Oct. 1, 2018 By Nathaly Pesantez
A new video posted to a local Facebook group shows a firetruck being blocked from traveling down Skillman Avenue–raising questions about public safety following the street’s recent redesign.
The video, just over a minute long and posted to the Woodside Pride group at around 8:45 p.m. yesterday, shows an angled firetruck from the local Engine 325/Ladder 163 firehouse on 51st Street, with lights and horns ablaze, unable to turn onto Skillman Avenue.
Two firefighters are also seen on the street, seemingly trying to direct the truck.
The truck appears to be blocked by at least two cars stationed in a striped buffer zone on Skillman Avenue, part of the Department of Transportation’s reconfiguration of the avenue to make way for protected bike lanes and other safety measures.
The truck eventually reverses a couple of feet back before pulling forward into 51st Street, presumably to make a turn onto 39th Avenue.
The video has already been shared by dozens, with many worried about the prospect of a delayed firetruck.
Several, despite the cars stationed over a new buffer zone, blamed the firetruck’s holdup on the newly implemented protected bike lane design, which included the elimination of a travel lane at the site.
“…Even if that car had parked illegally at the curb where there is a hydrant, the firetruck could have still made the turn,” reads part of a comment written by John McGarry, who posted the video to the Facebook group.
Gary O’Neil, owner of Aubergine Cafe on Skillman Avenue and a member of Queens Streets for All, a group that has pushed back against the redesign, said he was “disgusted” at the situation.
“This is not a surprise to anyone keeping an eye on this since the beginning,” he told the Sunnyside Post, adding that he and others, including firefighters from the local firehouse, warned the DOT that this would be a problem.
The avenue’s prior configuration allowed for the firetruck to turn despite illegally parked cars—an inevitability in New York City, he said.
“The reason the firetruck is having the issue is because of the new bike lane—period,” he said, later adding, “The issue here is that the city made a situation much worse than it ever was.”
Others, however, say the firetruck’s inability to turn is due to drivers ignoring clearly defined boundaries on the roadway.
“Selfish drivers who feel entitled to park where they want caused this, not bike lanes,” tweeted Peter Beadle, a transit advocate and member of Transportation Alternatives Queens Activist Committee.
Juan Restrepo, Queens Organizer for Transportation Alternatives, said the redesign will do what it is supposed to do if people work with it.
“You have to blame it on people that aren’t respecting clearly engineered aspects of this plan,” he said, adding, “If you try to sabotage clear distinctions of ‘do not park here’, it’s not going to work.”
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer said he watched the video several times, and that the illegally parked car prevented the truck from making the turn.
“I know some people do not like the bike lanes, but it is intellectually dishonest to blame everything on the bike lanes when the video evidence is clear that an illegally parked car is what caused this,” he said in a statement.
He added, however, that the city should do whatever is necessary to prevent illegally parked cars from blocking emergency vehicles.
The DOT also said the video footage clearly shows illegally parked cars where the design is intended to facilitate turning vehicles, especially large ones.
In June, the agency ran a field test that demonstrated the redesign would work with the firehouse’s largest rig, but made minor adjustments to reduce double parking and illegal parking in existing no standing zones.
“As mentioned in previous statements, we worked closely with FDNY to design this section of the project, and it incorporates all of their feedback about how best to address their needs,” a DOT spokesperson said.
Frank Dwyer, an FDNY spokesperson, said the department continues to work with the DOT to address issues and concerns at the intersection, including frequently illegally parked cars.
The DOT said is working with NYPD to educate and acclimate drivers to the new curb regulations to promote compliance.