Ignore the NIMBYs and See Sunnyside’s Bike Lanes in Action

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

One day after 150 pro-parking cranks rallied in Sunnyside to protest safer roadways in their neighborhood, Streetfilms auteur Clarence Eckerson Jr. posted a counterpoint: the city’s Safer Skillman plan in action.

At Sunday’s “Queens Streets for All” rally, many speakers complained that the paired protected lanes on Skillman and 43rd avenues made the neighborhood ugly and more congested. But clearly they have short memories; as Eckerson’s film shows, Skillman and 43rd were frequently clogged by double-parked cars that made the roadway less safe for cyclists and drivers.

Nearly 300 people were injured along the Sunnyside stretch of the two avenues, Mayor de Blasio said when he overruled the local community board and approved the street safety improvements earlier this year.

Opposition persists, but it is sometimes barely coherent. One woman at the rally complained, “Get rid of the bike lane before someone gets killed,” ignoring, of course, that the city installed the bike lane because someone got killed. Another woman complained that now she has to look both ways when she crosses the street.

Look both ways? That’s pretty much the very first lesson children are taught in school, and they’re even given a handy mnemonic so they never forget: “Look both ways/Before you cross the street/Use your eyes and your ears/And lastly use your feet.” (Reminder: the fear that many pedestrians have of crossing the street is caused almost entirely by drivers — but since many pedestrians are drivers, they would prefer to blame anything else but cars.)

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

Many speakers complained that the new configuration of the roadway — which was converted from a painted bike lane, plus two lanes of car traffic, into a protected bike lane, two lanes of car traffic, safety islands for pedestrians, view corridors for drivers and about 100 fewer spaces for on-street car storage — is now less safe. And some cited two recent crashes — one involving a motorcyclist speeding in the wrong direction and the other caused by a driver who struck a cyclist who had the light and was ticketed for failing to yield the right of way.

One old woman inexplicably held a sign reading, “Kids before bikes,” suggesting that the city should make the roadway less safe for kids? (I publish it below for your viewing displeasure.)

Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
  • Alex

    Funny they called it a “Queens Streets for All” rally, when they want to make it the streets only for motorists…

  • eastphilliamsburg

    Looks they managed to turn everyone who voted for Joe Crowley…

  • Tralfaz…Yuck!

    Seriously. Streetsblog needs to go undercover to find out what other places “Queens Streets for All” is advocating for besides these 2 streets?!

    “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” was only about one street: Prospect Park West. So perhaps anti-bike lane crowd is expanding!

  • “Kids b4 bikes” photo speaks a thousand words. Exactly the kind of person you would expect to be whining about safe streets measures. Crawl back into your hole you brokedown rickety old piece of shit.

  • “Another woman complained that now she has to look both ways when she crosses the street.”

    This was one of the top complaints about Prospect Park West, too.

    Nothing changes. (Except the climate.)

  • AnoNYC

    These people are either stupid or spewing B.S. because they want more parking.

    You should ALWAYS look both ways when transitioning off the sidewalk. Emergency vehicles, municipal vehicles, construction vehicles, and vehicles loading can all behave unpredictably. You also have drivers that are intoxicated, mistaken, or just don’t care coming from the wrong direction.

  • Sunnyside Up

    These people are so Trumpian and they don’t even see that! Lies, deception, exaggeration, it’s like he’s their model. I mean the entire thing about blaming the street design for a speeding motorcyclist in the dark going the wrong way? Maybe we need to take some leaves, too?

    But inside I laugh since I know with all certainty that they are wasting their time. So waste away angry people!

  • Simon Phearson

    What I don’t understand is… aren’t these lanes going in the same direction of traffic? Why would pedestrians have to look both ways, if they didn’t have to before?

    I would say that pedestrians do have to be more careful in certain situations – namely at intersections. The usual pedestrian way of doing things is to enter the crosswalk and wait for a break in traffic. Before, they would just walk in front of the last parked car and stick their neck out. Now, they have to cross a bike lane to do that. So some additional caution is warranted there. Albeit, to do something that is technically illegal.

  • Joe R.

    What’s a shame is people like her perpetuate the stereotype of the elderly as inflexible, grouchy, petty complainers with diminished brain function. I’m not sure exactly what message she’s trying to get across here. Last I checked, kids and bikes seem to go hand in hand.

  • cjstephens

    Look, we’re on the same side here (bike lanes: good! parking: bad!), but when you start calling a total stranger a string of names like that, it makes you look bad, and by extension, it makes all of us look bad. You disagree with her, and her sign makes no sense, but that’s not a reason to treat her as sub-human. And geez, ageist much? Criticize her views, but leave the stereotyping out. Unless she were wearing a Red Sox hat. In that case, hey, go to town.

  • snrvlakk

    I suspect she’s referring to the sadly not unheard of phenomenon of bike riders going the wrong direction on a one-way street, salmoning. Because we’d have to go two whole blocks out of our way to go the right way.

  • pbsloop

    I live in Sunnyside and am pro bike lane. I roll my eyes at the passion that a lot of anti bike lane people have. Bike lanes will not “destroy our community” as often declared. That’s absurd.

    That said, critics aren’t as crazy as you say. There are legitimate issues that need to be dealt with not mocked.

    Bicyclists (even motorized ones) now fly through the street extra fast and sometimes in the wrong direction. It takes a new habit to look out for this and yes, kids may not look out and just step ok the bike lanes. This is a real issue that needs to be treated as real.

    Also, FDNY has said that they have a harder time because sometimes the streets get too clogged with double parkers to get by. Double parking is a real problem. Where do big trucks park to unload food for the supermarket? It gets tough.

    Losing parking spots are also a legit issue. It’s not just lazy able bodied people. My partner is disabled and needs a car. Elderly and others may have more issues now. It would be great if the city also somehow increased parking. There is an often empty parking lot near the strip malls on northern boulevard. Maybe the city can make a deal allowing overnight parking there? It would also be great if citibike were expanded to Sunnyside (without costing parking spots by putting them on some of the big sidewalks).

    Im glad the bike lanes exist but I feel that we do a disservice to all by treating anti bike lane people like they are nuts. Some of them are and some of them have decent points.

  • Ollie Oliver

    An “extra fast bicycle flying through the streets” is still slower than slow car traffic. In an ideal world cyclists would always go in the right direction. Every other complaint, lack of loading zones, people with disabilities struggling to park, emergency vehicles stuck behind double parked cars– are caused by private cars being given unfettered access to public streets. Less than half of households in the area own a car, but cars use the majority of the street space. The bike lane is not the issue here, private cars are.

  • ganghiscon

    “Also, FDNY has said that they have a harder time because sometimes the
    streets get too clogged with double parkers to get by. Double parking is
    a real problem. Where do big trucks park to unload food for the
    supermarket? It gets tough.”

    I’ve never seen this happen. The grocery store by the fire dept (Skillman at 51st St) has a large loading zone in front from (I think) 8-2 on weekdays. I pass by here two or three times a day and have only seen private vehicles double parking since the lanes went in.

    For instance, on Saturday night at 5:15, I noticed traffic was backed up all the way to 54th St. When I got to the grocery store, it was a single black Lexus SUV (with the driver inside) parked in front of the grocery store, driver refusing to budge.

    “There is an often empty parking lot near the strip malls on northern
    boulevard. Maybe the city can make a deal allowing overnight parking
    there?”

    I can’t imagine any of these people taking a 15-30 minute walk up to Northern Blvd to park their cars. Most of the cars around me (on Skillman in the 50’s) are in the same spot every day, so I doubt they need overnight parking. They need somewhere to put their car between the very occasional instances in which they use it.

  • Alex

    In my opinion, cyclists going the wrong way would be a real problem if there was actual evidence that it in fact is a problem, like a rise in accidents due to it. I rarely go against traffic on my bike, and when I do, I go for only one or 2 blocks and I generally go pretty slow. From my experience (I commute from Jackson Heights to Lower Manhattan almost every day for work), most cyclists would take precaution when doing this, because people would not expect you from coming the other way. The same applies when you see them riding on the sidewalk. I’m not saying they should be doing it, but for the most part, they usually take decent precaution when performing these “crimes”. Then there are those outliers who do it dangerously and the ones you are probably referring to that we should be concerned with and I agree that they should be fined for riding that dangerously next to pedestrians, because its cyclists like them that give cyclists a bad name.

    Its because of “lazy able bodied people” that there is limited parking space in places like Sunnyside. I own a car but mostly use it to run errands and for other non work related uses. What makes me different from those who only park on the street in Sunnyside is that I am fortunate to have my own parking space within the space I rent. If I were to live in Sunnyside, where it is mostly fully of apartment complexes and only on-street parking, I would most likely have not purchased a car. I would have gotten a cargo bike or walk or use a ride sharing service. I understand your situation, my sister has special needs and cannot take public transportation on her own, so you definitely need the parking space. But I am sure there are people who rarely use their cars and just store their car on the street because it is convenient for them.

    Street space is very limited. It is not possible to increase parking without tearing down private properties down, which would cost millions and even billions of dollars which could go to better things. I am not sure if the City can do anything about parking within strip malls overnight, since it is most likely private property and there can be liability issues.

    Sidewalk space is also very limited. Most residential sidewalks are only 10-15 feet wide at best, which is why they have to put the Citibike Stations in a parking lane. Taking up 2-3 parking spaces to accommodate several dozens of users per day is most likely a better use of the roadway space.

    It about being efficient, there isn’t enough space to accommodate all private vehicle use, so all the City can do is encourage users to other modes of transport that makes better use of the limited roadway space, like bike lanes and bus lanes. Bicycle usage is increasing due to the more protected bicycle infrastructure, meaning less cars on the road and less cars collecting dust on parking spaces. The City needs to improve the transit system though so that transit can be more appealing to users, and some bus routes need to be modified to reflect the changing land uses, and the subway system needs to be updated to reduce the number of technical failures that result in delays.

  • You are correct when you mention wrong-way cyclists. All we can do about that is to inform our fellow cyclists that riding illegally promotes the anti-bike-lane agenda, and that it could potentially put our bike lanes in jeopardy. We have to hope that these rogue bicyclists eventually understand that their actions have consequences, and that they modify their behaviour.

    But on the other questions you are way off.

    The City should never, under any circumstances, increase parking. You mention that people with disabilities need cars. So the logical thing to do is to make almost all parking spots disabled-only.

    The potential problems to fire trucks are caused by double-parked cars. The obvious solution here is a harsh and sustained crackdown on double parking. Any traffic agent who sees a double-parked car should be able to summon a tow truck immediately.

    In order to facilitate deliveries by trucks, we should have loading zones. Note that these zones would be created by removing parking spaces.

    Please remember that the private auto is, in the urban setting, a phenomenon that needs to be combatted, not accommodated. If we could limit car use to people with disabilities only, then we would have essentially solved the problem.

  • Joseph Cutrufo

    Also, complaining about having to turn your head for ~one second is a weird thing to do.

  • mfs

    yes I remember the comment at a big meeting

    “I don’t even know which way to look when I’m crossing the bike lane”
    [big crowd of people] “BOTH WAYS!”

  • Simon Phearson

    Oh, it’s a concern troll.

    Bicyclists (even motorized ones) now fly through the street extra fast and sometimes in the wrong direction.

    How fast you wanna bet they’re going? 15 mph? 12? What do you think oughta be done about it, hm?

    It takes a new habit to look out for this and yes, kids may not look out and just step ok the bike lanes.

    I agree that kids should be taught to regard bike lanes the same way they treat main traffic lanes. We teach them not to run into the street. Same should be the case for bike lanes. Parents can help model this behavior by not walking into the lanes themselves. Which they often do.

    Double parking is a real problem.

    It is! It’s a real problem all over the place. Unfortunately no one wants to have an honest discussion about it. People oppose protected bike lanes, even on streets where there’s already a bike lane, not so much because they might lose a handful of spots (as in Sunnyside) but because they lose the bike lane as an easy “double parking lane.” But they say it’s all about losing a trivial amount of parking. The reason no one wants to talk about double parking is that (i) it’s actually illegal and (ii) it leads naturally into discussions about more effectively managing curb space, which means creating loading zones and charging for parking.

    You want to solve parking in Sunnyside? Create a neighborhood permitting system. The only people who get to park in Sunnyside are the people who are willing to pay a fee, and their guests. Easy-peasy.

    My partner is disabled and needs a car. Elderly and others may have more issues now.

    There were hundreds of spots on 43rd/Skillman before the protected bike lanes, and there are still hundreds of them now. Who do you think is really taking up those parking spaces?

    There is an often empty parking lot near the strip malls on northern boulevard. Maybe the city can make a deal allowing overnight parking there?

    Or maybe car owners can figure out what to do with their own private property, instead of expecting the city to provide cheap, easy parking for them?

    It would also be great if citibike were expanded to Sunnyside (without costing parking spots by putting them on some of the big sidewalks).

    Yeah, because screw pedestrians, right?

  • pbsloop

    You stumped me until I remembered that cars often follow traffic rules and make some noise.

    It is legit scary to have quiet bikes blowing through red lights.

    I’m a cyclist myself and I see this all the time. I see a lot of bad cyclist behavior. That certainly makes things worse for everyone.

  • SurlyCyclist

    It’s been shown that cyclists and motorists break the law at roughly the same rate. Good try though!

    Its legit more scary to have 2 ton vehicles with blind spots blowing through red lights. Especially when the operators of these vehicles are distracted by their phones among other things.

    If you see more bad behavior from cyclists than motorists you’re not paying enough attention to motorists, or you have a bias.

  • YearRoundBiker

    The meaning of “Kids B4 Bikes” seems obvious to me: She feels that it’s safer for kids – near the playground or walking on the sidewalk – if there are parked cars near the curb rather than a bike line with bikes traveling up to 20 mph. Also, if that many people in the community oppose a change, it’s not something to be dismissed. Otherwise you sound like you don’t care about the elderly, people with elderly relatives/friends and long-term residents. In my opinion, the community wasn’t ready to have this implemented. Now Van Bramer looks like someone who doesn’t care about long-term residents and their voices being heard. Ironically, now he’s opposing Amazon and refusing to take part in the community planning process. I’m disappointed that he’s not participating – which would have allowed him to voice our concerns from within. e.g. have some influence on Amazon’s internal policies that could be improved

  • Simon Phearson

    You stumped me until I remembered that cars often follow traffic rules and make some noise.

    Cars don’t follow or ignore traffic rules. Drivers do.

    More to the point – as a matter of fact, drivers don’t follow traffic rules much of the time. We’re just accustomed to overlooking their infractions. Most drivers don’t properly signal, for instance; speeding is common; stop signs are routinely ignored; red lights are blown; drivers often fail to yield to pedestrians or cyclists when required; double parking is illegal almost everywhere it occurs; and so on, and on, and on.

    Cyclists often run red lights, true; but pedestrians just as frequently cross against their signals, but no one is getting upset about that, are they?

    It is legit scary to have quiet bikes blowing through red lights.

    I don’t believe for a second that you are an experienced cyclist. Because you know what is “legit scary”? Cycling up a street without a bike lane or an unprotected one and hearing a commercial truck rear up behind you. The fact that they make noise isn’t exactly a comfort.

    I’ve been startled by salmoning cyclists and had to veer to avoid red light-running cyclists. They’re an annoyance, sure. But “legit scary”? Not even in the same league as biking on a truck route.

  • VancouverLocal

    The bike lane debate is over. Bike lanes are best. So glad politicians are seeing the light and the evidence backs up bike lanes every time.

    I’m done responding to trolls and silly old bags with mush for brains. Bikes win! Keep it up everyone and stay safe!

  • Bernard Finucane

    Bikes don’t travel 20 mph in reality.

  • pbsloop

    I hate “both sides are terrible” political analysis but in this case I am starting to think that applies here.

    I think bike lanes are great but I think some of the anti bike lane views have some merit.

    It is perfectly reasonable for an old person to worry about losing parking or feel scared with cyclists zooming through their neighborhood.

    In politics or life you can’t just force someone to change and they magically do . We all need some empathy and voice in the midst of change.

    My conversations on this board have convinced me that the pro bike lane community doesn’t get it and they are undermining their own good objective by sinply dismissing legitimate critiques outright and saying those that make them are stupid.

    The anti bike lane people are also nuts. No our community will not be “destroyed” and thumb tacks on the bike lane is criminal.

    I wish people could talk to each other and come to a good resolution rather than simply attacking the other side.

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