Bay Ridge CB Chair Disses Fourth Avenue Road Diet, Proposes Non-Starter

After months of work between local residents and DOT, a plan for a road diet on Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge, advanced by Brooklyn Community Board 10’s transportation committee in May, was taken up by the full board in June. After many members said they had trouble understanding the proposal, the board voted to delay making a decision. But an informational meeting about the plan last Wednesday didn’t include a presentation from DOT, and a report from the board’s chair might have sowed even more confusion as a scheduled vote approaches in October.

CB 10 Chair Brian Kieran shares some of his street design wisdom. Photo: ##http://www.brooklynpaper.com/stories/36/21/br_fourthaveplanmeet_2013_05_24_bk.html##Stefano Giovannini/Brooklyn Paper##

In advance of the meeting, board members received a 10-page report on Fourth Avenue [PDF] from recently-elected board chair Brian Kieran, who had previously served as chair of the transportation committee. In the report, Kieran makes unfounded claims that the safety plan will lead to traffic congestion, and says that lane reductions, which were backed by his own committee, should be sidelined in favor of speed tables, which aren’t supported by the DOT manual he cites.

“Studies have shown that ‘road diets’ can reduce speeding vehicles without affecting the efficiency of the thoroughfare,” Kieran wrote, before contradicting this statement and making up his own numbers about road capacity. “Any reduction to traffic capacity of the thoroughfare will impinge upon vehicular traffic,” his letter continued. “In Bay Ridge a reduction of one lane out of two through lanes of traffic is a 50 percent reduction of our traffic capacity on the avenue.”

DOT refuted Kieran’s claims, which “were addressed during our extensive outreach with Community Board 10,” agency spokesperson Nicholas Mosquera said in an e-mail. “Traffic analysis has shown that remaining travel lanes would provide sufficient capacity.”

Transportation committee member Bob HuDock, who called Wednesday’s gathering “more of a misinformational meeting,” was exasperated by Kieran’s assertions. “These claims have no evidence. It’s all based on people’s intuition,” he said. “I think we should be making policy based on data, not based on people’s feelings of what might happen.”

Kieran said that board members, most of whom are not transportation committee members and have not been heavily invested in the planning process to date, should scrap even more of the proposal. “The committee felt comfortable picking and choosing,” he wrote. “The board should feel free to do the same.”

But Kieran did more than encourage the full board to restart the debate over DOT proposals that were supported by the committee; he suggested his own interventions, despite overseeing the process for months. “I believe that Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge needs and deserves one or two speed tables,” Kieran wrote. “Anti-speeding measures for Fourth Avenue can include raised speed reducers: speed bumps, speed tables and speed cushions.”

Kieran cited DOT’s Street Design Manual [PDF] as justification for installing raised speed reducers, but the agency told Streetsblog that these interventions “would not be appropriate on arterials such as Fourth Avenue.” In fact, the DOT manual Kieran cites doesn’t support their installation in this context, either. It says raised speed reducers should be avoided on streets that are wider than 44 feet, have more than one lane in each direction, or are on routes for buses, emergency vehicles, or snow emergencies. Much of Fourth Avenue has several of these characteristics.

Kieran didn’t stop by rejecting the carefully constructed road diet in favor of inappropriate design measures — he created a new straw man to make himself appear to be the reasonable party. “No reasonable person would recommend the elimination of vehicle traffic on Fourth Avenue although this would virtually guarantee no pedestrian fatalities,” he wrote. “Extreme positions and extreme suggestions do not enhance our efforts to produce a good plan for improvement of Fourth Avenue.”

Streetsblog reached out to Kieran, Council Member Vincent Gentile, and State Senator Marty Golden for comment, but none have replied. We’ll let you know if we hear anything back. The process will continue to at least October 21, when a vote on Fourth Avenue is scheduled for the full board.

  • Eric McClure

    “After many members said they had trouble understanding the proposal….”

    If you can’t understand a (well-thought-out) plan for a road diet, you probably shouldn’t be considered qualified to serve on a Community Board.

  • Joe R.

    Actually, that quote succinctly says why DOT, and DOT only, should decide how to configure streets. Community Board members are not qualified traffic engineers. They are no more qualified reviewing street plans than they would be approving schematics I might draw for a new circuit design (i.e. I’m an electronics engineer). A lot of the things people intuitively think with regard to traffic engineering, such as reducing the number of lanes causes congestion, or installing traffic signals makes things safer, don’t work that way in the real world. That’s why we have engineers in all fields. If engineering solutions to problems were intuitive and obvious, people would need years of schooling to become engineers.

  • DOT engineers are the doctors saying “You have cancer, here’s the cure.” Community boards are the insurance companies denying life-saving coverage.

  • Anonymous

    Would you have said the same thing back when Jane Jacobs was trying to stop Robert Moses and his traffic engineers? Would you back an expressway across lower Manhattan, because the traffic engineers said it was needed?

    The traffic engineers are right about this road diet, but they are not always right.

    There is a difference between traffic engineers and electronics engineers. If we don’t like the products that electronics engineers design, we don’t have to buy them, but we all have to live with the designs of the traffic engineers.

  • Joe R.

    That’s apples and oranges. Broad policy objectives are set by politicians who make policies. Traffic engineers merely implement that policy. Remember back in the early 1960s the broad policy at all levels of government was more car infrastructure. The traffic engineers were merely implementing this policy with the proposed expressway through lower Manhattan. Incidentally, had they proposed an underground highway it probably wouldn’t have been opposed but maybe there would have been cost issues with that. The reason the proposed highway was rightly opposed was because it would have totally decimated the neighborhood, and also caused significant numbers of building to be razed.

    In any case, the larger policy objective now is less car infrastructure, more bike and pedestrian infrastructure, and greater safety for vulnerable users. Traffic engineers are the sole entities who should be implementing this policy. We’ve been letting community boards micromanage things for a long time. It’s one thing to let a community board have a say if the end result of transportation planning is total destruction of parts of the neighborhood. Nothing DOT has planned even remotely falls into this category. Thanks to community board micromanagement, we now have a disjointed, incomplete network of bike infrastructure along with a grossly excessive number of traffic signals and stop signs. The end result of this meddling is something which is worse than what we had before, not better. That’s the problem here when people interfere with broad policy objectives and get to pick and choose the portions they want, as well as add things which are often unnecessary, or counterproductive.

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