Van Bramer Won’t Back Skillman Protected Bike Lane Without a Pedestrian Crossing By P.S. 11

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer alongside P.S. 11 students, parents, and teachers yesterday afternoon. Photo: David Meyer
Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer alongside P.S. 11 students, parents, and teachers yesterday afternoon. Photo: David Meyer

Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer is withholding support for protected bike lanes connecting Queens Boulevard and the Queensboro Bridge until the city addresses pedestrian safety concerns at P.S. 11 on Skillman Avenue between 54th Street and 55th Street.

“I will not entertain any plans to change Skillman or 43rd Avenue, and even contemplate bike lanes, until P.S. 11 is taken care of,” Van Bramer said at a press conference yesterday outside the school. “Nothing happens until this is right.”

At issue are the unmarked pedestrian crossings by the school, which opened a new wing in the fall with an entrance on Skillman east of 54th Street. Skillman is a one-way street with two moving lanes at this location, conditions ripe for excessive car speeds, but there are no marked crossings or traffic control devices, and not much to calm traffic besides a painted bike lane.

With a new expansion, not seen in this photo from 2014, P.S. 11 lets hundreds of students out on this crossing-less block of Skillman Avenue. Photo: Google Maps
P.S. 11 is across the street from the Woodside Library, but there are no plans for a marked crosswalk between them. Photo: Google Maps

P.S. 11 PTA leader Mindy Bichler-Greene said school administrators first raised the issue with DOT in 2016, before the new wing opened. But a DOT presentation about the bike lane to the PTA last month didn’t address those concerns.

“We have been asking since last year for a crosswalk, a crossing guard, a stop sign, a stop light — anything to protect our children,” Bichler-Greene said. “We don’t want to hear about any other plans on Skillman except for our stop light and the crosswalk.”

On Friday, the PTA submitted a petition to DOT calling for “a crosswalk, stop sign or stop light” on Skillman east of 54th Street to connect the school and the library [PDF]. Bichler-Greene said they’ve picked up almost 1,000 signatures.

By narrowing Skillman to one motor vehicle moving lane, DOT’s plan for a protected bike lane would reduce excessive car speeds and improve the safety of pedestrian crossings. Traffic lights might make matters worse, since drivers often accelerate to “beat” yellow lights, but marked crosswalks with stop signs wouldn’t create that risk.

The DOT plan calls for several new painted pedestrian islands and marked crosswalks, though not at 54th Street, which terminates at a T-intersection with Skillman. The area by the school and the library has a “mixing zone” in the place where parents and school administrators want a crosswalk:

DOT's plan calls for "mixing zone" treatment at Skillman Avenue and 54th Street. Image: NYC DOT
DOT’s plan calls for “mixing zone” treatment at Skillman Avenue and 54th Street. Image: NYC DOT

In April, Van Bramer called for protected bike lanes on Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenue, its eastbound counterpart, but he says the absence of a crossing by the school is a deal breaker.

“Every single street in front of a school, or near a school, has got to go to the top of the priority list,” Van Bramer said. “We have almost no traffic safety measures in place on Skillman between 54th and 55th.”

Speaking to Streetsblog after the press conference, Van Bramer said DOT reps dropped the ball in their presentation to the PTA.

“The DOT loses credibility, quite frankly, when they come here to talk about redesigns and bike lanes, in the interest of safety, but then don’t [address preexisting concerns],” Van Bramer said. “Because then I have parents who come to me and say, ‘Oh so we’re gonna make it safer for bicyclists, but not my kids?'”

“If they want my support, and I think they need it, I’m telling them this can’t move forward until they get this right,” he said. “That’s, I believe, the right thing to do — because this is a clear and present danger.”

Update (4:50 p.m.): A DOT spokesperson sent over this statement:

“Following several meetings with PS11, the PTA, the community board and Council Member Van Bramer’s office, DOT is reviewing this location for a signal or all-way stop sign. DOT is working with the council member’s office and the community board to select a new date for a community meeting on this project.”

  • The interests of the students of this school — and of all pedestrians in the area — can be served without compromising the bike lane.

    The DOT must listen to Van Bramer here. The agency should not be turing bicyclists’ allies into our enemies.

  • Elizabeth F

    I agree… a street improved for bikes and students is better than one improved just for bikes. Let’s all work together!

    And while we’re at it, let’s get rid of that horrible mixing zone. Change it into a right-turn pocket with a stop sign for the right-turn lane.

  • BrandonWC

    That is not actually an unmarked crossing under NY law because it’s a T-intersection and the traffic on Skillman is uncontrolled so it’s technically illegal to cross there currently (same deal with all the intersections on 111th St).

  • Hmm. That’s interesting. So this means that there can’t be a crosswalk there by law, right? Nothing to do with the DOT.

  • BrandonWC

    Nothing prevents DOT from putting in a marked crosswalk there. But as currently configured, it is not, legal speaking, an “unmarked crosswalk.”

  • Oh, OK.

    But wasn’t there some kind of argument being made that the crosswalks that people wanted on 111th Street could not legally be installed? Or am I remembering that wrong?

  • MatthewEH

    I’m okay with this. It’s a bit bareknuckled, but Van Bramer does want the bike lane.

  • BrandonWC

    If I recall correctly, one of the issues on 111th St was that once DOT watered down the plan to retain 2 north-bound lanes, it no longer met DOT’s guidelines for “enhanced crosswalks” (marked crosswalks with warning signs, but no traffic light or stop sign), which say they should only be used to cross one lane of traffic (or maybe at most one lane in each direction). I think those guidelines are based on some federal guidelines.
    I’m not sure that doesn’t comply with federal design guidance is quite the same as legally prohibited as DOT has used all kinds of non-standard design elements in the past.
    But either way, it should not be an issue on Skillman (at least on the far side of the intersection) since the crosswalk would only cross one lane of traffic. (I don’t know if DOT would say the mixing zone counts as a second lane, but if so they could always use the semi-protected intersection design proposed for 4th Ave here and get rid of the mixing zone.)

  • Thanks for the explanation.

    So, then, we can say that tne DOT should accede to what Van Bramer is demanding.

  • JarekFA

    Yah, the good old, merge right into the pathway of the bikes.

    So annoying. Yes, let’s get exercised over bikes passing in front of a school. But then they can’t see anything wrong with this? Like the bike lane doesn’t run “into the” sidewalk. But it’s ok for a turning light to run across the bike lane like that. No yield or anything. Who “legally” has the right of way? I don’t understand how something like that can be designed in the Vision Zero era.

  • Syd Chan

    What about turning 54th St into a one-way SB street? Then the right turn pocket from Skillman to 54th St can be eliminated from the design, allowing for a crosswalk to be placed where the turn pocket would be in front of the library. Looking at the map, there shouldn’t be much of a traffic impact on turning 54th St/39th Dr into a one-way street, since 54th St/39th Dr together is essentially one curved link that begins and ends at T-intersections, with no intersecting links in between.

  • Bravo to jimmy van bramer for focusing on complete streets which improvre safety for all street users. The current DOT approac to project focuses on one mode instead of complete streets. This is absurd and must change to reflect the needs on the ground

  • Alan

    Definitely looks like an important place to have a crosswalk.