DOT Plans for Protected Bike Lanes Linking Queensboro Bridge and Queens Blvd

The redesign of 43rd Avenue and Skillman Avenue would make for a nearly-continuous protected east-west bike route between the East Side of Manhattan and central Queens.

The DOT plan converts unprotected bike lanes on Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenue to parking-protected lanes. Image: DOT
The DOT plan converts unprotected bike lanes on Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenue to parking-protected lanes. Image: DOT

To create safer bike connections between the Queensboro Bridge and the neighborhoods east of Sunnyside Yard, DOT is planning for protected bike lanes on 43rd Avenue and Skillman Avenue. By filling key gaps in the protected bike lane network, the project would create an eight-mile stretch of nearly continuous protected bike lanes connecting Forest Hills to Midtown Manhattan.

Agency reps showed the plan to the Queens Community Board 2 transportation committee last night. DOT expects to present the project again before seeking a vote from the CB and is aiming to implement the project next year.

In April, a drunk driver killed delivery worker Gelacio Reyes, 32, at 43rd Avenue and 39th Street, as he was biking home from his job in Manhattan. Ten days later a driver critically injured another cyclist at the same location. Advocates and Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer called on DOT to install protected bike lanes on both streets, which are heavily used by people on bikes.

DOT’s plan delivers, calling for 2.6 miles of protected bike lanes and 30 new painted pedestrian islands along both streets [PDF]. The only remaining gaps in protection between the bridge and central Queens would be on a few blocks of cross streets near the convergence of Roosevelt Avenue and Queens Boulevard.

skillman-43rd-map

In the redesign, the busiest parts of each street — Skillman Avenue between 49th Street and 39th Street, and 43rd Avenue between 38th Street to 52nd Street — would get a five-foot parking-protected bike lane with a three-foot buffer. At intersections, painted pedestrian islands would improve visibility and shorten crossing distances. The number of motor vehicle lanes would remain unchanged.

Image: DOT
Image: DOT

On less-trafficked blocks prone to speeding — Skillman Avenue between 56th Street and 49th Street and 43rd Avenue between 32nd Place and 39th Street — there would be one car lane, allowing for a six-foot bike lane, five-foot buffer, and nine-foot pedestrian islands.

East of 39th Street, one lane of Skillman would be for moving motor vehicles during the morning rush and parking at all other times.

To manage conflicts between turning drivers and cyclists at intersections, the project calls for mixing zones, not DOT’s newer — and presumably safer — intersection treatments.

The westernmost leg of the route would consist of a two-way protected bike lane on the north side of Skillman, linking the Queens Boulevard bridge, which spans Sunnyside Yard, and 43rd Avenue. Eastbound cyclists comfortable riding in regular traffic would still have the option of riding in the road, which would maintain its sharrows.

The westernmost block of the proposal would connect cyclists to the Queensboro Bridge via Queens Boulevard. Image: DOT
The westernmost block of the proposal would connect cyclists to the Queensboro Bridge via Queens Boulevard. Image: DOT

DOT striped unprotected bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd in 2008. Cycling on both streets has skyrocketed, increasing 545 percent since 2007, according to DOT. The agency’s 12-hour bike counts over the summer showed more than 1,400 people cycling on the two streets combined.

Transportation Alternatives has collected 700 signatures in favor of protected bike lanes on 43rd and Skillman, and letters of support from 42 businesses on both streets.

Despite the clear need for safer bike infrastructure, CB 2 leadership was laser-focused last night on the potential loss of parking spaces. Pedestrian islands and mixing zones would replace 118 parking spaces, and 40 other spaces on Skillman would be removed due to changing the degree of angled parking and other adjustments. The rush hour moving lane on Skillman accounts for another 40 spaces, but only from 7 a.m. to 10 a.m.

“Traffic-calming measures don’t always have to come aside with bike lanes. There has to be other things we can do,” CB 2 chair Denise Keehan-Smith told DOT Deputy Borough Commissioner Jason Banrey. “Losing 158 spaces, I’ll be honest with you, I think is highly unreasonable, and I’m surprised that you’re even asking us to do this.”

Banrey said a vote of approval from the board by January would allow DOT to implement the project within months. But Keehan-Smith, who stood with Van Bramer and advocates at the site of the two bike crashes, didn’t see implementation as an urgent priority, citing the complaints the board received after DOT redesigned a segment of Queens Boulevard in 2015.

“I don’t want this to be rushed. I don’t want anybody to say, ‘I need an answer by next month,’ because we’re going to say no,” Keehan-Smith said.

Against the complaints about parking, the board will be weighing the imperative to prevent further loss of life. “I want to make sure everyone understands: Somebody died here, somebody got seriously injured,” Banrey told her. “We’re obligated to address these safety concerns.”

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This concept for a protected bike lane on 43rd Avenue in Sunnyside emphasizes safety for cyclists and pedestrians at intersections. Image: Max Sholl

Yes, There’s Room for a Protected Bike Lane on 43rd Avenue

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In April, a drunk driver killed Gelacio Reyes, 32, on 43rd Avenue at 39th Street as he biked home in the early morning from work in Midtown Manhattan. Now advocates are renewing their call for DOT to install a protected bike lane on 43rd Avenue and its westbound counterpart, Skillman Avenue, which connect the Queensboro Bridge to the protected bike lanes on Queens Boulevard.