March 23, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
The Department of Transportation insists that the new traffic lights coming near two schools in the Woodside and Sunnyside area are not tied to the agency’s plans for safety improvements, which include bike lanes, along Skillman and 43rd Avenues.
Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) announced earlier this month that the DOT would be installing long called-for traffic signals by P.S.11 on 54th Street and Skillman Avenue. And just days ago, it was announced that the agency would be placing a traffic light by P.S. 343 at 42nd Street and 47th Avenue—another location where the community had demanded a light for years.
The DOT has studied the two areas many times in the past, and previously said the locations did not meet the qualifications to warrant traffic signals after their inspections.
Van Bramer, however, renewed calls for the DOT to install traffic lights at the two spots just a few months ago, but this time with a twist—the lights would have to be put in place for any further conversation on the DOT’s proposed redesigns for Skillman and 43rd Avenue to continue, and the town hall where the agency would share their ideas with the community would be postponed until then, he said.
“We can’t entertain any redesign of Skillman and 43rd Avenues until they install these traffic calming measures at P.S. 11 and until they make P.S. 11 safe,” Van Bramer said in January.
He added: “You can’t push forward a plan like the one they proposed while simultaneously leaving 1,000 kids behind. The ball is in the DOT’s court.”
The DOT was previously expected to present a revised plan to the community on bike lanes and other safety features for the two avenues in December, but the event was abruptly cancelled after P.S. 11 lambasted the agency for failing to include a traffic light by the school like they requested last year.
The DOT’s initial vision for safety improvements, released in November, was met with much criticism when it called for over 150 parking spots to be removed to make way for protected bike lanes.
While news of the light fixtures heading to the two locations came after Van Bramer’s conditions were laid out, and were followed by the announcement of a new town hall date days later, the DOT maintains that the town hall and their plans for Skillman and 43rd Avenues had nothing to do with their decision to install traffic lights by the schools.
“We’ve been working with both schools for some time,” said Nicole Garcia, DOT Queens Borough Commissioner. “We have had outstanding studies at these locations, and we are very, very excited that based on the data that was found, we are able to install these traffic signals.”
Garcia said the DOT has been looking at the two locations well before the town hall, and that recent tests confirmed the need for traffic lights while prior inspections did not.
“To tie the two [town hall and traffic lights] together—that’s not how DOT does business,” she said.
Garcia said the safety of the intersection is the agency’s top priority when they’re called on to do a study for either all way stop signs or traffic signals, and that hard data is used to make their determinations. “We run the numbers, we look at the data, we count the volumes of pedestrians, cars, and also bicyclists, and we analyze it.”
She added: “You have to talk to the council member about his statements.”
Van Bramer said he was using “all levers” of his power to get things done for his community when asked about the town hall and the traffic lights.
“All I did at this stage of the game was to say that I wouldn’t go forward with the town hall until I got traffic calming as P.S. 11 and P.S. 343. And it shouldn’t take that, but we got it,” he said.
Van Bramer said he wished the DOT wouldn’t have taken so long on the traffic lights, and had agreed to put them up sooner.
He said he’s long had “a problem” with how the DOT judges requests for traffic calming measures, as is the case with the multiple calls he’s made over the years for crosswalks and lights at Center Boulevard, which have turned back negative.
He added that at the end of the day, the one thing that matters is that the traffic signals get installed for the children of P.S. 11 and P.S. 343.
“I’m not going to criticize the DOT for providing those traffic calming measures,” he said.
The DOT’s town hall on safety improvements for Skillman and 43rd Avenues will take place on March 26 at P.S. 150. The event is scheduled to begin at 6:30 p.m.