Fire Trucks and Ambulances are Stuck in Traffic in a Part of Queens — and Residents Blame Bike Lanes

NY 1 - October 05, 2018

by Clodagh McGowan

A video shows a firetruck, with full lights and sirens, stuck at an intersection and unable to make the tight turn from 51st Street onto Skillman Avenue in Sunnyside.

The footage has sounded the alarm for residents, who say the city's recent installation of protected bike lanes is making a mess of traffic in their neighborhood.

"There's a fire somewhere and this truck can't get to it!" Sunnyside resident Deirdre Corrigan reacted.

Placing the bike lanes on Skillman Avenue reduced two lanes of traffic to one and wiped out 116 parking spaces.

Residents consider it a double-whammy, creating congestion and double-parking. They say when cars or trucks double-park, traffic stops.

"It's a commercial district where there are many deliveries," Sunnyside resident Brian Moriarty said.

A mom with a child at nearby P.S. 11 shot video at dismissal time that shows an ambulance stuck in traffic, hardly being able to budge even while blaring its sirens.

P.S. 11 PTA Vice President Mindy Bichler-Greene says it's been a disaster at dropoff and pickup time. "The parents can't pick up their kids, there's congestion," she said. "It's just utter chaos, and we're worried someone is going to get hit."

Of particular concern is the inability of fire trucks to speed off from the firehouse on 51st Street. Vehicles often park illegally in a new clear zone, making it difficult for the big rigs to turn onto Skillman.

The community board voted against the redesign, 27 to 8, but the city transportation department went ahead anyway.

"We went to the meeting, we protested, but they didn't listen to us," said Sheikh Uddin, the owner of Woodside Super Convenience.

Even some cyclists say the design needs work. "Traffic has increased and, for me, it's just as many cars moving around," Woodside resident Oleg Andriyovych said. "If anything, they're more aggressive."

The transportation department said it joined the city fire department to design the Skillman Avenue bike lanes so fire trucks could move freely. A fire department spokesman added that the agencies are working to address the problem of cars now parking illegally.

Cycling advocates say traffic would flow if drivers obey parking rules.

"When we are not following the regulations that the new street has, things are not going to work," said Juan Restrepo, a Queens organizer for advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.

The transportation department also plans on installing more protective delineators to protect the pedestrian space and prevent cars from parking illegally in the so-called clear zone. Whether that will curb the issue is still up for debate.