Choked by traffic, Downtown Brooklyn and its surrounding neighborhoods need a comprehensive agenda for transportation — and the current ad hoc approach from the city and state isn’t cutting it in the fast-growing area, says a coalition of community groups, elected officials, and advocates.
Last week the coalition unveiled the “BK Gateway Transportation Vision” [PDF], covering a broad range of steps to curb traffic, improve surface transit, and make streets safer for walking and biking. The organizations that produced the report and rolled it out include the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, the Park Slope Civic Council, the Boerum Hill Association, and the office of Council Member Letitia James.
The heart of the plan calls for congestion pricing and residential parking permits, as well as an expansion of the PARK Smart program beyond Park Slope and 20 mph neighborhood slow zones beyond the one in Boerum Hill. Congestion pricing — by far the most transformative single proposal in the plan — and RPP — recently rejected by DOT for neighborhoods near the Barclays Center — need Albany’s say-so to advance, while NYC DOT could move forward with more PARK Smart areas and slow zones independently.
Other key coalition requests within the city’s control are street redesigns. The plan calls for protected bike lanes and Select Bus Service on Atlantic and Flatbush Avenues — two critical transportation corridors with terrible safety records — as well as extending the bus-only lanes on Fulton and Livingston Streets.
The plan also calls for a “pedestrian safety rapid response team” around the Barclays Center to handle overflow crowds. This and other arena issues are likely to be addressed as part of DOT’s study examining traffic and parking after the Barclays Center opened this fall.
Parking placards, which are used, abused, and counterfeited all over Downtown Brooklyn, are not mentioned in the report. When Streetsblog asked James if she supports placard reform, she said, “There should be areas where placards are not allowed at all. That includes my placard.”
The plan also calls for replacing parking minimums with parking maximums. James, who did not call for eliminating parking requirements when the Department of City Planning moved forward with parking reform for Downtown Brooklyn, said she might consider supporting maximums if they were applied to a larger area. DCP has shown little inclination to eliminate parking requirements outside the Manhattan core, and the agency has taken a neighborhood-by-neighborhood approach to parking reform in the other four boroughs, so far addressing only Downtown Brooklyn.
DCP’s modest proposal to trim parking requirements in Downtown Brooklyn has moved ahead, with James and Council Member Stephen Levin using the issue to call for more income-restricted housing and public facilities, including schools. James said she had received assurances that the Department of City Planning and the Downtown Brooklyn Partnership would work with her office as developers repurpose overbuilt garages. These spaces — which James and Levin want to be used for retail, income-restricted housing, or an elementary school — may require additional rezoning on top of the parking reform before they can be re-purposed for affordable housing or schools.
Next up for the BK Gateway coalition: a panel discussion on the area’s transportation issues on January 26.