sense.

    On top of that, Sunnyside, Queens *is* a city after all, and Skillman is a very busy street. There are going to be accidents on busy streets and if you live in a densely populated urban area you must come to expect as much. If the prospect of a driver crashing into you keeps you awake at night, I respectfully suggest that city-living may not be right for you.

    The rest of that Atlantic article may be found here. I encourage you to give it a read.


  • Thanks for your comment, Eric, and thanks for highlighting the Atlantic article. Here’s another article:

    These YouTube videos go into more detail about the role of regulation in street safety:

    If you look at what we’re trying to accomplish, you’ll see that a traffic light is very low on our list of priorities.

    I’m not sure what you think would be safer than a city street. I lost three family dogs growing up in the country, one of my high school teachers was killed and my mom was seriously injured, all due to “accidents.” Sure there are going to be accidents anywhere, but they don’t have to be as deadly.

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