Hundreds Enjoy Sunnyside Bike Lanes As NIMBYs Lie Twice and Plot Their Next Move

Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.
Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Scores of cyclists showed their support for the paired protected bike lanes in Sunnyside on Saturday with a massive family ride — just as the dead-end opponents prepped their own protest next Sunday with more disinformation.

The protected lanes were installed earlier this year along Skillman and 43rd avenues to make cycling in Sunnyside safer, but opponents of the lanes claim that the roadways are now less safe, citing a crash over the weekend in which two people on a motorcycle died.

“As you parade down #saferskillman today, keep this in the back of your head — 2 fatalities on 38th/43rd ave & a cyclist hit by a school bus on 49th/Skillman… in 2 days,” an anti-bike lane squeaky wheel who identifies him or herself as Queens Native, posted on Twitter. The account then added an inaccurate reference to street redesigns that eliminate travel lanes in favor of cyclists or pedestrians — which was done only on one block on Skillman. “#removetheroaddiet before more people get hurt or die.”

The NYPD rebutted both allegations in Queens Native’s tweet.

There was, indeed, a 24-year-old male cyclist injured in a crash on Friday at around 2:36 p.m. on Skillman when the 65-year-old driver of a 2005 Ford, making a right turn onto 49th Street from Skillman plowed into the bike rider, who had the right of way and the green light. An NYPD spokesman said the driver was issued a “failure-to-yield” summons for his poor driving.

And the NYPD also rebutted the claim about the two fatalities, pointing out that the two deaths came after a motorcyclist on a speeding Suzuki DRZ chose to go the wrong way down 43rd Avenue.

According to the NYPD, motorcyclist Steven Goddard, 22, and his passenger, Amy Gutierrez, 20, “were traveling southbound on 43rd Avenue, counter flow, at an apparent high rate of speed along the one-way street when the motorcycle struck a red Ford E250 van, operated by a 27-year-old male, traveling northbound on 43rd Avenue.”

Both were killed in the crash — so at least that part of Queens Native’s post was accurate.

When the facts were pointed out, Queens Native doubled down, “We’ll have to assume all accidents post #redesign will get an angled & amateur report by @TransAlt @StreetsblogNYC to further the #visionzero agenda.” (Point of information: the “Vision Zero agenda” is one that seeks to reduce roadway fatalities, which currently number about 230 per year, down to zero — so, yes, definitely count us “amateurs” as signing onto this “agenda.”)

The latest salvos in the war on the Skillman and 43rd Avenue protected lanes — which did not remove a lane of car traffic — comes as Queens Native and other opponents prepare for Sunday’s anti-bike rally at 1 p.m. at 43rd Avenue at 51st Street, according to the Queens Chronicle.

The newspaper asserts that the group “Queens Streets for All” represents “residents, businesses and members of Community Board 2” — the irony, of course, being that CB2 initially called for a protected lane after cyclist Gelacio Reyes was killed in 2017 on then-unprotected 43rd Avenue, only to withdraw that support to protect a few dozen parking spaces.

It’s not the first time that opponents have lied in their objections to the protected lanes in Sunnyside. Last month, opponents, including defeated Rep. Joe Crowley, complained that FDNY trucks were unable to make turns because the bike lane had narrowed local streets. Further review of the opponents’ siren-filled videos revealed that in all cases, the roadways were blocked by illegally parked cars, not the bike lane.

Meanwhile, hundreds of people enjoyed a beautiful day on Saturday along the protected lanes. Streetfilms auteur Clarence Eckerson Jr. captured the glorious and safe day in a video that included comments from a woman who said she will start cycling again now that roadways are safer and from many children who appreciated the added protection so, as one put it, could “go to the park” safely.

Such comments provided a fitting counter-point to the anti-bike lane crowd that, apparently, opposes the city’s ongoing effort to reduce fatalities to zero.

  • William Lawson

    I’m actually starting to believe that outright senility is behind much of this opposition. Their arguments are so incoherent and fictional that garden-variety ignorance just doesn’t seem enough.

  • On Thursday I was out videotaping the lanes for another video I am producing showing the history of the lanes. I was approached by an 82 year old man who was greatly admiring my Dutch bike. He told me he rode a bike in NYC until about ten years ago and once owned a courier company. We had a nice chat.

    He said he supported the lanes overall and thinks they make Sunnyside an even better neighborhood. But he did say he didn’t like salmoning cyclists (we agreed on that!) and then he said to me, “But you know the lanes are hurting businesses.” He then pointed out that 4 or 5 stores have closed since the bike lanes went in.

    I played kind of dumb and he had no idea who I was. But he said he has neighbors who hate the lanes and can’t stop talking about them. I wanted to press him on the ridiculous claim that 4 or 5 businesses have closed, but I didn’t want to debate him. I figure someone told him that and he accepted it as truth without even thinking of checking whether it was true. It’s pretty obvious that if that many places closed up in a month it would be real news. Not the fake news the anti-bike lane people love to spread.

  • snrvlakk

    No question that most of the opposition is simply beyond reasoning with. We do, though, want to avaid any whiff of ageism in discussing the opponents of the bike lanes. Plenty of the loudest among the haters are well under Medicare age.

  • Businesses close, new businesses open, the numbers mean nothing without a denominator: are they closing more than usual? more than elsewhere? more than local or national economic ups and downs?

  • Queens Streets for Sunnyside..

    Can anyone tell me where the Twitter group “Queens Streets for All” concentrates their advocacy and criticism except for two roads in Sunnyside?

  • Simon Phearson

    There are aspects of the lane on Skillman that work, others that do not.

    As usual, the parking protection/mixing zone combo provides cyclists with plenty of opportunities to be right-hooked by drivers, which is probably what happened at 49th Street. But that’s nothing new to DOT bike lane design.

    The lane between 39th and 43rd feels like a cattle chute. Box trucks on the left, reducing visibility, and then active driveways on the right, where trucks very often block the lane during business hours. Good luck getting safely around them.

    By far, in my opinion, the best improvement is between 39th and Queens Boulevard. What was, before, a dangerous squeeze play between speeding drivers and parking traffic has been calmed enormously. Unfortunately, inattention to pedestrian needs on this stretch means that people walk in the larger “safe space” created between the parking spaces and the sidewalk, which is too narrow and obstructed to be comfortable. Similarly, a clumsy design for eastbound cyclists (who should be heading to 43rd Ave) means that a lot of them end up salmoning up Skillman. Finally, something about the intersection at Honeywell doesn’t feel quite right – what should feel like a protected intersection feels like a crash waiting to happen. I think perhaps the turning radius for drivers needs to be shortened there, so that drivers are forced to look for through cycling traffic.

  • I don’t enjoy the Skillman part between 41st and 39th. All those trucks interfere, yes. That’s the worst spot in all of the new design.

    Some of the mixing zones would have been better if the community didn’t fight the initial design because of the parking eliminations, so there would be better transitions if people didn’t get so angry.

    As far as Honeywell, perhaps I’d like turning drivers to get one of those new little hump strips to drive over turning right. But what is there is now a vast improvement over what used to exist.

    And as far as salmoning on Skillman: I have probably used it two dozen times since it opened. Haven’t seen one person salmon. So I have no idea why that would be clumsy. Amazingly though, as you probably have seen, about 50% of cyclists still cross the street next to Queens Blvd to head up 43rd Ave. I did it now that the lane exists and can’t believe how much more dangerous that feels!! Feel much better going up Skillman to cross over and get to 43rd.

  • Joe R.

    Maybe lack of exercise more than aging. It’s proven hardening of the arteries results in poor brain function. Hardened arteries in turn are caused by lack of physical activity, among other things.

  • Simon Phearson

    I’m a confident cyclist, so the previous design at Honeywell suited me better – I could gauge traffic along the right side and pass/not pass depending on the signaling and light timing. It worked because I was typically riding with the green wave. Now that I’m relegated to the lane – which I have to take more slowly due to pedestrian traffic – I miss the light cycle and don’t have the ability to see what drivers in the lane are doing. So, net-net, I’m worse off. Inexperienced cyclists are probably better off; but like I said, there’s something about the crossing that doesn’t slow down drivers enough. It’s a little too blind.

    And as far as salmoning on Skillman: I have probably used it two dozen times since it opened. Haven’t seen one person salmon.

    Well, your experience must trump my own, then! It’s not as bad as some of the midtown lanes, in my experience, but I do think the design tends to channel eastbound cyclists onto Skillman in a way they just didn’t before.

    I am honestly a bit stumped how any experienced cyclist would prefer crossing Skillman at 43rd Ave, without any kind of traffic signal to cross multiple lanes of fast-moving traffic, rather than at Queens Boulevard. That’s probably why you see so many cyclists still using the “old” maneuver. Your intuitions about cycling safety may be somewhat idiosyncratic.

  • Streetfilms (928 videos!)

    Actually I talked to one guy and then someone later at the bike ride and neither realized the channeling and that the south part of the Skillman lane was 2-way for a short distance. So it may just be that they just haven’t noticed it The NYC DOT did leave the sharrows on that side of the road so either is considered acceptable.

    But however people feel, it is about designing infrastructure so the most inexperienced and most vulnerable feel safer and encourage them to ride. This lane certainly does that. I am as experienced as any cyclist in this city and if I have to hit a red light occasionally because it makes the road safer for hundreds of others: so be it.

  • Rider

    The Queens Blvd. crossing always felt dangerous to me because drivers turn onto Skillman from the Blvd. at a high rate of speed and may not look for cyclists or pedestrians in the crosswalk.

    To me, the design of the new crossing feels much safer, since cyclists don’t have to look for traffic coming from multiple directions all at once. You look for westbound traffic, cross Skillman, pause in the median, look for eastbound traffic, and then cross 43rd. It’s certainly not going to appeal to fast riders. In fact, it feels like infrastructure I’ve used in other countries where cycling speeds are much lower than here.

    I like it, and the new lanes generally, for that reason; the ‘hood feels more civilized. I think they’ve forced cyclists, and in many cases even drivers, to slow down and behave better. I do understand the desire to go fast but just like for car drivers it’s not a realistic expectation for cyclists to have in a dense neighborhood IMO (until that sweet day when we get Joe R’s elevated bicycle expressways).

  • Rider

    Stores have been closing down for a lot longer than the time since the bike lanes were installed. Landlords have been emptying out commercial buildings around Sunnyside for years in the expectation that rents will skyrocket as LIC continues to develop, a new LIRR station opens, and the yards gets decked. It’s a problem but not one that has anything to do with bike lanes. If the community board had any vision they would be spending their time on that instead of protesting the lanes.

  • Joe R.

    The problem is you hit a red light more than occasionally in this city regardless of how or where you ride. Being able to ride at higher speeds, if you’re capable of them, can reduce the number of red lights you hit by quite a bit. It shouldn’t be an either/or proposition. We can make bike infrastructure the most inexperienced feel safe on without also making using that infrastructure slower than regular street riding.

  • Joe R.

    Putting aside the elevated bicycle expressways for now (and I think Queens Boulevard would be a great place to try out the concept), the difference here is “fast” for drivers often equals 45 or 50 mph, while “fast” for cyclists is still typically at or under the 25 mph speed limit. If 25 mph is OK for cars, it should be just as OK for bikes. And the infrastructure should be designed with that in mind. I fully understand there may be places where this isn’t possible due to space or cost constraints but those should be small segments only. Most bicycle infrastructure in this city should be safe and usable at least up to 20 mph, better yet 25 mph.

    I actually envision quite a bit more for my elevated bicycle expressway concept. Coupled with widespread velomobile adoption, it could feasibly be a fairly low cost rapid transit network where one can go from city limits to midtown in 30 minutes or less.

  • Simon Phearson

    So it may just be that they just haven’t noticed it

    Right. A feature of poor design.

    But however people feel, it is about designing infrastructure so the most inexperienced and most vulnerable feel safer and encourage them to ride.

    I don’t have any problem building infrastructure that suits inexperienced cyclists. What I do have a problem with is deceptively safe infrastructure, which still requires cyclists to demonstrate a level of road mastery most inexperienced cyclists don’t have. The Skillman lane has this problem. Mixing zones are not for inexperienced cyclists. A cattle-chute bike lane past active driveways is not for inexperienced cyclists. Haphazard treatment of pedestrian spaces resulting in their “bleeding into” cyclists space is not for inexperienced cyclists. The Honeywell intersection is not well-suited for inexperienced cyclists, either.

    I am as experienced as any cyclist in this city and if I have to hit a red light occasionally because it makes the road safer for hundreds of others: so be it.

    I am sick of this rhetorical abnegation. The only reason this infrastructure slows cyclists down is that it’s built around drivers’ interests. If you want to break the green wave for cyclists, fine – but break it for drivers, too. Give cyclists signal priority at 39th and Honeywell. Slow down drivers with non-coordinated lights, like they’ve done with the midblock crossings on Steinway. Raise the crosswalks.

    We are not helping cycling modeshare if we make cycling safer and slower at the same time. The city isn’t shrinking, and affordable housing is being pushed further and further out. I live about as affordably close to where I work as I can, and still it’s a 3.5 mile ride. If I were coming from Jackson Heights (6.5-7.5 miles), I’d want to ride on Skillman, and (until recently) counting on that green wave.

    It’s fine to build lanes for inexperienced cyclists, but it makes no sense to make cycling the thing you only do if you’re going to the park.

  • Simon Phearson

    I don’t see any reason whatsoever that cyclists should have to accept going slower than 15 mph, when drivers can go 20.

    There are places where cycling speed shouldn’t be a priority; I’m thinking of pedestrian-heavy corridors where jaywalking/inattentive pedestrian behavior is to be expected. It’s not realistic to expect to barrel through Times Square, for instance. But 43rd/Skillman is an essential cycling arterial connecting northeastern Queens to the Queensboro bridge with low pedestrian density. There are no good alternatives to it. It should be an efficient, speedy corridor for cyclists.

  • Simon Phearson

    It’s gotten to the point, on my rides, that I’m about to adopt Ferdinand’s hypocritical cheat, where he jaywalks his bike across intersections. The number of pointless red lights I’m sitting through has increased dramatically even in the past few years.

  • I tried walking my bike through a red light once, and I got a ticket for it. I was straddling the bike; maybe I would have gotten away with it if I had been walking beside the bike.

    But there would be nothing hypocritical about walking the bike through a red light. The reason to avoid blowing a red on a bike (even when it is safe to do so) does not apply to walking, because no one gets angry when they see a pedestrian safely crossing at a red light; and there is no risk of our losing pedestrian infrastructure.

    I don’t walk my bike through reds only because doing so is usually more hassle than it is worth. Stopping at red lights is a normal part of city riding.

    But to try to get the City to time a green wave at a speed that bicycles can use is a worthwhile pursuit. Before the protected lane went in on Skillman, there was a green wave timed for travel at 15 miles per hour, perfect for a ride on flat ground from the 50s through to Steinway. I presume that that timing hasn’t changed. I will have to get up there to see whether the protected lane allows for travel at that rate. (With the holiday tomorrow and the rain forecast for Tuesday, it might be a couple of days. But I am eager to see the finished product.)

  • Joe R.

    I might be wrong, but I’d say with fair certainty that the 15 mph green wave on Skillman is simply a fortunate byproduct of signal phasing designed primarily for cars. I’ve seen this elsewhere. For example, on 75th Avenue going from 199th Street to Main Street it’s possible to not hit any red lights. There are only traffic signals at 188th Street, Utopia Parkway, 164th Street, and Parsons. Assuming I hit the green early in the cycle at 188th I can be assured of green at Utopia if I average 16 to 19 mph. If I come it at the tail end of the green I’ll need to ride at the high end of that. From Utopia to 164th Street 15 or so seems to work. About the same works from 164th to Parsons.

    On the LIE service road westbound if I can average about 20 mph from E. Hampton Blvd. to Main Street that’s no red lights for about 4.3 miles. There a a few “circuits” I do where I can average a comfortable speed and not hit any red lights. I’m sure none of this is intentional. It’s just a happy byproduct of complex signal timing.

  • Simon Phearson

    The reason to avoid blowing a red on a bike (even when it is safe to do so) does not apply to walking, because no one gets angry when they see a pedestrian safely crossing at a red light; and there is no risk of our losing pedestrian infrastructure.

    I didn’t say you wouldn’t try to justify this hypocrisy; I simply noted that it would be hypocritical. The idea that surly drivers and non-cyclists would negatively note, as a demerit against cycling, a red light-running cyclist but not that same cyclist “cheating” the red by dismounting and jaywalking is simply preposterous. The only reason the NYPD notices any difference is that the nature of the infraction is dramatically different. Drivers see essentially the same behavior.

    Before the protected lane went in on Skillman, there was a green wave timed for travel at 15 miles per hour, perfect for a ride on flat ground from the 50s through to Steinway.

    It’s timed for 20 mph. You might be able to hit most of them at 15 mph, but it was (and I assume still is, though I can no longer hit the lights at 20 mph) 20 mph through Honeywell.

  • Simon Phearson

    The light timing on Skillman was clearly designed to prevent traffic from going faster than 20 mph through the stretch in Sunnyside. In addition to the timing, there are (or were) pavement markings and signs that match the DOT’s general approach to “neighborhood streets” elsewhere (and including, if I’m not mistaken, some parts of Sunnyside itself).

    As I’ve said repeatedly about this lane, it always seemed to work just fine for me and was actually pretty calm-feeling, before the reconfiguration. It’s funny to compare it to, say, 34th or 31st Ave in Jackson Heights, which also have unprotected bike lanes and (during rush hour) green waves. I’m not sure how those green waves are timed, but it seems they are somewhat faster – maybe 25 mph or more. Traffic is correspondingly much higher-pressure, and what should be an actually quite pleasant ride (34th Ave in particular is beautiful) ends up being a death slalom.

  • qrt145

    Jaywalking one’s bike is silly, which could be one reason to do it: to make a point about how silly the whole situation is. From a practical perspective it saves only a few seconds, but at least it is less boring than standing.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Tribalism — people like us, vs. people like them, with no thought of what is fair sharing for everyone.

    Society-wide, not just in Queens with regard to bike lanes.

  • Joe R.

    I’m not sure then why they even needed a protected bike lane on Skillman. Isn’t the entire theory behind “neighborhood streets” and 20 mph speed limits that cyclists can just mix with motor traffic? Or at least that’s how it works in Europe. I could understand fixing the parts of Skillman which were questionable but from your description of everything it seems like they made it worse overall.

    This is also why I’m on the fence about new bike infrastructure. For example, I now often use 75th Avenue instead of 73rd Avenue, even though the latter has a door-zone bike lane. 73rd Avenue has more traffic and a lot more traffic signals. I’m dreading the time DOT decides 75th Avenue is a good place to put another bike lane. I’m sure they’ll screw up what already works fine. They’ll probably add a bunch of traffic signals at minor streets “to make it safer for bikes”. They might even decide to go with a two-way lane on one side of the street. The old saying don’t fix it if it isn’t broke should be DOT’s motto. That applies to Skillman as well.

  • Joe R.

    Could be way more than a few seconds. I’ve noted instances where if I stop and wait the full cycle, I hit literally every other traffic signal in the sequence on red. If I pass a key red light, I’ll get greens the rest of the way. It usually comes down to the light timing being on the high end of my riding speed. Miss a light, and there’s no way you can catch up to the green wave again.

  • brian43ny

    Stores that close are retail. Some places on 43d ave have been empty for years. If you want to blame someone blame Amazon.

  • r

    I think they are as dedicated to all Queens streets in the same way that Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes was dedicated to better bike lanes.

  • Jeff

    So given that the pro-bike-lane event was a bunch of happy families riding bikes, I assume the anti-bike-lane event will be a bunch of angry motorists sitting in traffic and honking their horns and looking for parking?

  • Simon Phearson

    I’m not sure then why they even needed a protected bike lane on Skillman.

    The unprotected bike lane on Skillman was in the door zone and (apparently) blocked by double-parked drivers from time to time. Being VC-inclined, it was perfect for me, but I can understand why others might not have felt comfortable. And Skillman is really a nice stretch of residential/commercial shops through Sunnyside; I think calming the road could help with the overall feel. Plus, the stretch from 39th to the QB bridge was really problematic.

    The lights were timed to calm traffic, but the road geometry was really not a “neighborhood street” geometry – parking lanes on both sides, and then two traffic lanes.

  • Justin Powell

    When I saw the video, I’ve seen how happy they were about the bike lanes. On the other side, I think we should have precautionary measures to avoid some accidents.A high-quality bike like Trek, Giants, Cannondale and Morpheus Bikes will be great choices.

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