Brooklyn to Bloomberg: Include Local Stakeholders in Planning

Below is a letter from the Park Slope Civic Council to Mayor Bloomberg and local elected representatives regarding the City’s plan to transform Sixth and Seventh Avenue’s into one-way streets. It’s lengthy but it’s worth a read (and full disclosure: I’m a trustee of the Civic Council):

Park Slope Civic Council

March 7, 2007

Dear Elected Official,

As you know, last week, in a meeting at Borough Hall that included members  of Community Board 6 and the Borough President’s staff, Michael Primeggia, the Department of Transportation’s Deputy Commissioner for Traffic Operations, unveiled a plan for a major reorganization of motor vehicle traffic through Park Slope. Details of the plan will be publicly released at a Community Board 6 Transportation Committee meeting on Thursday, March 15 at Methodist Hospital. Right now, what we know is this:

  • Seventh Avenue between Flatbush and Prospect Avenues would be converted from a two-way street to a one-way southbound street.
  • Sixth Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and 23rd Street would be converted from a two-way street to a one-way northbound street.
  • On Fourth Avenue between 17th and Dean Streets, one travel lane would be removed in each direction and the Avenue’s turning lanes would be improved.

Publicly, DOT is saying that this proposal is being made to improve pedestrian safety and "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 Seventh Avenue to encourage vehicles to travel within the existing speed limit."

While the Park Slope Civic Council will reserve final judgment until after the details have been heard, several of you have contacted me asking for our initial reaction. The Civic Council is seriously concerned that the primary result of this plan will be to move more traffic through our neighborhood faster, not to improve pedestrian safety. You should also know that the response from neighborhood residents, many of whom have contacted us, as I’m sure they have you, too, has been overwhelmingly negative.

Our specifics concerns are:

This plan is about moving more traffic through the neighborhood faster.
One-way streets have a higher motor-vehicle carrying capacity than two-way streets. DOT’s plan looks like it was designed to make up the loss of the two travel lanes being removed from Fourth Avenue by running more car and truck traffic along Sixth and Seventh Avenues. Since no one is much complaining about pedestrian safety on Sixth and Seventh Avenues, we believe the plan may in fact be a response to growing residential development on Fourth Avenue and the Atlantic Yards EIS, which proposes to eliminate the northbound half of Fourth Avenue between Atlantic and Flatbush.

One-way thoroughfares are less friendly to neighborhood life.
There is a great deal of evidence to suggest that the type of one-way avenues proposed are dangerous to pedestrians and harmful to communities:

  • At a City Council hearing last week, DOT Commissioner Weinshall boasted of  the traffic-calming benefits achieved in Downtown Brooklyn by "converting one-ways to two-ways."
  • At the PSCC’s transportation forum attended by hundreds of  residents, there were many complaints about pedestrian safety and dangerous speeding problems on Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West, both fast-moving one-way streets.
  • USA Today recently reported that hundreds of towns and cities around the U.S. are converting their 1950’s-era, one-way, through-traffic streets back to slower, more neighborhood- and business-friendly, two-way streets.
  • The Pedestrian and Bicycling Information Center advocates two-way streets saying they slow traffic, allow better local access to businesses and homes, and eliminate the potential for higher speed, more dangerous crashes that exists on multi-lane, one-way streets.
  • Two-way streets provide system redundancy and greater permeability. When a lane or street gets blocked off due to an accident or other problem there are more ways to get where you need to go if avenues are two-way.

The community was excluded from the planning process.
Notwithstanding the upcoming public meeting, we believe the community should have been consulted earlier in the planning process. Dozens of DOT’s around the U.S. have rewritten their project delivery processes to include high levels of community input. New York City can and should be a leader in community-oriented design and planning and our elected leaders must advocate for this. The Park Slope community is prepared to work as a partner in planning the future of Downtown Brooklyn and surrounding neighborhoods. In fact, we are already doing it. We developed detailed, wide-ranging transportation planning feedback for the Atlantic Yards EIS. We co-founded the Grand Army Plaza Coalition to proactively re-envision the possibilities for this great public space and critical traffic junction. And last year we sponsored a transportation forum, which drew hundreds from around the neighborhood (DOT declined our invitation to attend).

Fourth Avenue can be transformed without increasing traffic in Park Slope.
In recent years, the idea has been put forward to transform Fourth Avenue into Brooklyn’s great urban boulevard. We fully support the vision. If part of this vision involves narrowing Fourth Avenue, we believe that it can and must be done without shunting more traffic through nearby neighborhoods. DOT’s traffic models often work under the assumption that any time a road is closed or narrowed, all of the traffic that was using that road will simply move to the next road over. For example, in the late ’90s DOT’s models predicted that closing Prospect Park to cars, even for just a few hours during weekdays would result in traffic cataclysm around the Park. Those predictions were wrong. DOT’s traffic models did not account for the fact that when it becomes inconvenient to drive a certain way at a certain time, travelers may choose a different mode of transport, a different time of travel, or a different route.

There are clear pedestrian safety priorities in other parts of our neighborhood.
Two weeks ago, James Rice, a 4-year-old boy, was killed in the crosswalk while crossing, with the light, at Baltic Street and Third Avenue. He was holding the hand of his 18-year old aunt, who was injured. DOT has not followed through on Commissioner Weinshall’s March 2004 commitment of $4 million to install traffic-calming measures at 101 intersections along Third Avenue by the end of fiscal year 2006. Not only have these traffic-calming measures not been completed, the work has not yet even begun. Most upsetting, the pedestrian safety measures planned for Third and Baltic are designed specifically to prevent the kind of "right-turn conflict" that killed James Rice. We call on DOT to implement the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic-Calming Plan.

We urge you, our elected officials, to do the following:

  1. Insist that the communities that will be affected by major transportation plans such as this be included in the City’s planning processes. Including communities is a benefit to city government and, increasingly, is standard practice outside of New York City. Neighborhood stakeholders have fine-grained knowledge of needs and problems that no citywide official can possibly ever possess.
  2. Insist that changes like these only be considered as part of a comprehensive, multi-modal, area-wide transportation plan in response to the transformative development currently underway in and around Downtown Brooklyn. We have clearly reached a tipping point. The old solutions no longer work. Our area’s rapidly increasing density means that we need to find effective ways to move local travelers and commuters out of their cars and into more efficient modes of transportation. Brooklyn’s, and New York City’s, future absolutely depends upon it. Shunting more traffic through one neighborhood street or another is not the solution.
  3. Insist on a plan that does not threaten but instead contributes to the neighborhood life that makes Brooklyn great.

We thank you for keeping the community’s views front and center and we look forward to working with you to make sure that any traffic pattern changes implemented in Park Slope will have the full support of the community.

Sincerely,

Lydia Denworth
President

CC:
Mayor Michael Bloomberg
Borough President Marty Markowitz
Assemblymember Jim Brennan
Assemblymember Joan Millman
Senator Eric Andrews
Senator Velmanette Montgomery
Councilmember David Yassky
Councilmember Bill de Blasio
Community Board 6 Chair Richard Bashner

  • P

    Bravo!

  • lee

    Great letter.

  • JDS

    Well done. The negative affects of the AY project are already materializing. How do I register my displeasure for this proposal with DOT (aside from attending the upcoming meeting)?

  • Park Sloper

    Fabulous letter!

  • LZ

    As my research into this issue is in its early stages, I must ask this: why not 5th Avenue as a one-way? If one of the possible reasons for the proposed change is overflow from 4th Ave, wouldn’t 5th make more sense?

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    Insisting the neighborhoods be included in transportation planning is positive and reasonable. Insisting, however, that local communities have a veto over transportation projects is not.
    If AY is the paradigm the neighbors were included, but in the end their positions were over ruled. Had the neighbors had a veto the project would have been stopped. The problem is defining the neighborhood, the community and the public interest.

  • David

    Nicolo,

    The neighborhoods around Downtown Brooklyn could not have been LESS included in the AY development planning. The process was designed specifically to avoid, at all costs, serious discussion about the project’s quality of life, environmental and city service impacts — the issues most important to the neighborhoods immediately adjacent to the project. “Jobs, Housing & Hoops,” remember? You don’t see anything about Schools, Traffic and Air Quality in there, do you?

  • esther williamsburg

    Just some more proof that community input is being ignored by the current city administration and this holds for most neighborhoods with few or no exceptions. Such arrogance. A good letter. Good luck.

  • Anonymous

    I am still unconvinced that making 6th and 7th avenues one-way would necessarily make it more unsafe for pedestrians, depending of course on how the streets are designed.

    First of all, with regard to danger from turning vehicles, a pedestrian is probably in more danger from left turning vehicles on a 2-way (where drivers are more focused on finding gaps in opposing traffic) then they are on right turns or left turns from 1-way streets (where the only conflict that drivers must watch out for are pedestrians). One-way operation would reduce the need for separate left turn phases and thus provide more time in the signal cycle for a leading pedestrian interval.

    Secondly, one-way streets would provide a more smooth driving experience, which will irritate the drivers less. A driver is much more likely to run red lights when irritated by having to jockey around left turning vehicles and double parked cars. One-way streets could ostensibly reduce this delay and cause drivers to be less irritated.

    Third, one-way streets, if designed correctly would not necessarily become arterial mini-freeways. They could be more like through traffic streets that correctly handle the present traffic load. For instance, Lee and Bedford Avenues in Williamsburg are one-way streets that have 2 travel lanes. This provides for a relatively smooth drive. Think how much worse these streets would be if they were 2-way. 6th and 7th avenues are wide enough for 3 travel lanes (which would be a mistake and too inviting for traffic) but they are also wide enough for 2 travel lanes and a wide bike lane if it was designed properly. You can’t expect to have a quiet suburban street in the middle of Brooklyn.

    And the comments really haven’t addressed how positive the changes to 4th Avenue would be. In fact, the changes the DOT would make to 4th Avenue would be a real boon to pedestrians, since it would make the median a lot wider, providing a safer refuge area, while at the same time providing adequate space for turning cars. The DOT is taking away 2 travel lanes and this treatment should be encouraged so that the DOT can replicate the treatment in other places as well (like Houston Street in Manhattan).

    Another idea that is unfortunately not on DOT’s radar is that the new wider median can provide space for a physically protected bike lane. A bike lane placed in the median would have no conflicts with parallel traffic or with traffic that wants to turn in to driveways. The left turn pockets and the bikeway can be easily accommodated when DOT takes away the two travel lanes that they propose. If protected left turn arrows were placed along the corridor as well (left turn only on green arrow), then the bicycles would be fully protected from automotive traffic as well. Many light rail systems across the country are designed in the median with protected left arrows and there is no reason a bikeway could not be designed in a similar fashion.

  • John

    For those folks that think converting 7th to a 1-way street won’t have any impact on safety or quality of life, take a look at how the traffic moves on Court Street – extremely high average traffic speeds, lots of high speed bob-and weave lane changing and a great deal of danger to all concerned.

    The goal here isn’t to facilitate a smooth drive. It’s to keep our neighborhood as OUR NEIGHBORHOOD and not merely a throughfare for massive volumes of AY traffic.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    Sorry David but I disagree. I admit I was not entirely wrapped up in the debate but… I went to several early meetings where the neighbors input was heard. A lot of yelling and screaming as I remember. Sort of comical if it wasn’t such an important issue. At the time I wandered how such apparently educated people could be so naive as to how the planning process would proceed in NYC. They were heard, they made a bunch of silly , naive points not worthy of Hooterville. That they ultimately were rolled over by well organized moneyed interests doesn’t mean that they “could not have been LESS included”. They did a lot of self-marginalization.

    There are other development projects I too would have preferred. But thats not the way it works in the Capital of the World. What distinguishes NYC from the suburbs is that these planning decisions are made in consideration of the whole. I fight a lot of these fights and lose often.

    If I had my way I would close of my street to through traffic. But the people in Park Slope would really hate it. So would the people who try to avoid the backups on the Gowanus. So what? I don’t get that sort of juice in traffic planning. Same with the AY opposition. They were simply not empowered to veto the project. Participate yeah, they participated. Bitch and moan, yeah they bitched and moaned. Cried when the rich and powerful got their way, that happened too.

    Let the court cases roll if you want. I might even contribute to the legal fund. But in the end AY is going through. Wake up and smell the construction site.

  • David

    Nic,

    It is clear that you were not wrapped up in the debate because your observation is not matched by the reality of what happened.

    At every official public meeting, the yelling and screaming came from the Ratner-funded BUILD, Acorn and union guys. Sure, there were some irrational arguments on the other side and no real message control (it’s a community not a corporation after all). But it eventually began to seem like a fault of the neighborhood people that they weren’t rowdy and unreasonable enough. The kinds of public meetings that were set up for this process weren’t good for anything but yelling.

    There was a ton of excellent, top quality testimony submitted at the EIS hearings by civic groups and individuals living around the Yards project, many of whom were professionals with valuable in put to provide (http://www.nolandgrab.org/archives/2005/10/public_hearing.html). There were a number of organizations who were not trying to stop or kill the project but were ready to work with the city, state and developer in a cooperative, collaborative fashion to make sure the project worked for all parties. But the neighborhood quality of life interests were shut out and shouted down again and again. Tish James was the only political power on our side.

    In the end, the project and Brooklyn are going to suffer profoundly because jobs and housing were the only community interests deemed politically necessary to deal with. And because the project will fail on so many levels, the jobs and housing people are going to suffer too — and probably a whole lot more than the brownstone Brooklyn residents who are relatively well off either way.

    It’s a shame too because the enviro and quality of life issues effect the jobs and housing people just as much if not more than the Brownstone civics. Who suffers from the traffic-induced asthma, the crowded schools, the broken down sewage systems more than poor and middle class people? Rich people escape this crap. If we had real leadership in Brooklyn then all of these interests could have worked together and gotten a lot more out of the developer and the state. DeBlasio and Markowitz are the two who could have done the most to broker a deal by getting Bertha Lewis to go in the right direction, but they were all bought. Bertha will, ultimately, come down as the biggest villain of the story.

  • LT

    Another issue of great concern to me is noise pollution and air pollution. These issues must be addressed because they greatly affect quality of life, health and safety for all Brooklyn residents.

  • Nicolo Macchiavelli

    Well, I”ll give you that the construction guys did some yelling to, nonetheless, IMHO the opposition spoiled the good point of their case. I only went to a couple of meetings though, I saw no need to further waste my time, couldn”t have gotten a word in edgewise. The chaos may have been part of Ratner”s overall NIMBY management strategy. If so it worked as far as turning me off helped. Good luck, you made good points.

  • David

    I think the process was designed, almost specifically, to turn off a guy like you, Nic, make you not want to bother participating, just walk away, leave it to the extremists… Not worth it.

  • Jan

    Regarding comment #9:

    It is hard to imagine that the poster of this comment lives in Park Slope. Do you have children who go to the PS Dance Studio, play soccer at St. Francis Xavier? Attend PS 39, 321, 107? Do the guys at La Bagel Delight know how you like your coffee? Do the sales people at Living on 5th and 7th call you when something you like goes on sale? Did you buy your children’s birth announcements at Lion in the Sun?

    Do you live in our COMMUNITY?

    The families we know in the neighborhood are pretty upset about this plan. A smoother driving experience — not at the top of the list.

    Having to cross the highway that is 8th Avenue on the way to the Park is not something we look forward to on our way to the 9th Street playground. And then doing it again on PPW, with the playground in sight, not so terrific.

    This traffic plan looks a whole lot like folks trying to solve the disaster that will be the traffic problem when AY and the stadium are complete in 2010. And we would prefer that folks fix that problem elsewhere. Of course we would prefer that problem did not exist altogether but it seems too late for that.

    For now, we would like the City to take responsibility and not create further unintended consequences of an already highly questionable project.

    And as for a smoother driving experience, to your point, perhaps that is something one should expect in a quiet suburban street somewhere other than Brooklyn.

  • Eric

    Yeah, a “smooth driving experience.” That’s the essence of urban living. Can’t imagine anything that’d improve Park Slope – or any other ‘hood, for that matter – more than a “smooth driving experience.”

  • Melissa

    I live in Park Slope and for 11 years I have watched the accidents that routinely happen at the corner of 8th Avenue and 9th street. Everyone drives fast on both these streets. A year or two ago an accident occurred where a car ended up hitting the entrance to Dizzy’s, a popular restaurant. A petition asking for something to be done was set up which everyone who passed signed. Last summer there were 2 accidents in one day which involved ambulances. Both of these ended up on the sidewalks outside the entrance to the subway, one on the Dizzy’s side and one on my building’s side. My upstairs neighbor was walking home with his 10 yr old daughter and her friend and they were nearly hit by the van (which also had a number of children in it)that ended up on the sidewalk. I have heard the screeching of brakes so many times since I have lived here, that I steel myself for the crash that happens so often afterward. The one way streets in this neighborhood have traffic going so much faster than on other streets and nothing is done to slow it down. Adding one way streets to this neighborhood would not make the streets of Park Slope safer for pedestrians as the DOT suggests. Any suggestion that it would shows clearly that the people who have decided such a thing do not have to live in the midst of it.

  • lee

    the hyperbolic rhetoric calling 8th ave, a street with two travel lanes, a “highway” and comments elsewhere on this blog about the “depravity” of speeding on PPW are, (I think) the sort of self-marginalizing commentary Niccolo was talking about.

    I don’t want to put words in Nic’s mouth though. My point is that this sort of breathless exaggeration doesn’t help.

    #9 made some intelligent points don’t seize on three words and dismiss it entirely.

    I cross 8th ave and PPW twice everyday. I wait for the light to change. It’s not the end of the world.

  • Pedestrian

    Hyperbolic? Go out to 8th and PPW with a speed gun, Lee. Or just check the minutes of the Park Slope Civic Council’s transportation forum from last year. Speeding and ped dangers on 8th and PPW is one of the community’s top concerns.

    There is no question that the self-marginalizing in this particular episode has been done by DOT Deputy Commissioner Michael Primeggia. People in his own agency — his own employees — refuse to back him up on this plan. He is out there all by himself on this one. It’s virtually impossible to find anyone to speak up for it.

    There is no question who has been marginalized here.

  • lee

    8th avenue is not a highway.

    The speed gun in the video now posted on the front page here shows cars going 30mph.

    Those are not highway speeds.

    So yes, it is hyperbole to call it such.

    If you want to argue that 30mph is too high a speed limit and advocate for a lower “neighborhood” speed limit of say 20-25 i can get behind that.

    These horrors seem to be pretty typical driving patterns to me.

  • Pedestrian

    Lee,

    The video that they just posted here very clearly shows cars reaching into the 40 mph range. The video also appears to be shot during a rush hour period when there is actually quite a bit of traffic on 8th. At night and at times when there is less traffic, cars really fly on 8th and regularly hit speeds in the high 40’s (I drive there and, yeah, it’s easy to find yourself going that fast to keep with the flow). 25 mph is generally considered the speed where ped injuries become fatalities and neighborhood streets become through-streets.

    But “highway,” to my mind, doesn’t only refer to travel speeds. A highway is a place where a vehicle gets to drive straight and fast and unimpeded for a lengthy stretch. 8th Ave, with its blocks of green lights tempting drivers to floor it, is currently engineered to do function like a highway.

    The community has repeatedly asked DOT to change the signal timings to change that. They did some tweaks around 9th Street after a car went through the front door of Dizzy’s last year. But they refuse to slow down 8th. They say, “Call the NYPD” if you have a speeding problem there.

    So, hyperbole? No. 8th Ave’s highway-like funciton is one of THE major issues in the neighborhood.

    But on this point we’ll agree: These horrors are pretty typical driving patterns for Brooklyn.

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