April 2, 2019 By Christian Murray
When Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenues were redesigned last August, a stretch of Skillman Avenue from 49th Street and 54th Street was reduced from two lanes to one.
Many protested the lost lane, saying that it led to increased congestion, made it tougher for the FDNY to get to emergencies and increased crashes. Many residents have posted videos to Facebook and Twitter showing backed up traffic, FDNY trucks struggling to turn onto Skillman Avenue, and chaotic traffic conditions outside P.S. 11.
The DOT, however, said yesterday that no change was necessary and that the one lane stretch will remain.
“We will not be restoring the two-lane condition on Skillman Avenue—that’s definitive,” said John O’Neill, Borough planner for the DOT at a Community Board 2 Transportation Committee meeting last night. “The decision has been made and it went through thorough vetting.”
Denise Keehan-Smith, the Chair of Community Board 2, asked O’Neill whether the loss of the lane was putting the safety of the neighborhood at risk, since FDNY trucks had less room to make turns or drive down Skillman Avenue.
She referred to a video where a FDNY truck smashed (see below) into parked cars between 50th and 51st Streets earlier this year.
“We are aware that it happened but I don’t know what to say other than other firetrucks make that turn,” O’Neill said. “The FDNY contends it is sufficient width for a fire truck to go down…we don’t see a design flaw.”
Keehan-Smith also noted that an 18-wheeler had also hit parked cars and that traffic along that portion of Skillman Avenue constantly gets backed up. “I have seen the photos,” she said.
The lost lane has resulted in greater congestion particularly around P.S. 11 and the stores by 50th Street, critics of the plan argue. For instance, when there were two lanes, there was an extra lane for motorists to drive around a double-parked car—often in cases where a parent would drop off a child at P.S. 11 or when a resident would go into a store. While the critics didn’t condone double parking, they said it was a reality.
O’Neill said that the one lane was working and that the DOT had made provision for congestion. He said that the bulk of where the lane was cut on Skillman Avenue is in a residential section of the avenue and in the commercial area—around 50th Street– a loading zone was created.
The loading zone, which was installed on the south side of Skillman Avenue between 51st and 50th Street, however will change.
O’Neill said the parking spaces on that strip—except for in front of Fresh N Save—will be restored to regular parking. Meanwhile, a new loading zone will be on 50th Street, just around the corner on the east side of the street. O’Neill said that trucks have enough width to make the turn onto 50th Street.
Keehan-Smith was doubtful whether the redesign had made Skillman and 43rd Avenues safer, saying that it appears that there are more pedestrians and cyclists being injured.
O’Neill countered that the DOT doesn’t have data to support Keehan-Smith’s observation and that “the designs are based on crash data provided by the NYPD. There is no other way to track it.”
He said redesigns are not based on Facebook or Twitter posts.
But the NYPD crash data is only analyzed on an “annual basis,” according to the DOT. Crashes that are deemed severe are the ones reviewed immediately, said Samantha Dolgoff, Director of Strategic Initiatives, last night.
Sheila Lewandowski, the chair of the Transportation Committee, said that when major design changes are made the DOT should be reviewing the data much sooner than that—as opposed to waiting a year.
Nicole Garcia, the Queens DOT Commissioner, however, said that if there were real issues with Skillman and 43rd Avenues she would have heard about it via the police.
She said that the DOT Borough Commissioners attend a meeting once every two months at One Police Plaza where they are briefed about Vision Zero. She said if there were a problem the NYPD would have brought it to her attention—which has not occurred.
But Lewandowski said the DOT should not be making final determinations when the data hasn’t been reviewed after a year. The discussion should not just end, she said.
“When you say it’s a hard no, I don’t think anything should be hard no until you get through a year,” she said.
Footage captured by the owner of Fresh N Save on Skillman Avenue (Posted by Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce Facebook)