Now That’s What I Call a Neckdown!

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Since the spring, DOT construction crews have been building out traffic calming improvements all over the neighborhoods near downtown Brooklyn. When the years-in-the-making Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project wraps up, pedestrians will have safer crossings at dozens of intersections. The sidewalk extension at the northwest corner of Smith and Bergen, shown here, is especially impressive. Several hundred square feet of street space now belong to pedestrians instead of cars.

I popped up from my subway ride home yesterday to take some pictures, and in the five minutes I spent there, it was plainly obvious that people feel more comfortable and at ease on the sidewalk with all that extra room. First, to give a sense of the extension’s size, check out what this corner used to look like (you can use the green "Smith’s Grocery" awning to orient yourself).

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After the jump, more traffic-calmed goodness.

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This is the view from the southwest corner, with the big extension on the far side of the street. I’m not the best at eyeball measurements, but the crossing distance on Bergen has got to be less than 20 feet now.

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If you’re on foot, you feel like you’re in charge. You can run into a friend, catch up for a minute, and, yeah, stand nonchalantly by the curb without worrying about getting run over or obstructing someone else’s way. If you’re biking by, you might have to adjust your path a little…

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…but that’s okay. A place that feels safe to walk feels safe to bike, too. (This is the view from the northeast corner.)

Speaking of which, a rumor is circulating that DOT might install some bike parking here. The DOT press office told us the agency is "investigating the placement of racks in the vicinity of the sidewalk extension." I think there’s enough room to go around.

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  • J. Mork

    Excellent. It’s curious that there’s a new emergency call box at the new curb, but that the old one is still there, getting in the new way.

    (But I probably just need to be patient, right?)

  • Red

    Looks great!

  • This is absolutely fantastic. Improvements have been needed on this street for years.

  • TC

    It’s the City DDC, not DOT, which is why it’s been years in the making, as Streetsblog has pointed out in numerous other pieces.

  • That’s great. Bergen street is waaaay too wide from Smith to Court and this will help calm traffic on that block for sure. I still take issue with the pave first ask questions later mentality of these improvements. Smith street is a vibrant destination near Downtown Brooklyn and I’m happy to see traffic mitigated bit I’m unhappy to see missed opportunities for NICER streets.

  • I wish I could go there and feel the change. We don’t have much of this here in Montreal, Canada.

  • Eliot

    Obvious place for a Bedford-Avenue style bike parking setup.

  • > Obvious place for a Bedford-Avenue style bike parking setup.

    I don’t think the Bergen F/G is exactly a cyclist’s destination. Tons of folk from Bushwick and Greenpoint bike to the N7 L portal for their commutes; not here.

    Borough Hall, now…

  • We Manhattan dwelling, transit riding, pedestrian oriented elitists are wondering why some of this stuff hasn’t made it to the Upper West Side lately, where we peel grapes and plot against motorists all day.

  • Josh

    Hey, that’s my subway station!

    If anything, the neckdown here is almost too narrow; there’s a painted bike lane on Bergen (you can kind of see it in the second picture from the bottom) and it’s a bit of a squeeze going through the necked-down area on a bike at the same time as a car is doing so. It’s probably not a problem that occurs all that often, but it happened to me a couple of days ago.

    Dan is right that Bergen is wide heading up from Smith to Court and that people drive too fast along that block. You’re headed uphill, towards a light with a fairly short cycle, where you can only turn left. There’s really no need to speed here, and no need for a road that’s wide enough for two traffic lanes, but that’s how wide it is. Personally, I think you could widen the sidewalk on the south side of Bergen and still have more than enough room for a bike lane, a car lane, and parking on both sides of the street.

  • Not sure how much of an impact this had, but I got lots of community support for this the past few months. Read through this link for more info http://bit.ly/bergensmith

    Eliot, i agree… it’s a good spot for a Bedford style swap. Kaja, i think Boro Hall is too, but you’ve got so many gov’t vehicles there I’m not sure how it’d fly.

    Either way, the street dynamics were interesting and this was really spot for something more than just a neckdown. Cones have been removed but its still not finished and hopefully even more bike parking and striping will be put it, bit at the very least DOT recognized this isn’t just your average curb and appropriately made a LARGE neckdown.

    Thank you DOT and thanks to all the businesses in the area that signed my letters of support for this idea to move forward.

  • Sarah Goodyear

    Paco, I was so glad to see this happening over the last couple of weeks. I know how hard you worked to get community support for it.

  • Blair

    Would it have killed them to think outside of plain concrete? Maybe some other textures, or a streetside planter? I’m sure it functions well, but it’s ugly.

  • BC

    Trees, please.

  • gecko

    Clearly missing lots of green stuff and “soft places” where closer integration might be and important part of the next phase especially, considering heat-island-effect.

    Any ideas for “bike trees” made with real trees?

  • congrats on making the neckdown happen!
    I would love to see an overview piece covering 1996 to now on what the hurdles were and how they were overcome. I’m in year 3 of a struggle to get a neckdown on Willow Ave in my hometown of Somerville MA. Lots of promises but so far no action. http://willave.blogspot.com

  • Clarence Eckerson Jr.

    Regarding trees: Smith Street has almost no trees on it from Union Street to Atlantic. I have never been sure exactly why, but I do believe someone once mentioned the shallow depth of the subway has something to do with it. That could be, and that could be why there is no greenery included.

    Besides if they do mega-bike swap structures, it could well take up at least half of that new space.

  • Debbie

    I think the sidewalk extension looks great and functions well, both for traffic calming and for reclaiming the space for pedestrians.

    I only wish there were some outdoor furniture or planters or anything to make the space more usable for pedestrians and residents. The space is a great first step. However, I doubt I would head over there to stand around. Add a few benches, or chairs, and I can imagine actually making the trip and having the corner be my destination.

    If there are places for bikes, thats fine too. I just think adding something would add to the visual appeal and use of the space.

  • Josh

    I guess I should add that my nitpick above should be taken as just that, and not a criticism of the neckdown as a whole.

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