Protected Bike Lanes on 43rd and Skillman Will Make Woodside Streets Safer. Will Van Bramer Support Them?

Van Bramer called for adding protected bike lanes on 43rd and Skillman, but after DOT proposed doing exactly that, he hasn't endorsed the plan.

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

NYC DOT is following through on Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer’s request for pedestrian crossings at P.S. 11 and P.S. 343. Van Bramer had made those crossings a precondition for supporting protected bike lanes on 43rd Avenue and Skillman Avenue, though he still won’t endorse the DOT project. The next step, says Van Bramer, is to hold a “town hall” on the redesign.

Queens residents who bike on 43rd and Skillman, meanwhile, want to regain momentum for a street safety project that’s ready to go and promises major benefits for the borough’s bicycle network. As the winter recedes, more people will be biking on 43rd and Skillman to access the Queensboro Bridge, and the current design has proven inadequate to keep them safe.

Last April, Van Bramer and Community Board 2 Chair Denise Keehan-Smith called on DOT to install protected bike lanes on these two streets, after a driver struck and killed cyclist Gelacio Reyes at the intersection of 43rd Avenue and 39th Street.

Seven months later, DOT came to the CB 2 transportation committee with a redesign that delivered on that demand [PDF]. By then, however, Keehan-Smith’s zeal for street safety had dissipated. She said the conversion of 158 parking spots to make room for the bike lanes was “highly unreasonable.”

The parking issue appears to have spooked Van Bramer as well. He told Streetsblog two weeks ago that his reluctance to endorse the redesign stemmed from “grave concerns from business owners.”

While the redesign of 43rd and Skillman was simmering on the backburner, Van Bramer pressed DOT to improve pedestrian crossings at P.S. 11 on Skillman and P.S. 343 on 47th Avenue, which he said the agency had to address before he would consider supporting the protected bike lanes. Then two weeks ago, he said action on the school crossings was a precondition just for holding a town hall on the redesign.

Last week, DOT said it will install signalized crossings at Skillman and 54th Street, and it is working on pedestrian safety strategies for P.S. 343.

We contacted Van Bramer this morning to see how that has affected his position on the redesign of 43rd and Skillman, which would further improve safety at P.S. 11 by narrowing the right-of-way for motor vehicles.

Van Bramer said he trusts DOT’s assurances that it will deliver an effective solution at P.S. 343, and that DOT is looking to schedule a new date for a town hall on the protected bike lanes. (Van Bramer’s office postponed the initial town hall, which was scheduled back in November.)

Van Bramer did not say that he supports the redesign of 43rd and Skillman.

Queens bike advocates, meanwhile, are reminding Van Bramer, CB 2, and DOT that lives are at stake. Transportation Alternatives’ Queens committee turned out more than 50 people the Sunnyside St. Pat’s for All Parade to proudly declare their support for the redesign. They received mostly positive reactions from onlookers, said committee chair Macartney Morris.

“DOT’s plan to make Skillman and 43rd Avenues safer should be given a fair hearing by the community without further delay,” said Morris. “The thousands of Queens pedestrians and cyclists who use this corridor daily deserve the safest streets possible and nothing less. Each day we delay only continues to leave their lives at risk.”

We contacted DOT for more information about the forthcoming town hall. Keep your eyes on the calendar for updates.

  • Guest

    Is it true that he’s considering a run for borough president? I saw that reported in a couple of Queens publications last month. If he wants to run for a borough-wide office, then that would unfortunately explain why he’s now playing a different tune on protected bike lanes… Drivers further out in Queens are apoplectic about street redesigns (see Woodhaven or Queens Blvd).

    Whatever the motivation, it’s disappointing. I was there when he stood next to Gelacio’s young family and promised action, but now apparently other things (like personal political ambition, maybe?) matter more.

  • Guest

    I would love to see those streets redesigned, but I don’t see this going well unless most of the parking can be saved. Apart from commuting into the city, it is a fairly car-oriented neighborhood because of its isolation and the lack of good north-south transit connections. It might be an easier lift politically to put the protected lanes on Queens Boulevard, which is plenty wide and has ample parking.

  • Simon Phearson

    It’s easy to see why cycling infrastructure is needed on Skillman/43rd: just look at a map. Queens Boulevard is hard to get to/from and out of the way for a vast swath of north-central Queens, including Woodside, Jackson Heights, and north Corona. By the same token, people coming from/going to Maspeth, Elmhurst, and Rego Park probably aren’t getting off of Queens Boulevard in order to take Skillman/43rd. Even though the streets are only a few blocks apart, once you get into the low 50’s, they diverge significantly in terms of cycling utility. The Strava heatmap also illustrates this extremely well.

    That’s not to say that I like the plan for Skillman/43rd, which in usual Streetsblog fashion is being glossed over as a “win” despite its repeating many of the same mistakes the DOT has been making throughout the city with its cycling infrastructure. What we need on streets like these are curb-protected lanes with protected intersections and light timing that is conducive to through cycling traffic. What we’re getting are mixing zones and likely no change to light timing (or split-phases, which are even worse). Once they’re in, they’ll likely be here to stay.

  • AnoNYC

    Why do you need to hold a “town hall” before endorsing a safety improvement?

    Oh that’s right:

    Car storage > safety

  • QueensWatcher

    It isn’t isolated and it is not car oriented. 56.4% of households don’t even own a car and 71.7% commute by mass transit. 1.2% regularly commute by bike. see

    And Queens Blvd should get its own lanes as well, but the need will remain for them on the matched pair of 43rd/Skillman because that is the route people coming from the North and East (East Elmhurst, Jackson Heights, Fluishing) follow to get to the Bridge.

    Bottom line: lives are at stake. Unless someone is willing to finally answer my oft asked question of how many lives is a parking space worth, then we need to stop catering to private car use and do what is necessary to make our streets safer.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk96

    I’ve yet to see one person transition off of Queens Bl to use Skillman Av heading to the 59th St Br. Cyclists on Queens Bl will continue straight past Roosevelt Av, bike lane or not. It’s the most direct route, and the lights are synchronized during the morning rush.

  • Follow me some time. I get off QB at 55th Street and pick up Skillman from there. Anyone who stays on QB rather than Skillman is making a big mistake.

    And the lights are synchronised on Skillman, as well. If you maintain 15 miles per hour, you hit all greens through Steinway St.

  • AlexB

    It would be great to have protected lanes on these streets but shouldn’t it be the main goal to get protected lanes on Queens Blvd? I wouldn’t want a protected lanes on 43rd/Skillman to become an excuse for not installing them on Queens Blvd.

  • The Queens Boulevard lane is pretty great as it is. This is not to say that it has no flaws. The problem of cars crossing the bike lane as they move between the main road and the service road probably has no solution, even if the excessively long light light eastbound just past 61st Street could be fixed.

    While some concrete barriers instead of paint would be nice, I’d prefer that advocacy energy be focussed on improvements that are more needed elsewhere.

  • AlexB

    There is no bike lane on Queens Blvd between 50th St and Queensboro Bridge, so you’d have to go out of your way to bike into Manhattan right now. There is only a Queens Blvd bike lane east of 50th. It would be really great to close that gap in a way that didn’t involve a detour. There’s a ton of space under the 7 train but it’s mostly used as a parking lot which is infuriating.

  • Using that space for parking is a waste. It should be a pedestrian mall with food stands and seating.

    But riding under there in the shadows would be kind of unpleasant. I want to be out in the sun.

    Also, once you get to to that split at Thompson or Van Dam or whatever it is, everything becomes pretty chaotic. There would be no way for a bike lane under the train tracks to continue.

    The short detour to Skillman is a lot better. Making the turn at 55th Street is not remotely a problem. And, coming the other way, you take 43rd Avenue all the way to its end at 52nd Street and Roosevelt Avenue, turn right onto 52nd, and take that down to QB where you pick up the bike lane.

    The Skillman/43rd thing has worked out beautifully. The thing to do is to make it safer by making it protected.

  • Simon Phearson

    Follow me some time. I get off QB at 55th Street and pick up Skillman from there. Anyone who stays on QB rather than Skillman is making a big mistake.

    Yeah, and I’d probably do what you do in the current configuration, but cyclists staying on Queens Boulevard are responding to the natural design of the street – it’s the straightest shot to where they’re going, doesn’t involve turns or a detour, etc. You can’t engineer that out of the system. That’s why we have bike lanes on Queens Boulevard in the first place. Why expect cyclists to take a detour for the last mile or so?

  • AlexB

    I agree but I want both Skillman/43rd and Queens Blvd. Seems like they could use a chunk of the sidewalk on the stretch between Van Dam and Skillman like they do on the bridge. It’s just one block.

  • Because that’s the best option considering what’s there already.

    Someone else suggested a bike lane under the train tracks west of Roosevelt Avenue. First of all, riding in the shadows during the daytime would be an inferior experience to being out in the sun.

    What’s more, there would be no way for a bike lane under the train tracks to continue once the tracks turn from concrete to metal. So you’d have to have a detour to Skillman up some other street like 33rd Street anyway.

    Just have signs at 55th Street announcing:


    …and paint a nice green lane on 55th.

    Measuring on Google Maps, I find that the ride up 55th Street from QB to Skillman is 1120 feet or 2/10 of a mile. That is negligble. There’s no way that that’s worth complaining about. Especially when what we get in return is a nicer ride on Skillman than Queens Boulevard could possibly offer.

  • Simon Phearson

    Once again, you don’t really grasp that the question is about how we make the streets safer for the cyclists who use them, not about how we somehow shoehorn cyclists into a pattern of behavior they’re not inclined to follow already. And your suggestion on the latter is weak-sauce anyway: paint and signs? Yeah.

    A bike lane under the tracks may not be feasible, but to suggest that we keep the street basically unsafe and unpleasant for cycling traffic in order to incentivize cyclists to take a detour is straight out of the motorhead’s playbook. Cyclists should be safe on every street in this city, not just on approved corridors that might suit you just fine but not everyone else.

  • Using Skillman to get to the bridge from Queens Boulevard is good for everyone. To complain about a 0.2 mile detour is a huge exaggeration.

    to suggest that we keep the street basically unsafe and unpleasant for cycling traffic in order to incentivize cyclists to take a detour is straight out of the motorhead’s playbook.

    This is such a gross mischaracterisation that it cannot even be called a straw man, because it won’t stand up. The accusation that I have taken anything from the “motorhead’s playbook” is an act of straight trolling.

    I defer to no one in my contempt for drivers and my disgust with car culture. Yet, notwithstanding this disgust, I recognise the need to deal with the real world, which has the annoying tendency of not arranging itself according to my preferences.

    Of course it is not a matter of keeping a street unsafe as some sort of intentional strategy. The idea is that the Western section of Queens Boulevard is irredeemable, on account of decades of very bad policy. Therefore the workaround solution, which has already proven to be successful, is the one that we ought to concentrate on improving.

    Indeed, the whole issue of upgrading the bike lanes on Skillman Avenue and 43rd Avenue is predicated on the notion that those are worthwhile routes to the bridge, and that they function as the continuation of the Queens Boulevard bike lane that begins at Yellowstone Boulevard.

    The success on Queens Boulevard has been astounding. This bike lane, like the Bloomberg-era bike lanes in Manhattan, is nothing short of transformative.

    While this bike lane can continue to grow on its eastern end, it’s gone as far west on QB as it can go. The only way to conceive of extending the bike lane to the bridge on QB proper would be to magically remake society in such a way that there are only a small fraction of the amount of cars that we are plagued with today. Unfortunately, the bad decisions on this score have been made; and they’re not easy to unmake.

    Better to build on success, and not pretend that a tiny 0.2 mile kink in a continuous 7 1/2-mile bike route between Forest Hills and Manhattan represents some kind of terrible hardship.

  • Joe R.

    Look at the top of the trusses for the el:,-73.9338146,3a,75y,290.45h,86.95t/data=!3m6!1e1!3m4!1sJxz49GhpXdX17Fl9bDwEZA!2e0!7i13312!8i6656

    Looks like you could put a bike lane right there (and hang it off the concrete part of the #7 viaduct if riding underneath it is something you find disturbing). You can go all the way to the QB Bridge and link up with the bike lane there. That solves the problem you mentioned. Of course, the bogeyman is cost but you know what? I’m tired of advocates being afraid to ask for anything more than paint and plastic delineators. It’s high time we ask for some serious money for bicycle infrastructure, especially for as important a link as this. To say QB is irredeemable west of 55th Street is not accurate. It’s only irredeemable if we refuse to spend serious money on bike infrastructure.

    Incidentally, although I only went over the QB once, I used to ride to my friend’s taximeter shop on 21st Street and 44th Drive. I just took QB all the way, then went south from Queens Plaza. I didn’t know about any alternate routes via Skillman Avenue. Even if I did, as Simon said since I’m already on QB it was the straightest shot. The only dicey part for me was navigating Queens Plaza. The rest was a breeze. 55th Street to the bridge over the tracks was actually fun. All downhill and I could match the green wave by holding about 25 mph. The bridge wasn’t great in the car lanes, so I rode across on the sidewalk. Now it would be even easier since there is a legal bike lane out of the way of motor traffic. And that bike lane actually connects with the QB bike lane, albeit in a half-assed fashion. I’m really not seeing how Skillman is a better route if you’re already on QB.

    The problem here is the same problem which exists citiwide when you ask for a route via bike with Google Maps. Invariably, you get something with a gazillion extra turns and detours to follow existing bicycle infrastructure simply because infrastructure doesn’t always exist on the most logical route, which is generally to stick mostly to major arterials. Maybe it’s time to make cycling safe and pleasant along ALL major trunk routes in this city, irrespective of how much it might cost. I’m tired of the timid approach which has got us nothing but a piecemeal network.

  • Joe R.

    I have a great example of what I was talking about in terms of indirect, illogical routes.

    Here’s what Google Maps gives me to visit my friend in Coney Island:

    Three routes, but nothing really logical, all of them with a gazillion twists and turns which I would have to looking at a map to follow.

    Here’s the route I actually took:

    I had to do the second image using my GPS log from the trip on the Google Earth application because Google Maps doesn’t even know the Belt Parkway Greenway is continuous. It thinks there’s a gap, so it routes you onto local streets after the Canarsie Veteran’s Circle. Anyway, my route was much more logical and had only a handful of turns which were easily remembered:

    1) Right onto 71st Ave. from 166th St
    2) 71st Ave. to 164th St., left on 164th St.
    3) 164th St. to Union Tpke, right on Union Tpke.
    4) Union Tpke. to Parson Blvd., left on Parsons Blvd.
    5) Parsons Blvd. to Archer Ave., right on Archer Ave.
    6) Archer Ave. to 150th St., left on 150th St.
    7) 150th St. to 94th Ave., right on 94th Ave.
    8) 94th Avenue (changes into Atlantic Ave after Van Wyck) to Woodhaven Blvd., left on Woodhaven Blvd.
    9) Woodhaven Blvd. (changes into Cross Bay Blvd. after Liberty Ave.) to Shore Pwky., slight right onto Shore Pwky.
    10) Shore Pwky. to 156th Ave., left onto 156th Ave.
    11) Stay on 156th Ave. via underpass, then go right onto Belt Parkway Greenway
    12) Stay on Belt Parkway Greenway until it ends at Brigham St., right on Brigham St., then left onto Emmons Ave.
    13) Emmons Ave. (changes into Neptune Ave. after E. 14th St.) to Ocean Pwky.

    That’s it. Easy to remember compared to the Google routes which are longer, more stressful, and easily have twice as many turns.

    Now if main routes all had parallel decent bicycle infrastructure Google Maps would most like give the exact route I took, not some convoluted mess.

  • Simon Phearson

    This is such a gross mischaracterisation that it cannot even be called a straw man, because it won’t stand up.

    It really isn’t. Instead of acknowledging the reality of cycling on Queens Boulevard, you insist on moralizing (as usual) about the insignificance of a .2 mile detour and defending the status quo on the last link between a miles-long cycling corridor and the Queensboro Bridge. Change a few details, and it’s exactly what the owner of the Paragon Honda location on 31st Ave was arguing when the painted bike lane went in there. (He had wanted the bike lane to divert one block south for a few blocks).

    At a certain point, I suppose that I have to acknowledge that you’re just not capable of understanding what I’m saying, but I’ll try one more time: This is about what cyclists actually do. Despite the availability of 43/Skillman, many cyclists are staying on Queens Boulevard, as they are legally entitled to do. You don’t; I wouldn’t; but they do. I don’t know why, but to look at that pattern square in the face and say that we should do nothing to protect those cyclists – because we can’t unring the bell of driving infrastructure – is to adopt exactly the same argument and posture as every motorhead that sought to argue against the existing lanes on Queens Boulevard you are so quick to praise and countless other NIMBYs that we’ve had to face down across the city.

    I am not, contrary to your own strawmanning, trying to justify cyclists’ decisionmaking. I am not asserting that a .2 mile detour along 43/Skillman – which I agree are far more pleasant places to bike anyway – is the sort of thing that cyclists cannot be expected to undertake. I am just saying that they do not – in the same way that, despite Queens Boulevard being a total traffic sewer in the morning rush hour, people still drive on that last bit to get to the bridge. But whereas you point to the status quo of decisions drivers make along that stretch, when explaining why cyclists should divert to 43/Skillman, you ignore the status quo of decisions cyclists make along that stretch. This is utterly inexplicable except insofar as either you’re categorically discounting the interests and safety of cyclists or you’re simply not smart enough to grasp the incongruity in your reasoning.

    We don’t have to magically unmake the decisions of the past to make room for cycling on Queens Boulevard. Toll reform and repurposing of curbside parking space may be all that we need.

  • It seems that you cannot keep your insults straight. So let me help you. Here I am doing no moralising. When I scold cyclists about running red lights, then I most definitely am moralising, because that is a moral issue insofar as it affects the future of bike infrastructure and therefore the quality of life of all cyclists. But there has been no moralising on my part here. The issue in this case is entirely one of practicality.

    Cyclists are free to ride on QB all the way to the bridge if they choose, just as people are free to hit themselves on the head with a hammer. All that one can do is to offer a better alternative, and to inform riders of this alternative’s existence by means of signs and paint — a practice which you inexplicably deride, despite the realistic possibility that many of the cyclists who continue on QB are simply not aware of the easier path via Skillman. We can then hope that this information leads to a change in the practices of the majority of cyclists.

    For the benefit of those who consciously elect to ride on QB instead of going to Skillman, then of course QB should be made as safe as possible. Of course, the key word there is “possible”. Because, as much as you want to wave this away, we run into the nagging problem of reality.

    Sure, if we could get rid of curbside parking, then a bike lane would do nicely on QB from Roosevelt up to the point of Van Dam /Thompson/whatever. Steve Martin in his stand-up heyday had a bit that went “You can be a millionaire and never pay taxes”, in two easy steps. Step 1: get a million dollars. The only difference here is that getting a million dollars is actually possible.

    And, while toll reform would incentivise many drivers to change their practices and to start using the Midtown Tunnel instead of getting off the L.I.E. to use the bridge (and, ideally, it would also incentivise some of them to use the damn train like real New Yorkers), all the toll reform in the world is not going to address the problem that we have too f-ing many personal autos. Even if rational tolling brought about a temporary alleviation of volume at the entry to the Queensboro Bridge, the places of every one of those departed drivers would be taken by new drivers who are willing to pay the toll to cross the bridge.

    Note that this does not mean that we shouldn’t enact toll reform. But there are larger patterns that mitigate the good that this can do. Unless the societal problem of the private auto is addressed in a fundamental and systemic way, any efforts at alleviating automobile congestion at the entry to the Queensboro Bridge are going to be hugely compromised. And the same is true of efforts to accommodate bicyclists on Queens Boulevard from Roosevelt Avenue to the bridge.

    If there were infinite money and infinite political capital, then going for the best possible bike accommodations on every single street would be the thing to do. Ideally, some bike accommodations, ranging from protected lanes down to sharrows, should exist everywhere. However, advocates have to pick their battles and play politics. The nature of politics is strategising: looking for the changes that will do the most good, and triangulating that with an analysis of the battles that are most winnable.

    So, rather than insisting on tremendous changes on the western end of Queens Boulevard that would bring only minimal gains (and would face enormous political challenges on account of engrained ideological orthodoxies — if you think Van Bramer has become waffly on Skillman/43rd, be prepared to be laughed right the hell out of his office if you ask for support for getting rid of parking on QB in Sunnyside), one ought to expend energy instead on the issues where acheiving the goal is most possible, such as the upgrading of the Skillman/43rd bike lanes.

  • Simon Phearson

    It seems that you cannot keep your insults straight. So let me help you. Here I am doing no moralising.

    You absolutely are moralizing, when you insist that cyclists ought to take the 43/Skillman detour, since it’s “just” .2 miles off-course.

    All that one can do is to offer a better alternative, and to inform riders of this alternative’s existence by means of signs and paint — a practice which you inexplicably deride, despite the realistic possibility that many of the cyclists who continue on QB are simply not aware of the easier path via Skillman.

    Do you seriously believe that many cyclists are ignorant of this alternative? How do you know about it? How do I?

    Paint and signs are all well and good, but they’re not particularly helpful when the detour you’re talking about actually requires turning off Queens Boulevard before the through bike lane ends. Most cyclists aren’t going to see the sign or understand what it’s telling them in time to do anything about it, if they don’t already know to look for it. There are similar wayfinding signs linking 34th Ave to Skillman. They are pretty much useless.

    The rest of your comment is a typical waste of time. I’ll just note that, yet again, you find some reason to distinguish between the political capital necessary to make 43/Skillman into an effective cycling corridor and that necessary to complete the last mile of Queens Boulevard. You say, let’s at least achieve the possible! But look at what’s actually “possible” here: mixing zones and likely unchanged light timing. If they make the changes as proposed, it’s entirely likely that the detour we’re talking about will not just be .2 miles out of the way, but take several times longer to ride, than a straight shot on Queens Boulevard. No, as I’ve said, what we need on those streets is cycling infrastructure that actually serves cyclists, and near as I can tell getting that is just as remote a possibility as removing parking from Queens Boulevard. What we’re likely to get will likely incentivize more cyclists to stay on Queens Boulevard.