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Op-Ed: Speed Bumps and Stop Signs Are Not Enough: Why You Should Support the “Bike Boulevard”

39th Avenue near Phipps Gardens Apartments at 51-01 39th Ave. (Photo taken Sept. 23, 2021 Queens Post/Michael Dorgan)

Oct. 5, 2021 Op-ed By Rosamond Gianutsos

For the 52 years I have lived on 52nd Street I have had to cross 39th Avenue almost every time I step or pedal off my block.

Twice I have been knocked from my bike to the pavement in front of Phipps Garden Apartments at 51-01 39th Ave.

Fortunately, I escaped significant injury, but others are not so lucky.  In the United States approximately 40,000 people lost their lives in vehicular crashes last year, double the 19,000 killed in gun violence.

To put a human face on this tragedy watch the DOT and Families for Safe Streets’ video Drive Like your Family Lives Here, which documents lives lost and family grief.  Even more people are living with enduring injuries, their lives forever altered by traffic violence. I have seen this first hand as a psychologist working to rehabilitate survivors of brain injuries caused by person vs vehicle collisions.

Rosamond Gianutsos

Here in Sunnyside, I am not alone in my safety concerns. Over the years many neighbors filed requests with DOT asking for speed bumps, stop signs, crosswalks, and stop lights. We are grateful that Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer and Assemblymember Brian Barnwell have consistently supported these requests.

On north-south streets and along Woodside Avenue some speed bumps have been installed. One stop sign was installed on Woodside Avenue following a pedestrian fatality at 57th Street. But on 39th Ave DOT denied or delayed each request.

Besides, these requests were all piecemeal and used imperfect tools. For example, are signs really helpful?

Watch the video interviews published on the Sunnyside Post website where drivers are seen in the background passing “Do Not Enter” signs.  If drivers will ignore One Way or Do Not Enter signs on video, what makes us think they will observe Stop signs?

Speed bumps, the other frequently cited tool, do have the advantage that they are self-enforcing.

Unfortunately, research findings again show a little, if any, effect of speed bumps.  More compelling to me is the fact that on Valentine’s Day 2018 a driver crossed a speed bump on Woodside Ave and then turned right onto 57th St. killing our neighbor Christa Wittikind as she was walking home.  The speed bump on Woodside Avenue in front of Saint Sebastian School was mere feet from that intersection.

(The Stop sign seen here was installed a year following Mrs. Wittikind’s death. Photo Provided By Rosamond Gianutsos)

We can’t ask Christa Wittikind if speed bumps work. But we know the answer. Let yourself be touched by her nephew’s pleas for information in the comments that follow the Sunnyside Post’s article describing the incident.

Mrs. Wittikind was a widow who lived in the apartment building on Woodside Avenue a block from where she died. Her sister and nephew came up from Florida to bury her. Hear what her neighbor had to say, “I knew your aunt—we were neighbors for many years. She always had a smile.”

When COVID hit, while traffic decreased, vehicular speeds increased dramatically. Many hoped the designation of 39th Ave as an Open Street at the beginning of the first COVID summer would help.

Yet, volunteers were heckled and even threatened as they partnered with DOT setting out and maintaining the safety barricades.  We were disappointed to watch as cars, trucks and even illegal tandem 18 wheelers raced through the barrier arrangements like a slalom course. Notwithstanding, speed studies showed a modest 5-6 mph speed reduction – from the mid 20’s to the high teens.

From the NYC Open Data portal (accessed via Crashmapper.org) we learned that there were no crashes with injuries during the year the safety barricades were in place, while there were 5 in the comparable period beginning in 2018.

While speed bumps and stop signs have not been enough, friendly decorated barricades placed by a dedicated team of neighbors appear to have made a difference.

In September 2020 the Sunnyside Woodside Open Street (SWOS) coalition and Councilmember Van Bramer formally asked for a comprehensive study of 39th Avenue to explore the full range of tools in the NYC DOT Street Design Manual (its traffic calming “toolbox.”)

With the “Bike Boulevard,” the DOT’s engineers have gone way beyond stop signs and speed bumps, starting with data collection and analysis which led them to identify the use of 39th Avenue as a “cut through” commuter route as a significant factor in traffic volume and speeds. They documented the growing number of bicyclists in and around our community. Then they created a plan which uses design to induce motorists to slow down.

The transition from the temporary Open Street to the Bike Boulevard is the product of that process.  Without doubt the implementation has been confusing. Patience is in order. Some of this confusion derives from the use of temporary transitional measures.

DOT states that the full implementation will be complete by the end of October. Let us not jump to conclusions. Incidentally, as part of the Bike Boulevard a long-requested traffic signal is finally being installed at 52nd St.

Meanwhile, it will take time and conscious effort for drivers (like me) who live on or near the avenue to adjust our customary routes.  Many of these accommodations seem awkward but are easily accomplished in cars.  Please remember that these design changes are to protect vulnerable road users:  in a collision between a pedestrian or a bike and a car, the laws of physics tell us who will win.

Despite its moniker, the Bike Boulevard is not just for bikes.  It is for all of us.  We are all pedestrians at least some of the time.

Along with DOT we will evaluate the outcome, listening to our community members.  Adjustments are sure to be needed. That said, I am excited that our neighborhood will be taking the lead in a new era where street design prioritizes safety for all users.

________________________________________________________________________

Rosamond Gianutsos is a Community Board 2 member and has been a Sunnysider for over a half century.  She is passionate about safety and has been a volunteer instructor for over 80 AARP Smart Driver (“defensive driving”) classes.  As a psychologist specializing in neuropsychological rehabilitation, she has treated many survivors of traffic violence with life altering brain injuries.  As a Certified Driver Rehabilitation Specialist, she conducts driver fitness evaluations.  While she prefers to ride her bike locally, she does drive in order to treat patients and do in-home driver evaluations.

_________________________________________________________________________

email the author: [email protected]

48 Comments

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Paul Madden

Well, over 1000 of your neighbors disagree with your assessment of the debacle that is now 39th Ave! Please sign petition below if you disagree with article.
https://www.change.org/p/remove-the-39th-avenue-redesign-in-sunnyside-woodside-queens-now?recruiter=1042997510&utm_source=share_petition&utm_medium=facebook&utm_campaign=psf_combo_share_initial&utm_term=signature_receipt&recruited_by_id=e5e42490-4ff4-11ea-8a56-73cb95e30985&utm_content=fht-30900450-en-us%3A1

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Harold Bieber

Why are so many of the signers of this petition from other boroughs (or Southampton!)? This petition is illegitimate and should be investigated by the Sunnyside Post!

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Woodside Mom

Lazy bike riders can’t possibly manage to ride over to Skillman/43rd Ave/ or God FORBID…Queens Blvd to get where they need to be? So glad I have a Home Depot on my side of Queens Blvd now so I don’t have to deal with the idiots who decided this was a good idea. Jimmy Van Brain Dead and his cronies have destroyed Sunnyside/Woodside the way DeBozo has ruined the rest of our once beautiful city.

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Tracy Sullivan

I live on 50th Street and 39th Avenue. I do NOT support the bike blvd. There are protected bike lanes on 43rd Ave, Skillman Ave., Queens Blvd, and Northern Blvd. The DOT could have put in a light on 52nd street and 39th Avenue to assist with street crossing, destroying our neighborhood was NOT necessary.

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Michael Dorfman

Thank you for a well written and informed op-Ed on this issue. Sadly, a small minority of hyper-conservative residents continues to harass and threaten folks advocating for these life saving changes. Keep the faith!

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Rose Sullivan

Michael,
It is NOT a “small minority of hyper-conservative residents” that have serious opposition to aspects of the new “design”. And I think you already know that. Young and Old, new and lifelong residents of this community were not fully informed of the extent this exercise has taken on. Without a doubt every resident in this community is in favor of safety for everyone, cyclists, pedestrians, vehicles, and the stray cat crossing the street. We don’t know that speed bumps and stop signs and traffic lights wouldn’t help in this community. Safety measures that have been asked for repeatedly. As it is currently, neither cars nor cyclists are adhering to the signs and basic traffic laws. Cars parked in what used to be the middle of the street make it difficult to see oncoming traffic and the little residents of our community can’t see. Traffic lights on every corner from Woodside Ave along 39th Ave. to 48th St. probably would have stopped or at least made it extremely difficult to speed from street to street. Last night the fire trucks, siren blaring, horn blowing couldn’t get down 50th st., because someone double parked probably about a minute before they made the turn, The driver was assisting a person to the front door of the F building at Phipps. The poor driver had to let go of the individual he was assisting after giving her the wall to hold onto, then jumped back in the car and sped away, the fire truck blaring behind him. The car then made a right turn onto Barnett Ave., but the fire truck needed to go that way to get to Woodside Ave. They couldn’t make the turn they’ve always made. It was usually a right turn at Donato’s, then onto Woodside Ave. I don’t know how long it took the fire truck to make the left turn from 51st. street onto 39th Ave., then a tight right onto 50th, where it met the car, then right onto Barnett, onward to Woodside Ave. There was no other way they could have gone since the bike blvd changed the direction of traffic on certain streets. This extent of this project was not known to a large majority of residents in this community; not a “small minority of hyper-conservative residents”

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Paul Madden

I consider myself a progressive, voted for Bernie(twice), voted for AOC (2x, unlike Mr. Van Bramer who supported Crowley the first time) and I’m totally against what is going on with 39th Ave. Why the label of “hyper-conservative” when a great deal of people don’t agree with you on an issue?

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mac

Michael, you are clueless. I’m as left as can be and I don’t support this. The DOT left residents in the dark about their plans.

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Dietmar Detering

Thank you for this thoughtful, and I have to say: brave, contribution to the discussion. Worth the read!

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LIC Direct

This is ridiculous can’t wait for this mayor, councilman Jimmy Photo-op Van Bramer to leave office, new blood, new people, in office enough already. Curtis Sliwa for Mayor!!!!

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39th Avenue resident

With all due respect to Mrs. Wittekind and her family, I don’t see anything in the linked article that identifies her death as anything other than a tragic accident. To portray accidents as “traffic violence” and all drivers as potential murderers does nothing to decrease accidents. Turning our streets into a rat maze does nothing to alleviate traffic through our residential neighborhood. We had speeding on 39th Avenue because drivers were diverted from and avoiding Queens Blvd, Northern Blvd, 43rd and Skillman avenues and all the bike lanes therein. Forcing traffic through narrower and narrower spaces does not decrease traffic (as has been demonstrated after months of the one lane stretch of Skillman or months of barricades on “open streets” that turned 39th Ave into a slalom run). Allowing Uber and Lyft to take over taxi services in the city has only added to the problem. Where are the calls to fix the MTA and improve public transportation? We can’t get the DOT to respond to requests for Stop signs or crosswalks so the solution is to get them to completely redesign the streets, making it harder for residents to move around in our own neighborhood? How would the changes on 39th Ave have helped Mrs. Wittekind on 57th St from a driver simply turning the corner and not seeing her in time? Vilifying car owning neighbors and punishing them for driving will not result in less cars on our streets, which is the stated goal of Transportation Alternatives and the outgoing mayor.

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Peter Jenkins

This is flat-out wrong-headed. Shame on the SS Post for giving a megaphone to one side of the issue. (And PS: More than half of the “bikes” in the bike lane are motorized, some weighing in at over 200 lbs. The bike lane in SS is outrageously dangerous to pedestrians – especially the elderly!)

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Not lead poisoned

That’s just demonstrably incorrect. Sunnyside Post published a comprehensive article about the anti-street safety petition that aims to remove these changes

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Tom Rorb

The traffic has already diminished and the speeding-thru-the-neighborhood drivers have been diverted to better roads that handle congestion better. Thank goodness for the project. It is now so much more peaceful to bike my kid on 39th Avenue to go to grandma’s house and it still isn’t complete!

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John Q. Citizen

Yes, bike lanes and “boulevards” are all the rage, and are actually making things worse. As these “boulevards” are made, the traffic has to go somewhere, and where it goes, is into the side streets, and other main drags. It’s like a crackdown on prostitutes in a given precinct. The precinct where the “crackdown” happens, has a drop in vice, but the neighboring precincts see an uptick in vice. You are just moving the problem from one place to another. The problem, is not just lack of enforcement, but NO CONSEQUENCES, and the reason there are no consequences, is because the electorate wants no consequences. “It’s police harassment”. It’s this, it’s that. Newsflash: You can’t have it both ways. Of course the brain storm of the inundation of Uber and Lyft cars everywhere compounded the vehicle problem exponentially, and they are some of the worst speed violators. One other little unintended consequence, is the minor issue of emergency equipment not being able to navigate the grid pattern effectively to get to a call, because you know…”Boulevards”. Lack of enforcement is the problem, and it’s like that because the public seems to find the police as an inconvenience. It’s amazing how little people think these things through.

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John C Lieff

39th Ave was never busy,never crowded with vehicles,bicycles,or pedestrians.Bike Boulevard is farcical.Jusy. watch where you’re riding.

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Anonymous

This person is biased. She is one of too many Community Board 2 members who live in the Sunnyside Gardens area. JVB handpicked these people and they have divided the community for it’s selfish aims. Community Board 2 is in need of desperate reform and is a classic example of why the Council Member should never have been allowed a 3 term. He used those terms to bend the Community Board to his will by appointing friends and neighbors who are in every way, apparatchiks

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Pete Brady

Dear Nanny, never once have I heard the call for accountability for bike riders! They disregard lights and signs on a daily basis with impunity, sometimes causing accidents!! Bike riders need to be licensed and insured, then ticketed for disobeying rules and laws, just like motor vehicle operators are! Especially the motorized scooters that are the biggest threat to pedestrians! You say you want safe streets, but making Woodside a maze for drivers makes no sense, and I’m sure whom ever is responsible for this isn’t finished! Last thing, wondering if the Landmark Preservation committee was consulted on these changes, and if so, what their response was!
Thank You

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Tom Rorb

Why would anything need to go before the Landmark Preservation Committee? They have zero input or say in the roads you realize? Look it up it doesn’t take a genius to find that out!

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L. Mumford

Reducing car traffic in historic neighborhoods should be a priority of landmark preservation. The soot and pollution from automobiles has demonstrably negative effects on buildings. Not to mention the noise, congestion, and violence of car traffic are way out of character for the spirit of this historic neighborhood. Remember that the garages were built on the perimeter of the neighborhood because cars were not conducive to the calm of the original construction of these streets. We must preserve this idyll!

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Oscar

No data supports any justification of this circus. Not in safety, or in carbon footprint.

How is making cars drive around the neighborhood MORE going to decrease either accidents or carbon emissions?

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Nom de plum

There are enough bike lanes on Skillman Avenue 43rd Avenue +Northern Boulevard and bikers continue to ride through stop signs and red lights and now we have motor scooters and motorcycles who use the bike lanes. Cutting up 39th avenue to accommodate bikers is overkill

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39th Ave homeowner you know

There are enough car roads on (wait for it) every paved inch of the city! DOT turns one street into a one-way at places and suddenly drivers are marooned at home?

It’s hard to believe, but cyclists live on every street in this town and they can’t walk their bikes over to Queens Blvd to get places. Bikes need protection from cars everywhere. And the worse car traffic gets, and the worse the effects of climate change get, the more we’re going to see free resources for cars taken away and replaced with room for everybody else. Parking, car lanes, and toll-free driving are going to disappear. This is the reality.

Other major cities like Paris, Berlin, and yes, Amsterdam, have already embraced this and improved the lives of their citizenry. The next mayor and city council must and will move forward towards a car-free NYC.

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Dude

In order to have a car free NY, you need to have a public transportation system in place that isn’t dysfunctional. We do not have that, nor is our kind of comical infrastructure even headed in that direction. It’s getting worse by the year, actually. Like it or not, that has driven countless NYers to sit behind the wheel over the past year. I’d anticipate even more as we proceed. The subway is inviable and that reality is seen on our streets. The MTA deserves to be in the position they’re in. May they continue to flounder.

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Compromise is Possible

May Mrs. Wittikind RIP. I remember this tragedy as I live and work in the community.
With no disrespect to the deceased, I feel it is important that the facts be cited. The speed bump on Woodside Ave and the turn that killed her were unrelated as to my understanding of the incident. Absolute tragedy and do not believe her memory should be mentioned in our bike lane debate as a community.
Don’t assume residents that question redesign have not experienced loss of a cyclist. My 6th grade teacher was killed by an irate driver during a pro-bike rally in Brooklyn. I also knew her as an adult. While our views were different my heart still breaks for her family’s loss.

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ABoondy

with everyone packed one on top of each other, fatal crashes are inevitable. i blame the cops for not patrolling streets anymore to stop drunk drivers. where are the speed cameras at every stop? the entire city is lawless. whats the next extreme? you can even argue that bikes are dangerous to pedestrians. lets take them off the road too!

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Booboo

Keep it up. Patronizing people is a great communication technique. It will make you lots and lots of friends. Run with it! And by the way, people
Don’t get “triggered” They firm string opinions based on decades of experience and know an over-confident idiot when they see one. Most of them have been harmless but the new crop is so entitled they really need to be kept in a pen before they kill people.

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Total E. Annoyed

Just another assault upon the “motoring public”, by someone with their own agenda. Both Skillman Ave. and 43rd Ave. have “Protected Curbside Bicycle Lanes”, this project is a waste of Taxpayer’s Money that will have the consequences of increased delays for essential Emergency Service Vehicles as well as decreased productivity for commercial vehicles serving the community. That will cost all of us money as those costs will be passed on to all consumers. Possibly the worst case scenario could well be increased response times for lifesaving services like Fire, EMT’s Ambulances and NYPD. It’s sad that a small percentage of “Squeeky Wheels” like the author of this article, seem to wield such power in the inept De Blasio Administration.

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Anonymous

Take away:
Closing streets reduces auto accidents on said closed streets.
In related news closing banks reduces bank robberies at said closed banks. But wait there’s more! Closing beaches reduces drowning deaths. Anymore stunning research? Absolutely fascinating!

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Linda Dano

Please take some consideration to ticket cyclists & scooters who are abusing their new found freedoms! Ticket cars, too, but crack down on these people in particular who are terrorizing us because they don’t follow any rules. Enforcement of traffic rules applies to everyone. Thank you.

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Barbara Judge

Would someone create an online petition to keep the bike boulevard? I frequently walk down this street with my grand children. I look forward to having more pedestrian and bike space in our neighborhood and city. Fabulous for it to start in Sunnyside, it sets precedence. I would hate to see the privileged few that drive ruin it for the rest of us.

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Anonymous

Ms. Judge, I am a driver and a cyclists and a pedestrian. I amNOT “a privileged few.” and I don’t understand why life-long and brand new community residents have to defend ourselves as hard working individuals while voicing opposition to this, currently very unsafe, change in traffic patterns. Geez, if I was privileged, ya think I’d be still living in the little (but rent stabilized) crappy apt!!

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Jeannie Uss

The article is full of generalizations and exaggerations. While no one wants anyone to be injured in anyway, the imposition of this drastic, punitive design is not a solution to what you all a crisis. The city created the “cut through” traffic on 39th Avenue when it slowed traffic on Queens Blvd. and planned these fake “boulevards” from the beginning, not because “many” people asked for it. I live on 51st and 39th Bike Boulevard. Those barricades were mostly up and unmolested. That didn’t stop a woman who was moving it from calling me a “death lover” in a “killing machine” as I sat at the light watching her. I’ve been talking to lots of people on the street all week. Out of 25 or so, one woman thought it was an improvement. Th shameful way Mr. Van Bramer fired the highly experienced, widely trusted and loyal leadership of the community board so he could replace them with easily manipulated neophytes disgusted many people. I, personally, lost my faith in government having to live through our councilperson and our last president at the same time. There is huge, very strong opposition to the new boulevard.

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Speed bumps will only make things worse.

Now instead of just flying down the street they’ll be launched into the air ala Duke’s of Hazzard style.

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Woodside Mom

I have 6 speed bumps on my block. No one and I mean no one is being launched into the air driving down the street. In either direction. It has definitely made it safer to cross a very busy thoroughfare.

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