DOT Explains New Traffic Solution. But What’s the Problem?

The Department of Transportation’s press office sends along this response to the story we broke yesterday about the agency’s plan to revamp Fourth, Sixth and Seventh Avenues running through Park Slope, Brooklyn:

DOT has proposed changing 6th and 7th Avenues to one-way streets which we believe will have many benefits including simplifying the turning movements at intersections to make it safer for pedestrians crossing the street and narrowing the travel lanes on 7th Avenue to encourage vehicles to travel within the existing speed limit. DOT also proposes making these changes in conjunction with a plan that would remove a travel lane in each direction on 4th Avenue (between 17th and Dean Streets) using this space to improve the existing left turn bays.

Andy Wiley-Schwartz, a Boerum Hill resident who also happens to be the Vice President and Director of the Transportation Program at Project for Public Spaces, writing in Streetsblog’s comments section yesterday, posed a great follow-up question for the agency: What problem is DOT trying to solve with this particular set of solutions? Or, to put it another way: What triggered this initiative? As Andy puts it:

This type of measure (DOT’s call
them "improvements" whether they are or not) is always triggered by something. The trigger could be a request or complaint from a community board or politician, an accident or accident trend, some type of automatic system-related alert, etc.

My question is, what is the perceived "problem" in this case, and how is DOT’s proposal being justified as a fix for it? I suspect the problem and solution are defined narrowly as a traffic flow issue, and at the expense of the neighborhoods.

Many, many DOTs around the country are going through an entire re-thinking of the project development process, through something called "Context Sensitive Solutions".

This means that they are stepping back to look at problems in a broader light (say, as a demand issue, not a capacity issue). It might mean that congestion (Level of Service D or even F) is considered a GOOD THING in some cases, say on a commercial street like 7th Ave.

It also means that they are then applying a much broader set of potential solutions to solve those problems, usually through partnerships and community-based planning. A DOT practicing CSS would never come up with a solution and present it to a community board. Instead, they would vett the potential problem as defined by whomever or whatever is triggering it with the community, and then talk about:

a) whether it really was a problem and
b) how they can work together to do something about it–through controls, or behavior, or both.

The engineers in this case would be a resource to the community, explaining to them the various trade-offs for doing one thing or another, and working through the issues.

This is they type of community process that we sorely need in NYC. Exposing the "problems" on these streets as DOT defines them is the first step in understanding how to counsel both the community and the city to begin to change.

This is not fantasy. DOTs around the country, from New Jersey to California are doing this.

Comment by Andy February 28, 2007 @ 3:00 pm | Link | Edit This

  • da

    Andy’s absolutely right.

    PARK SLOPE TO DOT:

    WE DON’T WANT YOUR “SOLUTIONS”. TELL US WHAT THE PROBLEM IS AND LET US SOLVE IT!!!

  • “we believe will have many benefits including simplifying the turning movements at intersections to make it safer for pedestrians crossing the street and narrowing the travel lanes on 7th Avenue to encourage vehicles to travel within the existing speed limit.”

    From this line, it seems like the problem they’re trying to address is speeding on 7th Avenue, or perhaps they’re just trying to throw “us” a bone.

    Seems silly to presume that turning 7th Ave one-way would slow traffic.

  • galvoguy

    turning lanes increase the speed of traffic, the opposite of traffic calming

  • Boon Doggle

    yeah, that part about vehicle speeds is funny. they think this will simultaneously improve vehicle throughput (for those 4th ave diversions) while calming traffic? they really have not offered any explanation for why these “improvements” are needed or even desirable.

    we can all agree that the changes proposed for 4th ave are good, nothing there to complain about (unless you are a motorist concerned about worse traffic I guess). will advocates fall for the gift of 4th ave?

  • Clarence

    What is it with left hand obsession with turning bays in this city?

    They are going in everywhere at the expense of peds and cyclists.

    There are two instances on 5th Ave in Park Slope where the bike lane is not striped because DOT needed room to put in turning lanes. There is one example at intersecton of 5th Ave/9th Street.

  • Traffic engineers use left-turn lanes to increase intersection capacity. When you add this extra turning lane, there is more room for traffic to stack up, so more traffic can queue at the intersection without backing up enough to block the previous intersection.

    As Walter Kulash says, it is like dealing with obesity by letting your belt out.

    But I don’t think that they are talking about left-turn lanes here. When they talk about one-way streets simplifying turning movements, I think they mean that you can turn left without any traffic in the opposite direction to block you.

    Of course, this actually speeds up traffic, lets people make turns without slowing down for traffic in the opposite direction – and so it endangers pedestrians.

  • ly

    Turning 6th and 7th into one way streets is a terrible idea! It will speed traffic, especially traffic making left turns, and therefore reduce safety for pedestrians.

  • Also don’t forget that 1-way grids make bicycle trips longer and more cumbersome, at least for those cyclists obeying street direction rules (and increases danger for everyone because many cyclists do not).

  • da

    Plus a 1-way southbound 7th Ave. breaks the convenient connection between the northbound #67 bus and the 7th Avenue Q-train stop at Flatbush. Many people make that transfer daily.

  • JK

    Under a new commissioner, the backlash against this proposal could be turned into an opportunity to educate the community about parking reforms and get buy-in for a 15% curb vacancy target. Why aren’t DOT traffic engineers more interested in sensible parking rules. Streets just work better for everyone. Like congestion pricing, parking pricing is something the fewer cars advocates and traffic flow firsters should agree on.

  • ABG

    I think I’ve figured it out. The key is this sentence:

    “DOT also proposes making these changes in conjunction with a plan that would remove a travel lane in each direction on 4th Avenue (between 17th and Dean Streets) using this space to improve the existing left turn bays.”

    Here’s my interpretation:

    1. DOT decided that Fourth Avenue really needs better left turn bays, but they can’t think of a way to do it without taking a lane in each direction.

    2. DOT thinks that taking a lane would make it easier for cars and probably cause less crashes, but they’re concerned that it might even decrease the vehicle throughput.

    3. God forbid DOT should decrease throughput! These cars have to go somewhere, so why not through the shopping and population centers of Park Slope?

    After all, the only other benefits they claim for this are to make Sixth and Seventh Avenues more pedestrian friendly, and there are plenty of other ways of doing that.

    Does this sound plausible, or am I off-base?

  • crzwdjk

    By the way, I wouldn’t be too sure that one-way streets are actually less safe with respect to left turning cars. With a two-way street and New York levels of traffic, the left turning driver is likely to be watching for a gap in oncoming traffic while the traffic builds up behind him, gets impatient, angry, starts honking. The driver finally sees his gap and goes for it, but oops, there was a pedestrian in the crossing where he wasn’t even looking. With one-way streets, the only obstacle to look for is pedestrians, so it might end up being safer. Then again, it might not.

  • No! Exactly the wrong thing to do.

    One way streets are a recipe for disaster. There’s *plenty of evidence* to show that one-way streets encourage faster traffic, the last thing you want on 6th/7th Avenues.

    Just compare the ambiance of 6th/7th with, for example, Court/Smith streets and you will see the difference. Or even 8th Av/PPW (these should be 2-way streets as well.)

    Vehicles on the latter streets definitely move faster, and cyles and pedestrians are more at risk there. I would not even risk cycling on 8th Av, but 6/7 are fine.

    The changes to 4th Av, are, however, welcome.

    Please do all you can to oppose this.

  • james

    Well folks, there it is: “and narrowing the travel lanes on 7th Avenue to encourage vehicles to travel within the existing speed limit.” if this is attributable to DOT as is, then parse it using a ‘wool over their eyes’ filter and what it really says is

    “DOT wants every vehicle traveling on 7th Avenue to travel At the speed limit”.

    Ignore the narrowed lanes herring, the one-way-roadway drivers won’t care one bit, the real issue is “travel within the. . .limit”=”travel AT the. . .limit”.

    Obviously now, traffic on 7th almost never moves at the City Speed Limit during NY’s extended work-a-day hours, but if DOT does create a one-way through-route then the DOT will have 7th Ave transiting many multiples of the current vehicle count during the hours just ahead of and after the traffic-jam period(s) each day and they “win”.

    Court Street & western Atlantic Avenue provide excruiciating examples of just how many cars DOT can shove through a pedi-resi neighborhood in those roughtimes aound/during NYC’s rush-hours when the pitiful local highways are parked with seething traffic.

    The real problem is that NYC’s public ways are controlled by an agency beholden to only one interest group (the internal-cumbustion engine rah-rah crowd). Plainly, if DOT can Provide client Drivers with a 1/2 mile to 3/4 mile stretch of movement w/o interruption then DOT has pleasantly surprised their clients… where if, for example, the Parks Dept ‘owned’ the public ways and leased area for pavement and vehicle traffic to the DOT then the citizenry might have a slim chance of having the numerous other uses for a public way properly addressed and the DOT might actually have to explain why over 100,000+ people (kids, teens, pensioners, parents, exercisers, sports-folk) have to cross, excuse me, ALL 100,000+ immediate neighbors of Prospect Park have to cross riduculously high-speed roadways to get to this borough’s one “accesible” large park .

    o, So little time to lambast the Fisher-Price-ization of the minds of our civil engineers…

    -james

  • CHG

    Remember that as part of traffic calming for Atlantic Yards, DOT announced a few months ago that it was planning to close Fourth Avenue going north between Pacific and Atlantic and divert traffic down Pacific Street. Cars would be forced to make a right onto Pacific and then have to make a left to get to Flatbush.

    How does that plan jibe with these newly announced changes? Perhaps DOT is proposing the changes on Sixth Avenue to compensate for the earlier changes on Fourth Avenue? Making Sixth Avenue one way will draw vehicles off Fourth Avenue, thereby alleviating the congestion caused by the Pacific diversion.

    Question is what will happen to Sixth Avenue on the other side of Flatbush? As I remember, it is currently a one way street going in the opposite direction of what’s proposed for Sixth.

    Do people expect DOT to change the direction of that stretch as well? That way buses and cars can come barreling down Sixth right into Ratner’s parking garages and loading docks. It sounds like a way to accomodate delivery trucks and buses going to AY without having them go through the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush.

  • KLH

    The B67 provides easy access to the F train at 9th St and the Q at Flatbush – very convenient in the rush hours going to work for those of us who do not live in Park Slope, but in the 20’s along Seventh. Our neighborhood is already underserved by transit, now DOT will mess up the connection from bus to train!!!!

  • ABG

    Sounds like a good analysis, James. Can anyone pinpoint this particular internal-combustion rah-rah crowd?

    In other words, DOT seems to be afraid that if they reduce “throughput” in this part of Brooklyn, they’ll come under much more criticism than they would for making Sixth and Seventh Avenues one-way. Are these critics only in the minds of the DOT engineers, or do they exist? Are they really that powerful, or can they be overcome?

    For comparison, I’m thinking of the motorists from Flatbush, Midwood etc. who have been able to preserve car access to Prospect Park even though people around the park have said they want cars out in petition after petition.

    Are there similar people in Bay Ridge and Bensonhurst who will jump down the DOT’s throat if they get slowed down on Fourth Avenue? Can the specific political forces be identified?

  • Yes, just the solution. Andy was right. We deal with this traffic jam in certain cities. Not all cities. Example, Singapore has a good traffic condition even though it is a small country. How they can make it possible?

  • ABG

    Block the bike lane? That’s a caning.

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