De Blasio’s Office Ducks Responsibility for Erasing Eastern Pkwy Ped Islands

Pedestrian islands on Eastern Parkway barely lasted nine months before DOT ripped them up, and no one in the de Blasio administration will say why. Photo: David Meyer
Pedestrian islands on Eastern Parkway barely lasted nine months before DOT ripped them up, and no one in the de Blasio administration will say why. Photo: David Meyer

DOT removed pedestrian islands on Eastern Parkway in Crown Heights yesterday, undoing years of street safety advocacy work on the part of local residents and community board members with no public process, and no one in the de Blasio administration is taking responsibility.

Earlier this week, the Post reported that organizers of the West Indian Day Parade requested that concrete medians at Kingston and Brooklyn avenues be destroyed so floats and trucks “can navigate the roadway” for the event, which is held once a year. It’s not clear how the islands, which were installed in 2015, would impact the parade, since identical street treatments have been in place for years elsewhere along the route.

We asked City Hall if the order to remove the islands originated with the mayor’s office. “This was an NYPD directive, not City Hall’s,” de Blasio spokesperson Austin Finan told us via email.

NYPD referred us to DOT. When we called DOT for comment, the person who answered the phone said all agency press reps were away from their desks. DOT got back to us, but only to ask which NYPD staffer referred us to DOT.

Brooklyn Community Board 8, which endorsed the project that included the islands, was not notified that they would be removed, according to Rob Witherwax, a longtime street safety advocate who serves on the board’s transportation committee. Witherwax said he learned about the changes on Streetsblog.

DOT rarely undertakes street safety projects without the approval of the local community board, but the agency does not always consult boards before removing bike and pedestrian infrastructure.

“If you bring a proposal before a board, put us through months of meetings and contentious votes, and end up implementing it, shouldn’t you extend the same courtesy to un-implement it?” said Witherwax — who emphasized that he was speaking for himself, not CB 8 — in an email. “If DOT stood by their projects, NYPD would have figured out how to move the marchers and floats safely.”

The safety treatments at Brooklyn Avenue and Kingston Avenue were installed last December as part of a decade-old Safe Routes to Schools plan for Arista Prep Academy and Nursery School and the Oholei Torah yeshiva [PDF].

Eastern Parkway between Grand Army Plaza and Ralph Avenue is a Vision Zero priority corridor with five priority intersections, including Kingston Avenue, where seven severe injuries occurred from 2009 to 2013. Four pedestrians were killed on that segment of the street during that time frame.

It’s unclear whether the de Blasio administration plans to abandon future traffic-calming measures on Eastern Parkway.

Update: We received the following statement from DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel:

Due to safety concerns involving parade participants and large vehicles during the upcoming annual West Indian Day Parade, DOT (in coordination with NYPD) has removed two islands along Eastern Parkway. We are looking at potential replacement treatments in the area and for the long term.

With reporting by Brad Aaron

  • rogue

    What am I, the freaking MAYOR??!
    – Bill de Blasio

  • Joe R.

    After all the fuss people raised I didn’t seriously think they would actually go through with removing them. So much for Vision Zero.

  • Nathan Rosenquist

    I do believe that the Mayor had nothing to do with this. But the DOT and NYPD are under his office’s authority, and since the response to this situation has universally been outrage he needs to exercise his power to undo this miscarriage of justice – As he demonstrated he was capable of a few months back with the Queen Boulevard bike lane project. To not do so is to basically paint himself as part of whatever conspiracy is going on here.

  • gneiss

    As in most communities, NY DOT gives significant deference to the opinions from public safety agencies such as NYPD and NYFD. However, that is all they are – opinions. I would venture to guess that NYPD has no data to back up their contention that these islands are, in fact, dangerous. Meanwhile, NYDOT has plenty of data showing that the previous configuration was dangerous and that roadway treatments such as pedestrian islands dramatically reduce the injury and death rate among pedestrians.

    This gets back to first principles of Vision Zero – engineers previously focused on crashes that cause property damage to vehicles rather than death and injury to people. Instead they blamed people walking across streets for their injuries rather than addressing the problem. If the mayor is serious about his Vision Zero initiative, then he needs to refocus NY DOT and NYPD onto that mandate.

  • Moe

    You guys (commenters) are born yesterday if you think this didn’t come from City Hall, passing on a request from a friend in the neighborhood. Look at the 3-way scramble the Streetsblog inquiry set off. Look at the absence of an actual reason why the island were a problem warranting removal (what are the “concerns” in the updated DOT statement?). DOT didn’t think of the concerns in planning these to begin with?

  • J

    THIS!
    Everything done by his administration is ultimately his fault, and if he doesn’t like the publicity, he is in a unique position to change things.

  • ItsEasyBeingGreen

    The update is a repeat of the statement made about this two days ago, and its no more true now than it was then. This same island configuration exists elsewhere on the route and is not being removed.

  • AMH

    It’s incredible, we’ve moved from inaction (Zero Vision) to actively removing hard-won improvements (Negative Vision?).

  • Joe R.

    I’d call it Less Than Zero Vision (paying homage to the movie with the same name: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Less_Than_Zero_(film) )

  • Larry Littlefield

    Government decisions are often bad. Debates about government decisions are often ill informed.

    But government decisions are great, on average, compared with government non-decisions, and deals.

    It appears that a deal was made. The non-decision is to keep it in place.

    Decisions, if they are bad, can be reversed by future decisions. Deals and non-decisions go on forever.

    This is about a couple of pedestrian islands. The real problem is this is the way government has worked in this country, particularly at the NY state level, for decades.

  • dave “paco” abraham

    I wonder why no one has pointed out the few minor crashes that occurred there since the pedestrian islands went in.
    http://crownheights.info/accidents/518512/hatzalah-car-wrecked-by-new-eastern-parkway-island/
    It seems they were just the result of inattentive drivers, but considering one was a Hatzalah car… and the ultra orthodox community holds an odd amount of local power… is it crazy to think some part of that community, like the Shomrim, were actually some part of the pressure for City Hall to make a deal?

  • Shemp

    Seemed like it was mainly orthodox folks complaining about the islands being *removed* in the original Post piece

  • dave “paco” abraham

    Also good point. In total… this move makes no sense. Safety is on the line as it DOT’s reputation, both of which I think are greatly weakened by this cowardly move.

  • com63

    Interesting in that link there are several references to other islands being put in and then removed in the comments. I wonder if this has been happening all over the place. Maybe the parade is cover for the real reason it was removed.

  • datbeezy

    DOT has no power to ‘stand by their projects’. They have a weak commissioner and even when they didn’t [well, at least in the JSK years] never had the power to override a PD decision.

  • A good similar study would be Colorado Ave in Pasadena, CA, which including street parking is 7 lanes wide through the heart of downtown Pasadena, as well as right past two major urban universities, and also hosts the once-annual Rose Parade. Colorado does not have pedestrian islands between its intersection with Orange Grove and its intersection with Sierra Madre as a result, a distance of about 5 miles.

  • Frank Kotter

    Someone should tell the Burgermeister of Cologne that they are putting millions of people in harm’s way each Karnival due to their dangerously narrow passageways and traffic calming pedestrian islands (they are there, under all the floats and tens of thousands of inebriated revelers.

    Now Mr. Mayor, please tell us what is really going on…..

  • ohnonononono

    “This was an NYPD directive, not City Hall’s,”

    WTF? Does the Mayor of the City of New York no longer have authority over the NYPD? Do we now live in a military dictatorship where the police rule the city and elected officials cower in fear? This is shameful.

  • ohnonononono

    It’s the Mayor’s responsibility to make decisions where different agencies may disagree.

  • Frank Kotter
  • AMH

    Pennsylvania Avenue NW in Washington DC has flush islands with removable signal posts and pipe bollards. Maybe something similar could be done here. The key is to have an obstacle in the intersection protecting the midpoint of the crosswalk.

    https://goo.gl/maps/wRNVfeXLH632

  • Kevin Love

    Never thought I would look back to the good old days when the response to a dangerous safety hazard was to spring into inaction.

  • Captplanet

    Interesting to recall that it was Mayor Dinkin’s failure to handle riots in Crown Heights 25 years ago that led to his failure to win re-election. Will Crown Heights do it again? Could be!!

  • Bernard Finucane

    Protest the parade.

  • Miles Bader

    How about instead telling the parade organizers to suck it up and make their floats fit the street…?

    Making the street fit the floats is lunacy…

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