Can a Greenway and Two-Way Traffic Both Fit on Flushing Ave?

flushing.jpgThe greenway segment on Flushing Avenue would connect Navy Street to Williamsburg Street West. Image: Google Maps

The current concept for the Flushing Avenue segment of the Brooklyn Waterfront
Greenway footprint calls for converting the street to one-way westbound traffic flow. Two-way vehicle traffic, say DOT planners, will create conflicts that endanger cyclists and pedestrians as trucks and cars turn left into the Brooklyn Navy Yard. At Wednesday night’s public meeting on the project, the one-way conversion didn’t sit well with most people who showed up, prompting the DOT team to say they’ll take a second look at how the street can be configured.

Toward the end of the event, City Council member Tish James asked for a show of hands: Who’d be satisfied with a bikeway plan where Flushing stays a two-way street? Most people in the crowd of about 80 raised their hands. It’s not clear, however, whether the street can accommodate both two-way traffic and a safe, protected path for biking and walking.

For followers of bike lane disputes, the meeting had a little bit of everything. Some speakers cited concerns for bus riders who’d have to wait on Park Avenue, a BQE service road, if eastbound routes get shifted from Flushing. Navy Yard businesses pleaded to keep truck access the way it is now. Other speakers vented typical anti-bike sentiment, calling for bike licensing, registration and fees. Fears that all eastbound traffic on Flushing (a fraction of the westbound traffic heading to the free Manhattan Bridge) would divert to Park Avenue were widespread. And at times, the evening veered into a heated discussion of whom bike infrastructure is meant for.

Flushing_bikeway.jpgThe current concept for a Flushing Avenue bikeway. Image: NYCDOT

Rev. Mark V.C. Taylor, pastor of the Church of the Open Door, a black congregation on Gold Street, read prepared remarks accusing DOT of displaying a "deep and profound racism that masquerades as change," adding bike lanes for "young white newcomers." "DOT’s concern for black cyclists is non-evident," he said, concluding by asking DOT to "transport ideas like this into the waste bin with ideas like slavery." About a third of the audience belonged to Taylor’s congregation.

That came about 30 minutes into a two hour meeting. Once the inflammatory charges were out there, James and others stepped into the role of mediators.

Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development referred to the ongoing push for greenways in the South Bronx and Sunset Park. "Bike lanes are not exclusively the initiative of white communities," she said. "All communities are entitled to safe places to walk and bike."

From what I heard, a major question from long-time local residents wasn’t necessarily "Why a bikeway?" but "Why now?" A few people spoke about riding bicycles when they were kids and wanted to know why the city wasn’t proposing this sort of thing 20 or 30 years ago.

Part of the answer is that it takes a long time to build something as complex as the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway. The basic route was first identified 17 years ago by the Department of City Planning. The idea has gradually accumulated public support, financial momentum, and official approval since then, thanks in large part to the persistence of local activists.

Milton Puryear of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative recapped some of that history as the meeting drew to a close. "This came out of communities from Greenpoint to Sunset Park," he said, including Farragut Houses, the public housing project at the foot of the Manhattan Bridge that’s home to 20,000 residents and many members of the Church of the Open Door. In 2004, a team of
Hunter College graduate students surveyed 133 residents of Farragut Houses. Twenty-five
percent said they biked, and 91 percent said they would use the greenway
in the neighborhood. Out of 31 students in Kindergarten through eighth grade, 25 said they rode
bikes.

"Almost
anyone can afford a bike," Puryear added. "This is a way that people can have mobility.
DOT’s motives are not sinister."

Judging by the show of hands at the end of the meeting, a bikeway plan that maintains two-way traffic would meet with less opposition. DOT bicycle
program coordinator Josh Benson said the agency would re-examine
whether the project can work if on-street parking is removed to maintain room
for east-bound lanes. A few greenway supporters could be heard after the meeting wrapped up suggesting east-bound lanes with left-turn bans, a potential compromise that would leave Navy Yard businesses disgruntled about truck access. Whether DOT adjusts its plan or not, the final design won’t please everyone.

  • Danny G

    Some people in my neighborhood freaked out about a buffered bike lane, saying that is was not what the neighborhood wanted, and now I see neighborhood kids riding it every weekend. I’d say build whatever’s safest.

  • J:Lai

    Eliminate street parking on Flushing and you have room for a 2-way car road.
    Ha! That would be the mother of all battles.

  • Larry Littlefield

    Does the Navy Yard still need to be walled off the way it is?

    We don’t have to worry about the Germans and Japanese sabotaging the ships anymore. The fortress was necessary to attract businesses to the Navy Yard back in the Escape from New York days, but I’m not sure that’s required today. From its website:

    The Brooklyn Navy Yard at a Glance

    Founded in 1801
    Today a 300-acre industrial park
    Over 40 buildings
    4 million square feet of leasable space
    Over 240 tenants
    More than 5,000 workers
    Around-the-clock security patrol
    24-hour accessibility
    Secure gate surrounds the facility

    Were it not for the need to completely wall off the Navy Yard from the rest of Brooklyn, wouldn’t the best bike route run through it, or is there no way to route it that would not create a potential conflict with trucks?

  • Zmapper

    Because Flushing Ave is a 50ft wide street, it can handle 2 way traffic, parking on both sides, and a protected cycle track. Heres how it would be set up:

    10 ft cycle track
    2 ft door zone
    8 ft parking
    10 ft WB travel lane
    10 ft EB travel lane
    10 ft parking/delivery zone

    Because Flushing narrows to 40 ft near the BQE eastbound traffic would be diverted onto Washington Ave down to Park and then east. I personally don’t think that the plaza is necessary nor is it wide enough to be useful.

  • P

    How about the bus stops, Zmapper?

  • P

    “A few people spoke about riding bicycles when they were kids and wanted to know why the city wasn’t proposing this sort of thing 20 or 30 years ago.”

    What kind of argument is this? How are we supposed to answer for the decisions made by previous generations? Should we not build the Second Avenue subway since they didn’t build it in the 1970’s?

  • Zmapper

    This would also give the chance to improve bus stop conditions. I would bulb out the EB bus stops and move them to the far side of the intersection too. For the WB stops I would build concrete islands on the far side of the intersection. This proposal will require the removal of 2 parking spots per bus stop (gasp) but I think it is worth the trade off. Id also like to say that why I have all EB traffic turn off at Washington is so that one day, the cycle track can be extended towards Broadway.

  • P

    The only way your plan works for WB bus stops is if buses don’t pull to the curb. It could happen but it is not standard procedure and can be expected to to create back ups.

  • Amusing arguments repeated block by block around nation. Remember: No exclusive use of public rights of way, space SHARED by ALL users, which includes pedicyclists and wheelchair bound.

    An equitable arrangement is an at least 8′ (2.5 meter) combined 2 way lane for pedicyclists separate from motor vehicles on one side, with rest for motoring and parking.

    Some cyclists want more than what’s adequate, but some motorists want dangerous/unnecessary “turning lanes” and other such complications at intersections, already plagued with 4-way stops and traffic lights that create more accidents than cure.

    The purpose of licenses and registrations is to control the crushing momentum of deadly steel slung carelessly around. Bicycles don’t pose any such threat. In incidents where bicyclists collide with bystanders or vehicles, harm is minor and nearly 100% to bicyclists themselves, negligible to others.

    Cyclists already pay more than their share of taxes (income, sales, etc.) without representation. For every $1 spent on cyclists, $200,000 is spent on motorists. Not equitable, but cycling doesn’t require huge unsustainable expenditure, nearly $1 trillion/year nationwide.

  • Somewhat beyond this route on Kent where it turns two-way for cars into Franklin is quite dangerous giving insight into the difficult dangers of two-way car traffic.

    There, in the wee dark hours (about 5 am) a huge black ten-wheeler with horn blaring blasted right over the kermit green bike path as if it wasn’t there; something straight out of George Lucas’s early film “Duel”.

    At least, he honked.

  • Ultimately, a lot of freight service to the New York Navy Yard and other local destinations can be by the East River and distributed the next few feet by much more people, community, and environmentally-friendly vehicles.

  • Zmapper

    P: The buses WONT be able to pull to the curb because there is a cycle track there. Yes, they will block motorized vehicles but then the buses won’t have to hassle getting back into traffic.

    Labann:
    “Amusing arguments repeated block by block around nation. Remember: No exclusive use of public rights of way, space SHARED by ALL users, which includes pedicyclists and wheelchair bound.”
    Yes, on smaller streets everyone can share space easily and comfortably but flushing is a semi-major street that has trucks making deliveries and larger semis going to Navy Yard. Not a group that I’d want to share space with.

    “An equitable arrangement is an at least 8′ (2.5 meter) combined 2 way lane for pedicyclists separate from motor vehicles on one side, with rest for motoring and parking.”
    An 8′ lane is too small for 2 cyclists to pass each other. 8′ is the standard for one-way paths in the Netherlands. 12′ is the standard for two-way paths there.

    “Some cyclists want more than what’s adequate, but some motorists want dangerous/unnecessary “turning lanes” and other such complications at intersections, already plagued with 4-way stops and traffic lights that create more accidents than cure.”
    Well, In Flushing’s case right turn lanes will allow NYCDOT to have split phasing and improve safety to drivers, peds, and cyclists.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Zmapper is correct that 8′ is sufficient for a safe bidirectional bike path. While a 5′ RoW is the standard, when there is no mixing with motor vehicles, cyclists can make do with less. The 5′ pinchpoint on the Brooklyn Bridge near the stairs on the Manhattan side accomodates bidirectional bike traffic.

  • Apparently, the Dutch standards mandate a minimum width of 2.5 meters for one-way cycle lanes and 4 meters for two-way lanes, with 1.5-meter separation from road traffic.

  • Zmapper

    Alon Levy:
    Yes, that is what I was referring to when I said 8′ is too small. While the Dutch recomend an 12′ wide lane if traffic is two-way, 10′ would be an acceptible compromise in acomidating bikes due to the size of Flushing Ave.

  • Andrew

    Zmapper: Your proposal places the cycle track between the bus stops and the sidewalk. I’ve seen that done elsewhere, and it’s not a good idea.

    Then again, it looks like DOT’s proposal is no better.

  • J

    What kills me is that the fate of this bike path will be decided by one church pastor who rallied 30 people to go to a meeting by arguing that bike lanes are somehow “whites only”. Seriously people, if you want this stuff to happen, go to the meetings! Get neighbors, friends, store owners, folks in the park to go. Write letters to Tisch James. I’ve gone to several meetings in Brooklyn, but I live way uptown.

    The system we have is a terrible excuse for public participation, but since no one has proposed a better solution, we must live or die by it. Recently, there’s been a lot of progress; look at what’s going on on the East Side and Upper West Side. When you get people out to meetings, things happen.

  • Yes, after reading Reverend Taylor’s comments I count myself lucky to be doing bike advocacy on the Upper East Side where I’m merely branded “illegitimate,” but have not yet been baited as a racist! Unbelievable. I’m glad Milton Puryear was at the meeting to inject some reality.

  • Limiting traffic to one way to create safe bike and pedestrian travel is not a major community disruption.

    It is just the opposite!

    And, will greatly benefit the community, greening it up, calming and reducing local traffic and pollution, and leading the way to community and family-oriented activities as part of the continued revitalization of the area — limiting the automotive nightmare — and will be typical of the transformations of Manhattan’s Westside Bike Path, safe cycle tracks on Eighth and Ninth Avenue and those in-the-works for the Manhattan’s East Side, the annual Cyclovia Summer Streets from Park Avenue and 79th Street to the Brooklyn Bridge, etc., etc., etc.

    It will provide significant safe transport for cyclists and others on vehicles too vulnerable to travel next to cars.

    And, the route will be extraordinary!

    Essentially, the Brooklyn Greenway alongside New York’s waterfront and parks and skyline sunsets — including Brooklyn Bridge Park — from Sunset Park (ultimately), Red Hook to Hellsgate in Queens accessing at least four major bridges into Manhattan.

    . . . safe (bikes don’t weigh a ton), quiet, extremely efficient zero-emission human-friendly transport with one percent the environmental footprint of cars and a very positive vision of the future.

  • Zmapper

    Andrew:
    The “island” bus stop is used all over the world with no major hassles. It would look something like this:
    ____________________________
    _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ _ | | R: Railing
    _________________________||_|CYCLE TEACK D: Door Zone
    D /RRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRRR\|S| | S: Sidewalk
    P | |S|CROSS STREET| P: Parking
    P \______________________/|S| |
    Flushing Avenue

  • P

    The problem isn’t the island- it’s the fact that the bus can’t get out of the moving lane to load and unload passengers. I suspect the MTA would have serious reservations about that.

  • The problem isn’t the island- it’s the fact that the bus can’t get out of the moving lane to load and unload passengers. I suspect the MTA would have serious reservations about that.

    If the MTA cared, I would feel let down. I’m much more concerned about the drivers of the cars that might get stuck behind the bus caring.

  • GRR

    Somebody should have told the good Reverend that bike lanes ARE for white communities… just like parks, walkable streets and sunken freeways. So far. The current system is inequitable, because recent bike and ped investment hasn’t yet reached low-income communities. they should get t reap the benefits also. That said, this is ground zero of Bob Moses’ greatest hit, so the fact that people are wary of DOT making road changes makes a certain amount of sense.

  • #23 GRR, “Somebody should have told the good Reverend that bike lanes ARE for white communities… ”

    Absolutely. Almost like the comment sometime back that the cycle tracks in Chelsea were not “gay enough”.

    Seems we live in a kind of bizarro world of multiple universes entwined in elaborate discussions centered around major disconnects.

    Witness the book “Obama Zombies” which at first glance seems to be a quite hilarious spoof straight from Comedy Central but, on closer inspection a serious effort by a very cynical conservative writer.

  • Rev. Taylor, if you are reading this, please have a listen to this radio story from Marketplace, about the devestating effects of the absence of bike lanes on the (mostly) minority population in one NYC neighborhood:
    http://marketplace.publicradio.org/display/web/2010/04/15/pm-south-bronx-health-care-help/

  • Joseph E

    Why does Flushing need parking on both sides? This neighborhood is a long walk from a subway, but with one short bus ride you can get to subway lines that go to all parts of Manhattan, and the G line to get to coastal Queens and Brooklyn. I understand the need for trucks to access the Navy Yard, but why do we need parking on both sides?

    If people want the street to be two-way, just eliminate one of the two lanes of parking. This will improve bus service, give trucks more room to turn, and the street will look better without two walls of parked cars along it. I think the one-way solution would also work, but if something needs to be eliminated, it should be one lane of parking.

  • Gary

    “Rev. Taylor accused the DOT of displaying a “deep and profound racism that masquerades as change,” adding bike lanes for “young white newcomers.” “DOT’s concern for black cyclists is non-evident,”he said.”

    Yea Rev. Taylor has got it right.

    why didn’t the DOT add a bike lane for “blacks only” as well??

    Where’s the decency? You know in my day…..

  • #27. Gary, Stop!

    This thing will happen and it will be wonderful for everyone.

    The shock-jock level of public discourse and misinformation is tiresome and hopefully rapidly becoming outdated.

  • Andrew

    Zmapper:

    Your ASCII map (#19) is illegible, at least with my fonts. Could you try to explain in words?

    If a cycle track is between the right-hand side of the street (that would be either side on a two-way street) and the sidewalk, then bus riders have to cross the cycle track to get on and off the bus. Who is expected to yield to whom?

  • Zmapper

    Sorry bout the ASCII map. What I was trying to say, or draw, is that the bus stop would be next to a crosswalk, and that a railing would prevent people from just walking into the cycle track. Bus riders would alight from a bus stopped in the moving vehicular lane onto a concrete island similar to median tram stops. A railing would direct people to head for the intersection as well as provide space to lean while waiting for a bus. Once at the intersection, they can turn left and cross the cycle track with everyone else, or turn right and cross Flushing. This island will allow the possibility of raising the concrete a few inches up to a buses door for level boarding (If they use low-floor vehicles).

  • Gecko:
    One way designations make for unintended consequences. Proceed with caution!

    When there’s no option to widen streets, you must first (according to federal and state laws) attend to pedestrians and wheelchair users with ADA compliant sidewalks, then bicyclists with lanes (or combined with ADA facilities), then ONE motor lane, then a breakdown or parking lane, and, finally, another travel lane in either direction.

    Too many one-ways curtail local business and disrupt traffic flow. If you must designate them, a nearby parallel street in the opposite direction softens the effect. About the best place to do this is where commuter parking occupies the “island” created. Busses or subways can pick up motorists, or bike-ped bridges can release them from captivity.

    Any lack of a shoulder where a disabled car can be removed from traffic results in huge, wasteful jams. Some roadway always needs to be left empty (gore zones).

  • #31. Labann, “One way designations make for unintended consequences. Proceed with caution! ”

    Not clear what you are talking about. This is a DoT design and they seem to know what they are doing.

    ************************
    re: “Too many one-ways curtail local business”

    Do tell DoT Commissioner Sadik-Khan that all those one-ways in Manhattan are curtailing business.
    ************************

    ************************
    re: “first (according to federal and state laws) attend to pedestrians and wheelchair users with ADA compliant sidewalks,”

    Where is it indicated that sidewalks would not be ADA compliant?

    Further if you ever watch bike lanes you will see pedestrians and wheelchair users tend to like using them; witness the Brooklyn Bridge and the West Side Bike Paths; people in wheelchairs in Central Park; they’re much safer than walking in the street with cars which on occasion elsewhere people in wheelchairs feel that they have no other option but use the street.

    Besides providing a relative safe haven from cars for other people other than cyclists, bike lanes also tend to calm traffic.
    ************************

    In any case do make you concerns known to DoT. I have nothing to do with the design which seems just fine with me.

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