March 5, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
The city will install traffic signals right by P.S. 11 on Skillman Avenue in a move that comes after the school, Councilmember Jimmy Van Bramer (D-Sunnyside) and other advocates demanded their installation last month.
Two traffic signals will be up in front of the school at 54th Street and Skillman Avenue, according to Van Bramer’s office. The full traffic signals will be installed on both legs of 54th Street and Skillman Avenue, which splits into two streets divided by a block. Both signals will be coordinated to avoid any queue backups on any of the approaches. The lights are expected to be installed by May.
Van Bramer and the school called on the Department of Transportation to implement traffic calming measures near the school, located at 54th and Skillman Avenue, last month. The lack of traffic lights there, he said, were an accident waiting to happen.
“The point of traffic calming around schools is not to wait until a tragedy happens,” Van Bramer said. “This is about preventing a tragedy. This is going to make all of the kids at P.S.11 safer, and its going to make everyone around that area of Woodside safer.”
DOT Queens Borough Commissioner Nicole Garcia said in a statement that the two signals will “make it easier for everyone in the community to cross, especially the growing number of students who are heading to and from school or visiting the Woodside Library.”
Last month’s demand was not the first time advocates pushed for traffic calming measures by the school. Parents and teachers at the 1,000-seat elementary school requested a traffic light at 54th Street and Skillman Avenue last year, but the request was turned down by the DOT.
The issue was brought to the spotlight once more, however, after the DOT unveiled controversial plans in November to install bike lanes through 43rd and Skillman Avenues, which would pass directly in front of the school. An emergency PTA meeting at P.S. 11 in December saw multiple parents and staff furiously lash out at the agency for introducing a plan for bike lanes that failed to include the safety measures they demanded. Some even claimed the DOT’s plans would bring more danger to students.
“Parents will no longer be able to pull up to the curb to drop off and pick up their child,” the PTA said in December. “Students will now have to cross a bike lane and the street.”
A town hall scheduled the next day for the DOT to present updated bike lane plans, and for the community to weigh in on them, was abruptly cancelled after P.S. 11’s emergency meeting. Van Bramer said the town hall would be postponed indefinitely until the school got the traffic lights he and other parents called for.
But with the crucial traffic lights underway, the town hall will be making a come back.
“With these traffic calming measures being installed in front of P.S. 11, the DOT plans to move forward with the town hall,” Van Bramer said.
The town hall’s date has not yet been selected, Van Bramer said, adding that it’s the DOT’s town hall and that they can convene one anytime they want.
As for his stance on bike lanes through 43rd and Skillman Avenues, Van Bramer says he will reserve judgement until he hears from the community at the town hall.
“I’m going to listen to the arguments and we’ll see what the best way to proceed is,” he said. “I respond to thoughtful—passionate, yes—but thoughtful and reasoned arguments about this project, and so I’m not going to give a position right now.”
He added that people on both sides of the issue make valid points either for or against bike lanes.
“I know that the people who are opposed to the bike lanes want children and seniors to be safe. I know they don’t want anyone to be hurt, but they have legitimate concerns about how it might affect businesses and parking in the community,” Van Bramer said. “And for those that are in favor, I believe they want to see small businesses thrive and do well and continue to help drive our very successful neighborhood.”
Nicole Garcia, the DOT Queens Borough Commissioner, said the agency is working on determining the town hall’s date, adding that it will be “sooner rather than later”.
Update 3/7 2:30 p.m. : Article updated with more information on the traffic signals and information from the DOT on the next town hall’s date.