Bed Stuy CB Chair: Street Safety “Not an Issue in Our Community”

Earlier this month, Brooklyn Community Board 3 voted against a 20 mph Slow Zone in Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant. In a recent interview, CB 3 Chair Tremaine Wright told Streetsblog that the board voted against it in part because dangerous driving is not an issue in the neighborhood, and Slow Zone supporters did not demonstrate that the plan would address a real problem.

Brooklyn CB 3 Chair Tremaine Wright. Photo: Amsterdam News
Brooklyn CB 3 Chair Tremaine Wright. Photo: Amsterdam News

The 0.2-square mile area proposed for a Slow Zone averages 62.4 traffic injuries annually, according to DOT, with six severe injuries or fatalities per road mile [PDF]. A quick look at NYC Crashmapper shows dozens of pedestrians and cyclists injured in the area over the past couple of years.

I asked Wright if reckless driving is a problem in the neighborhood. “Not on the blocks in this proposed area,” she said. “And that’s why it’s key that they must be able to articulate the rationale for doing it.”

I followed up with a question about other parts of the neighborhood, including Atlantic Avenue, which runs along the southern border of the CB 3 district. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign ranks Atlantic as the third most-dangerous road in Brooklyn for pedestrians, and Brooklyn voters polled by Transportation Alternatives overwhelmingly identified it as the worst street for pedestrians in the borough. In 2012, at least two pedestrians were killed on Atlantic Avenue in Bed Stuy, including Maria Tripp, who was run over while crossing at Ralph Avenue, and William Boney, 49, struck while crossing at Troy Avenue.

“I don’t think we’ve had a lot of accidents along Atlantic,” Wright said. “There’s a place for pedestrians to stop and pause midway. We don’t get a lot of reports of dangerous activity there.”

“If we’re having fatalities related to traffic incidents, that would be reported to us by our police department, probably. We’re not getting a lot of that,” Wright said. (Last year, the 79th and 81st precincts, which cover the same area as CB 3, issued only 36 and 40 citations, respectively, for failure to yield to pedestrians.)

Wright said many streets in Bed Stuy have already received speed humps or other traffic calming measures, which she claimed diminishes the case for the Slow Zone. “Why is this the area that needs traffic calming, considering all of the traffic calming that has already occurred?” Wright asked. “It sounds like it’s just being dropped in.”

Wright’s comments came after she participated in a panel last Friday on the role community boards play in city planning. During the forum, Wright said that bike lanes, road diets, and plazas “are happening to us” and that community boards need a bigger role in the planning process.

Some community boards have actively worked with city agencies to develop blueprints for bike lanes and pedestrian upgrades. I asked Wright if CB 3 is looking to plan in advance for these types of traffic safety improvements. “We could do proactive stuff, but community boards are volunteer. We’re not going to be able to come up with a plan for everything. We pick and choose,” she said, adding that CB 3 members and meeting attendees are most interested in land use and zoning, not street safety. “That is not an issue in our community, by and large,” Wright said.

“In other places, I guess Transportation Alternatives comes and makes big showings and joins committees,” she said. “They don’t in Community Board 3.”

Wright, who owns Common Grounds coffee shop and unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2009, was not supportive of plazas, saying they “would get a lot of pushback” in Bed Stuy. “I don’t think anybody wants to see their small avenues get cut up any more to have a sitting area. We’ve got playgrounds and parks.” She insisted that Marcy Plaza, the reclaimed public space that opened in the neighborhood last summer to big fanfare, was a sidewalk extension, not a plaza.

Although Wright is car-free, she said safe streets advocates, including those supporting the Slow Zone, are too negative. “People are very much concerned, regarding transportation, with this very anti-car language and movement,” she said. “It’s very anti-car, versus pro-safety.”

DOT’s website describes Slow Zones as “a community-based program that reduces the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph and adds safety measures… Slow Zones also seek to enhance quality of life by reducing cut-through traffic and traffic noise in residential neighborhoods.”

The Brooklyn Waldorf School Parent Council requested the Bed Stuy Slow Zone from DOT. Originally, the parents group was looking for traffic calming in an area bounded by Fulton, Washington, Gates and Classon Avenues, but the area was later extended north to Lafayette Avenue and east to Bedford Avenue, to make it approximately the same size as other Slow Zone projects.

Wright said this enlarged proposal came as a surprise to the community board and some of the groups that had signed letters of support. “They said, ‘That’s not what we approved,’ and they retracted their letter of support,” Wright said, referring the Classon-FulGate Block Association. She said the DOT staffer at this month’s meeting did not have answers to questions community board members were asking.

“It’s not enough to say, ‘We’re going to slow it down,'” Wright said. “We’re asking the people who are promoting or proposing this thing — whatever this thing is — to articulate to us, what need are you addressing, and how is it going to impact the community as a whole?”

The Slow Zone area is split in half by Classon Avenue, the dividing line between Community Board 2, which voted to support the project, and CB 3, which voted against it earlier this month.

The process with CB 3 isn’t over. “DOT continues to work with Community Board 3 on this Slow Zone proposal,” an agency spokesperson said, “And plans to return at a meeting in the coming months.”

“DOT can come back as many times as they like,” Wright said.

  • Eric McClure

    Tremaine Wright is incontrovertible proof that community boards DO NOT need a bigger role in the planning process.

  • Mark Walker

    Ms. Wright deserves credit for her civility and willingness to engage with Streetsblog, but her perception of the livable streets movement seems to suffer from Stockholm Syndrome, in which hostages bond with their captors. What would it take to make this car-free CB chair and person of goodwill listen harder?

  • R

    Even if Wright has her facts correct about the injury stats for the proposed Slow Zone area – and that’s a BIG if – what’s her logic? That they’re low now but we should wait until they start getting higher before taking any action?

    And honestly, what on earth is there to object to in a Slow Zone? There’s virtually no loss of parking and all that changes about the streets is that you get a few extra speed bumps, some new striping, and a few blue signs.

    This is about power and control, nothing more.

  • Danny G

    Take a look at the Streetsblog story right before this one:
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2014/02/27/heat-maps-show-nycs-deadliest-neighborhoods-for-traffic-fatalities/

    If the chair of Brooklyn CB3 is uninterested, perhaps the city’s efforts can be quickly redirected to other neighborhoods in Brooklyn where there’s a more urgent demand for safety improvements – the red spots in the map in the linked article – namely Canarsie near Linden Blvd/Kings Highway/Remsen Ave, and Southside Williamsburg near the BQE trench.

  • Jeff

    “In other places, I guess Transportation Alternatives comes and makes big showings and joins committees. They don’t in Community Board 3.”

    So, anyone up for making a big showing and joining committees at CB3?

  • krstrois

    This neighborhood definitely needs outreach. I live on the line between the CBs and it’s night and day between them, and not for simplistic reasons. Thoughtful outreach would help.

  • krstrois

    And I would be happy to work on this, so anyone who is interested pls hit me up @krstrois:disqus

  • Hilda

    I went to, and spoke at, a Public Safety meeting last night that was attended by CB3 committee members that heard this DOT Slow Zone presentation. I was told that they are not against safer streets, but they were completely puzzled about the reasons for the slow zone, and that DOT did not have answers to their questions. One of the committee members stated that he is tired of having things change with little to no back-up to educate (or enforce) those that are using it; “just putting up the signs is not going to change behavior, and we need to change behavior.” These community leaders are doing what they feel is their due diligence, and if the answers they seek are not forthcoming, but just expected to be understood, than VIsion Zero is going to hit a lot of brick walls.

    In bringing Vision Zero to NYC, I think there is a lot to learn from this, which seems to be more of a problem of miscommunication than outright dismissal. Most people know of Vision Zero as “that DeBlasio thing”.

    It means to me that we all have to do our homework, including and especially the gov. agencies that will be presenting these issues to the public and district and community leaders. Perhaps the chair’s insistence on Marcy Plaza being a sidewalk extension is because that is how it was sold, in terms that was understandable, and perhaps more acceptable, to this particular board. Play to your audience. Kudos to the original NYC Plaza Team for getting this right.

    Being pedantic or hostile or showing exasperation at these questions is not going to win any battles. And until the CB process changes in NYC, or until (hopefully) Vision Zero changes it, everybody has to play to their audience. Again, and again.

  • krstrois

    Thanks for this, Hilda. I think what you say here is very important.

    I heard from many people (on the advocacy side of things) who attended that the person DOT sent to the original CB 3 meeting was not prepared to answer questions nor to provide a broader context for changes. These are the very basics — at a CB does deserve these basics, I think.

  • sammy davis jr jr

    As long as it’s not her child getting run over by a car it’s not an issue. Classic community leadershit!

  • krstrois

    Street safety is certainly something that is discussed on the actual streets of the community — neighbors warn each other not to stand near the curb because traffic is so insane on Franklin. So, I would say that absence of safety is so endemic and enforcement so lax and the powers-that-be so indifferent that people in the community (myself included) would need to be encouraged to expect someone to care about our safety before anything productive could happen.

    Also, what the CB chair says here:

    “It’s not enough to say, ‘We’re going to slow it down,’” Wright said. ”We’re asking the people who are promoting or proposing this thing — whatever this thing is — to articulate to us, what need are you addressing, and how is it going to impact the community as a whole?”

    Is hardly unreasonable.

  • Rabi Abonour

    I can attest to the position that the DOT rep wasn’t prepared for the questions he got at the CB3 meeting, but the board wasn’t exactly making it easy. Wright’s statement “I don’t think we’ve had a lot of accidents along Atlantic,” is, unfortunately, seemingly representative of the general attitude of CB3 – anecdotes and gut feelings take precedence over fact.

  • Rabi Abonour

    Members of CB3 were concerned about traffic, specifically that reduced speeds on the interior streets would send more cars onto the arterials.

    I’m not saying I think they’re right, but I do think they have serious complaints. To say it’s a power issue is to right off the CB; I think it’s more accurate to say that these are people who have their community’s best interests at heart, but don’t understand the realities of street safety. Unfortunately, at this particular meeting DOT didn’t do enough to sell the importance of Slow Zones.

  • Goyo P

    The impact on the community will be less kids and elderly in hospitals. This type of program has a proven track record in London and other cities for reducing traffic related injuries.

    Sure, this program is experimental for NYC so I understand wanting to take a step back to further evaluate the program. But the CB chair just seems out of touch by focusing solely on loss of life within the proposed zone.

    Perhaps the CBs should be informed each and every time there is an incident. That way they will be informed of all the broken legs, hips, and spines that do not result in death but in some cases far more pain and suffering for the individual and their families.

  • CB3 sucks

    It looks like the process with CB3 is over. The zone has been reduced to include the area in CB2 west of Classon. I guess the CB3 stonewalling was a success. So much for democracy!

  • BrooklynCyclist

    Lauren Davis just got killed on Classon because safe streets ARE an issue in our community. Tremaine Wright blocks safe street initiatives every chance she gets. Blood on your hands! She is running for Assembly now – hopefully not on this same platform of not being proactive and not caring about safety.

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