Last night, Brooklyn Community Board 10 voted on a slate of pedestrian safety improvements for Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge. While a number of smaller changes, such as wider crosswalks and curb extensions, received the board’s support, the board rejected the centerpiece of the plan — trimming traffic lanes to slow speeding drivers [PDF].
The current high-speed environment on Fourth Avenue contributes to a high rate of injuries and deaths. Two pedestrians have been killed along this stretch of the street this year alone. One driver killed a woman crossing mid-block at 86th Street, and weeks later another motorist fatally struck an elderly woman while turning onto Fourth from 82nd Street.
The road diet called for converting Fourth Avenue from two lanes in each direction to one, with a center turn lane, from Ovington Avenue to 86th Street [PDF]. From 101st Street to 95th Street the changes would have applied only to the northbound side.
In May, CB 10’s transportation committee recommended that the full board support the road diet. This positive vote was undercut in August by newly-elected board chair Brian Kieran, who previously served as transportation committee chair. Even though the road diet was refined over months of public workshops, Kieran urged board members to ignore the committee’s recommendations and instead pick and choose from the proposal.
Last night, the board voted down the road diet: The vote for the section from 101st Street to 95th Street was 7-29, and 4-32 for the section from Ovington Avenue to 86th Street.
“I supported it because something needs to be done, and as long as people keep dying on our streets, I’m willing to try anything,” committee member Andrew Gounardes told Streetsblog. “At the end of the day it’s just paint. If it doesn’t work, we can put it back.”
“This is the main piece of the proposal. All of the other stuff we are doing will not save as many pedestrian lives as this one piece alone, but people are not willing to hear it,” committee member Bob HuDock told Streetsblog, adding that many board members were worried the road diet would create congestion, even though DOT’s studies showed that it would not. “It was a rehash of all the same old tired arguments we’ve been hearing for the past two years,” HuDock said of board members’ objections.
Some board members said they wanted the avenue to keep its current format, even if it endangers residents walking in the neighborhood. “I think Fourth Avenue must remain a thoroughfare, even to the detriment of locality use,” board member Judy Grimaldi said at the meeting, according to a report from Brooklyn Daily.
Following the committee’s lead, the board also voted against DOT’s proposals for a pedestrian island, pedestrian fence, and left turn lane at the busy intersection of Fourth Avenue and 86th Street, though it did support a curb extension on the southwest corner of the intersection.
The board voted to support a wider crosswalk at the intersection of 85th Street, which would remove two parking spaces. The board also supported painted curb extensions at 85th and 82nd Streets, as well as Bay Ridge Parkway, which would remove additional parking spaces.
Even with the community board’s failure to vote for the full safety plan, supporters of the road diet see the glass as half-full. “I’m glad we’ve called a lot of attention to this problem, and we’re getting some results,” Gounardes said. “There’s a lot of recognition from people on the board that yes, something has to be done.”
“It’s a step in the right direction. We’ll make some impact on the pedestrian fatality rate, I hope,” HuDock said. “We’re setting ourselves up for future progress on other proposals.”
The board also voted to support requests for traffic calming measures DOT hadn’t proposed, including a study of curb extensions and pedestrian countdown signals at all intersections of Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge, additional speed limit signage, and a request to study dedicated turn signals at 75th, 86th, and 92nd Streets.
DOT said it will decide how to proceed once it receives a resolution from the board. “We will review any that we do receive, and continue to work with the board to improve street safety for all users of Fourth Avenue,” a spokesperson said in an e-mail.
In Park Slope, after Community Board 6 voted to reverse its own committee and condemn a traffic calming plan for Fourth Avenue, Council Members Brad Lander and Steve Levin asked DOT to implement the road diet anyway. One month later, CB 6 ended up voting for a slightly modified version of the plan. Streetsblog asked Council Member Vincent Gentile and his Republican challenger John Quaglione if they would follow the example and encourage DOT to proceed with the road diet.
Gentile said that “public safety will always be my top priority” but added that DOT should implement the plans as supported by CB 10. “That said, there is much more to be done and I look forward to continuing to work with the Department of Transportation,” Gentile said. Quaglione did not respond.