Nov. 8, 2017 By Christian Murray
The DOT has plans to remove 158 parking spots along Skillman and 43rd avenues as part of a grand plan to install protected bicycle lanes and increase safety.
The ambitious plan, which was presented at Community Board 2’s Transportation Committee Meeting Monday, also involves eliminating a car lane from portions of both avenues.
The plan was prompted, in part, by two bicycle crashes that took place at the intersection of 43rd Avenue and 39th Street in April, which included the death of Gelacio Reyes, 32, who was killed by a drunk driver when he rode through a red light. Ten days later another cyclist was seriously injured at the same location.
Soon after, Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer held a press conference at that site and called on the DOT to install protected bike lanes on both avenues.
Nicky Carey, a senior project manager at the DOT, said Monday that the comprehensive plan would protect cyclists, reduce speeding and increase safety. Carey emphasized that the plan focused heavily on pedestrian safety, noting that 74 pedestrians were injured on the two avenues between 2010-2014, six seriously. There were no fatalities.
Carey said that the addition of the protected bicycle lanes would complete a western Queens network since there are protected lanes on Queens Blvd and by the Queensboro Bridge.
“This is the only real gap…and if 43rd Avenue and Skillman could be upgraded it would be great for the neighborhood and awesome for western Queens,” Carey said. “How exciting would it be to have a continuous 7 ½ mile route that is protected and people feel comfortable riding on.”
The protected bicycle lanes, however, would be the primary source of the lost parking spaces. The bicycle lanes would be installed flush against the curb, with the parking lane pushed more toward the middle of the avenues.
“We want to flip the bike lane with the parking [lane],” Carey said. “The protected bike lane would go along the curb.”
With the proposed bike lane going in behind the parked cars, motorists would be less able to see cyclists when they turn right onto side streets, Carey said. In order to increase visibility, he said, the DOT would remove parking spaces near the turns. The number of lost spaces to protect cyclists from turning cars would total 118 spaces. An additional 40 spaces would be lost on Skillman Avenue between 39th Street and the Queens Blvd Bridge since the road would be reconfigured for the bicycle lane.
The DOT said that now is the time for protected bicycle lanes since the number of cyclists that use both avenues is up significantly. Carey said that on each weekday from 7:00 a.m. through 7:00 p.m. more than 1,400 people cycle on the two streets combined.
The installation of bicycle lanes would also reduce the amount of space for motorists, which in turn would discourage speeding and calm traffic, Carey said. Pedestrian islands would also be installed next to the bicycle lanes that would also shorten the distance for pedestrians when they cross the street.
However, the use of bicycle lanes as the primary means to increase traffic safety was questioned by board members.
“Traffic-calming measures don’t always have to come aside with bike lanes. There has to be other things we can do,” CB 2 Chair Denise Keehan-Smith said during the meeting. “Losing 158 spaces, I’ll be honest with you, I think is highly unreasonable.”
Loss of Lanes
Carey said that the DOT conducted an extensive study of traffic volumes along Skillman and 43rd avenues.
He said that traffic volumes are relatively light on Skillman Avenue toward the Roosevelt Avenue end, an area where motorists tend to speed.
The DOT proposal calls for one lane to be scrapped on Skillman Avenue from 49th Street to 56th Street.
“[Our] suggestion is to drop a travel lane and the advantage is that it discourages speeding and makes the protected bike lanes wider and more like the standard protected bike lanes you see in Manhattan,” Carey said. Furthermore, it would be safer for pedestrians since they would not have to cross such a wide street, he said.
The parking lane would also be larger which would allow vehicles to get around double-parked vehicles, he said.
Some of the board members expressed concern that trucks are already double parked on that section of Skillman Avenue and that they could potentially block the street.
The DOT said that it has been conducting a truck study in the area and is working with businesses to get loading zones. The agency said that it has talked to business owners in the area who have had no complaints about the plan or potential parking issues.
Keehan-Smith said that the creation of loading zones would further deplete the number of parking spaces and she said the plan would have the biggest impact on residents in any case.
“Sunnyside is about apartments and there is no place to park…and people are going to be frustrated about this,” Keehan-Smith said. She insisted that a public hearing be held to allow residents to voice their opinion. At the committee meeting Monday few attended, although there were a handful of people from Transportation Alternatives, which advocates for bike lanes.
The plan would also lead to the loss of a lane on 43rd Avenue between 32nd Place to 38th Street, another area that the DOT deems to have low traffic volume.
Another change on 43rd Avenue would be the closing of the slip lane from 43rd Avenue to Roosevelt Avenue near 52nd Street, adjacent to John Vincent Daniels Square.
The DOT said that the slip lane is not used by many motorists so it creates the opportunity to extend the pedestrian area around the park. Furthermore, it makes it easier to extend the protected bike lane through 52nd Street and Queens Blvd.
The DOT also plans to shut down a second lane on Skillman Avenue between 33rd Street and 39th Street for most of the day. The second lane, deemed a “rush hour lane,” would only be in use between 7 am -10 am. How the DOT shuts it down outside these hours was not discussed.
In addition, the streets will also be reconfigured on Skillman Avenue from the Queens Blvd Bridge through to 32nd Place. With the installation of a two-way protected bicycle lane the angled parking area has to be changed.
Speed of Process and Resident Feedback
Jason Banrey, Deputy Commissioner for the DOT in Queens, told the board that he wanted them to approve the changes by January so the DOT could start the redesign next spring.
“I want to make sure everyone understands: Somebody died here, somebody got seriously injured,” Banrey said.
But Keehan Smith said that it was not reasonable to expect the community to approve such a comprehensive plan without allowing the public time to weigh in and for the board to comb over it.
“I still hear about the Queens Blvd [redesign], people saying that they didn’t have a voice…so I don’t want that situation again.”
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