DOT Reveals a Flatbush Ave Pedestrian Safety Plan By Atlantic and Fourth

DOT's proposal would remove double-right turns off Atlantic Avenue. Image: DOT
DOT’s plan calls for pedestrian islands, curb extensions, and fewer turn lanes off Atlantic Avenue. Image: DOT

Last night DOT presented its initial concept for pedestrian safety improvements near the convergence of Flatbush, Atlantic, and Fourth avenues in Brooklyn [PDF].

The intersection is located at the center of Brooklyn’s largest transit hub, where the Long Island Railroad meets eight subway lines and four MTA bus routes. The Brooklyn Academy of Music and the Barclays Center are short walks away. It’s also overrun by motor vehicles, with three wide, two-way arterial roads — all truck routes — making for one the city’s most hellacious walking environments.

Pedestrians must contend with long, angled crossings and lots of turning drivers. Since 2008, four pedestrians and one cyclist have been killed in the project area, which extends along Flatbush from Lafayette Avenue to Atlantic. Between 2010 and 2014, 57 pedestrians and 21 cyclists were injured, and 51 percent of the pedestrian injuries happened while the victim was crossing with the signal, according to DOT.

At a meeting in January about public space improvements to Times Plaza, the triangle between the three big roads, attendees told DOT and Barclays Center developer Forest City Ratner that safer pedestrian conditions had to be the first priority, or else no one would use the space.

Pedestrians crossing the Flatbush-Atlantic intersection must contend with some of Brooklyn's heaviest motor vehicle traffic. Photo: Google Maps
Pedestrians crossing the Flatbush-Atlantic intersection must contend with long, angled crosswalks and heavy motor vehicle traffic. Photo: Google Maps

Last night, DOT showed plans for five median pedestrian islands and several curb extensions to shorten crossing distances around Flatbush and Atlantic. The agency also proposes reducing the number of right turn lanes off Atlantic onto Flatbush from two to one. That would reduce risk for pedestrians crossing Flatbush, who would also get a head start with a leading pedestrian interval.

At the other end of the project area, the two short blocks where Schermerhorn Street and Third Avenue abut Flatbush would be converted to pedestrian plazas. The Third Avenue block is already car-free and the site of a Citi Bike station. Converting it to a car-free plaza cast in concrete was endorsed by Brooklyn Community Board 2’s transportation committee last month.

The plan also calls for a new signalized crossing on Flatbush by State Street and a crosswalk on the southern leg of the intersection with Pacific Street.

At the intersection of Hanson Place and Ashland Place, outside the entrance to the Long Island Railroad, DOT is considering a raised crosswalk to give pedestrians more priority and slow motorists. The agency has not determined what materials the crosswalk would be made from.

DOT is proposing to expand pedestrian space and simplify vehicular movements around Flatbush Avenue between Atlantic and Lafayette. Image: DOT
DOT is proposing to expand pedestrian space and simplify vehicular movements around Flatbush Avenue between Atlantic and Lafayette. Image: DOT

After DOT’s presentation, attendees said they’d also like to see a pedestrian-only crossing phase at the intersection of Fourth and Flatbush and more direct, shorter crossings, as opposed to the long, oblique crossings common throughout the project area.

Bahij Chancey, a leader of Transportation Alternatives’ volunteer campaign for a safer Atlantic Avenue and Times Plaza, said he was “very happy” to see DOT working to address safety concerns. “I think it’s really exciting, I think they’re definitely in the right direction,” he said. “If anything, I would like to see them to go further in certain places… and keep extending pedestrian space.”

When Chancey expressed concern that the plan does not do enough to improve the local bike network, DOT’s Rich Carmona said the plan reserves enough space on the block of Fourth Avenue alongside Times Plaza for a bike connection to Ashland Place to be installed in the future.

At the Schermerhorn/Lafayette intersection, however, the proposed design appears to make a contraflow bike connection from Ashland to Third Avenue less feasible going forward, unless DOT becomes comfortable narrowing eastbound car traffic to one lane.

DOT does not have a timeline for implementation. Some aspects of the plan may have to go through the Department of Design and Construction, which is notoriously slow, and require funding outside of DOT’s budget. DOT’s Sean Quinn said the simpler, lower-cost components of the plan would likely be presented to CB 2 for implementation in 2017.

  • ” plan reserves enough space on the block of Fourth Avenue alongside Times
    Plaza for a bike connection to Ashland Place to be installed in the
    future.”

    Yeah those 20 feet of paint really break the budget

  • Caveat: I don’t live in NYC, I’ve only visited, and I don’t know the particular roads or intersections here, this is just from the designs and streetview.

    I really like the changes proposed at Lafayette and Flatbush, closing the slip lanes gives quite a bit more space back to the public, and the other safety improvements look to be quite good. I also like State St. but that’s pretty minor it seems.

    However, Flatbush and Atlantic, how about something more ambitious, how about adding a wiggle.

    https://drive.google.com/open?id=11AmZsDX11q6gxvxCQ057kSwpVrM&usp=sharing

    I mocked up a design which closes Flatbush between Atlantic and Fourth and redirects all lanes onto Atlantic, then up Fourth, and back onto Flatbush.

    I imagine this would be pretty controversial as you’re adding a wiggle to a major through street, but this will only slow traffic, I wouldn’t think it would create any reduction in throughput. I think there is enough space on Fourth, taking away part of the plaza to just fit the six lanes, and taking away the plaza would be more than compensated for by adding back the space on the other side. And turning Flatbush northward at the intersection with Atlantic would help reduce crossing distances, and speeds. Altogether should be a big improvement in safety and public space.

    I’m not a traffic engineer, but my guess is that you would be able to handle the same flow of traffic, with only one (or maybe two) more queue lanes. But I really have no idea what the actual traffic volumes are here.

    Now, I don’t expect anything like this would actually get implemented, but I would argue it’s a good design which would improve safety, and slow traffic, without being overly onerous on throughput.

    What do you guys think?

  • dave “paco” abraham

    Flatbush is a truck route and bus route. Redirecting traffic in the way you suggest for such large vehicles and such heavy vehicle volume seems like a guaranteed nightmare.

  • kevd

    it will also be getting B41 SBS (eventually).
    As horrible as this intersection is. I think the DOT is approaching it well. Though I’ll miss using the slip lane on Schermerhorn to get onto Flatbush when Biking.

  • Care to define “nightmare”? The turns I propose aren’t tight, they’re wide, large vehicles shouldn’t have a problem navigating them, although you might require slightly wider lanes than you would have.

  • Presumably if it’s a plaza could you not still do this? Or is there no biking in those types of plazas?

  • kevd

    forcing all the lanes of backed up Atlantic Ave traffic AND Flatbush Ave traffic onto the same lanes south of Times Plaza.
    That’ll be a nightmare.
    its a nightmare already. You plan would actually make it worse.

  • kevd

    there is no *legal* biking in those types of plazas. But if there is not curb, I’ll see if it can be done!

  • I’m not familiar with the traffic flow, if traffic is already backed up, past the existing intersections, then maybe it would be worse, but so long as traffic is flowing, and the queue isn’t longer than the distance between fourth and flatbush, then there shouldn’t be any bigger of a backup. Remember, you’re actually removing one entire intersection.

    Additionally, the problem is intersections, you can add more lanes to Atlantic between those two intersections where it is carrying additional traffic.

  • This seems pretty half-assed. Both Flatbush and Atlantic need to get down to two lanes each. They should close off one of the streets in the triangle like they did with Times Square.

  • Joe R.

    If the primary goal is to slow traffic at the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush then I think a traffic circle is a more logical answer. There’s plenty of room for one inside that huge intersection. It would also eliminate any backups or delays associated with traffic signals.

  • Geck

    Good to see there is at least something in early planning stages for a bicycle connection there. I also like the raised crosswalk on Ashland and reducing West-bound Atlantic to two lanes at the Flatbush intersection rather than after 4th Ave.

  • You definitely could replace the whole three intersections with a giant traffic circle, but that would take up a lot of space. It would definitely improve traffic flow and slow traffic though.

    Bike/pedestrian overpasses would probably be necessary though, you’re right. Our region has roundabouts mixed with pedestrians but it only really works okay at one lane, maybe two lane roundabouts, definitely not the monster that would be here.

  • Vooch

    this appears to be phase 1 of a (unpublished) 3 phase plan.

  • kevd

    “you can add more lanes to Atlantic between those two intersections where it is carrying additional traffic.”
    By taking sidewalk or buildings?
    Sounds like a horrible plan.

    “So long as traffic is flowing” – You really AREN’T familiar with the area, are you? It might be “flowing” for 10 hours a day. Perhaps we should keep the ambitious redesigns to people who have actually seen the intersections in question.

  • Adam N

    Is there a reason that the zebra stripes are parallel to vehicle traffic rather than perpendicular to pedestrian traffic? If the streets are at 90° it’s the same difference, but at these angles it would really help the users not have to think as much … which is the whole point of good design.

  • I don’t know why you’re shitting all over me here. I said I wasn’t familiar with the intersection, I said I’d never been there, I simply suggest this design based on what I can see on satellite view, so no need to be a jackass here.

    And yes, you’d have to take some sidewalk, in return you’re slowing traffic and creating a giant new plaza, sounds like a good compromise. You’re the one worried about traffic flow anyway.

    But as I said first, no need to be a jackass.

  • kevd

    You have no understanding of this area, this intersection or these streets.
    Offering redesign suggestions with zero local knowledge is like me offering redesign suggestions for booster rockets (something I know nothing about).
    Both are pointless and a waste of everyone’s time. Sorry if that comes off as being a jackass.

  • Jonathan R

    I am not a traffic engineer, but I have been to the site several times over the last 40 years.

    The problem with inserting a traffic circle is that Flatbush and Atlantic cross to the east of where the traffic circle would go. There is no room for the existing traffic lanes on Atlantic and on Flatbush to enter the circle separately.

    The time to have built a giant traffic circle there was the mid 90s, when the two stores on the north side of Pacific were built. At that time, I recall, it was quite exciting to have big-box stores like those right in downtown Brooklyn.

    But my chief objection to a big traffic circle is that it would create dead space that would have to be crossed to get from one side to the other. At least we can hope for more engaging frontage at some future point in time where the big-box stores are, as well as a more active plaza at the western tip of the arena block.

  • new yorker

    There’s rumors of a new high rise development going up where PC Richard and Modells are today. That could open up room to build the circle by pushing the development back further and shrinking or eliminating Pacific behind it.

  • Boeings+Bikes

    If I recall from the presentation, there was a diagram in the slideshow of a bikeway where today’s slip lane is. Not that I’d encourage cyclists to ride on Flatbush if it can at all be avoided.

  • kevd

    yeah, I do it. it goes straight from where I am to where I’m going sometimes.

  • neroden

    Knock out the big box stores? They seem like exceptionally wasteful uses of space in downtown Brooklyn.

  • neroden

    If the new high-rise could be integrated with a redesign of the intersection, it would be great. Trade the PC Richard/Modells site for the middle of a roundabout…

  • badpowers

    Dan:

    Many people, particularly educated white men, need to learn when to withhold comment because we have little to contribute. If you don’t live here and don’t know the context, history, or usage… there’s very little chance of your ideas working out. I appreciate you recognizing it, but I’m not sure why you’re engaging more.

  • badpowers

    Probably less about budget and more about DOT’s typical deference to the community boards on installation of bike lanes.

  • What does my race or gender or level of education have to do with anything? I am not monopolizing a discussion, or interrupting anyone, or trying to dismiss anyone else’s idea’s (unlike what is being done here, maybe it is not me who should learn when not to comment). I simply took a look, had an idea, and asked for feedback. I’m not suggesting my idea’s would “work out” I’m not so naive to think that this would change anyone’s minds here, let alone at DOT, but I didn’t think a respectful discussion on traffic planning and urban road design was out of the question here. Apparently I was wrong. I guess this isn’t the place to discuss such things.

  • “Waste of everyone’s time”…no, your comments and reply have been the waste of time here. Your dismissiveness and failure to communicate your issues with my idea in a respectful and constructive way are the problem. I’m not trying to change the world, I’m trying to learn, and as a result I’m being treated poorly. Clearly this isn’t the place to come discuss urban and transportation design.

  • Jonathan R

    Dr. Brotherston has an advantage on us residents. I live in my community and realize that it’s the members of the community who are going to effect positive change in any context. Therefore I am often obliged to go along with community members in order to solicit their eventual support for some kind of improvement, whether in bicycling or education or noise reduction.

    Dr B on the other hand can just propose the best answers and leave it to us residents to try and implement them. Since he doesn’t live here he is not responsible for the compromises necessary for any kind of implementation.

  • kevd

    You’re right.
    I was being a dick.
    Apologies.

    The problem I see with your design is you’re funneling 6 lanes of traffic from both Atlantic and Flatbush onto a single 6 lane section, creating a massive choke point for two already extremely congested arterials. To some degree traffic will disappear as people choose to not take trips. But a 50% reduction in lane capacity at a single point seems likely to simply turn FB into a parking lot for even more of the day, and riding down a traffic choked Flatbush is already a nightmare.
    I’d be in favor of reducing lanes on both Atlantic and Flatbush – though some combination of bus lanes and bike lanes, so that those trips are eased while reducing motorized traffic over all. Then we open up the possible solutions at this intersection because volumes have been reduced.

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