DOT’s Park Slope Plan Requires Community Board Support

Crain’s reporter Erik Engquist gets some more information about the Department of Transportation’s plans to convert two Park Slope Avenues into one-way streets. DOT’s press office is now saying:

DOT would like to change Sixth and Seventh Avenues to one-way streets to simplify the turning movements at intersections along the Avenues which would enhance safety for pedestrians and motorists. DOT would also make adjustments to the traffic signal progression along Sixth and Seventh Avenues and narrow the travel lanes on Seventh Avenue to keep vehicles from exceeding the speed limit. These plans need community board support and if the community doesn’t support these proposed changes we will not move forward with them.

So, let me see if I understand how booming 21st century Downtown Brooklyn is being planned:

  • Traffic engineers, working by themselves in their infamous exhaust-filled back room, and claiming that they are only interested in improving pedestrian safety, cook up piecemeal transportation plans one neighborhood at a time.
  • DOT then presents the fully-hatched, non-negotiable plan to the Community Board. Suspiciously, it appears to be designed more towards moving cars and trucks through the neighborhood faster rather than pedestrian safety.
  • The Community Board, of course, rejects the plan.
  • DOT then either chooses to ignore the Community Board or goes forward with the plan despite the "NIMBY opposition." 

oopsgh8.jpgIs this really the best way to do urban planning around rapidly growing Downtown Brooklyn?

Of course not. Dozens of DOT’s across the U.S. have rewritten their project delivery process to include high levels of community input and collaboration. This new planning process is often called the "Context-Sensitive Solutions" movement. We’re not talking about some obscure progressive planning movement only known to Portland, Oregon either. Here is how the United States Federal Highway Administration describes it:

Context sensitive solutions (CSS) is a collaborative, interdisciplinary
approach that involves all stakeholders to develop a transportation
facility that fits its physical setting and preserves scenic,
aesthetic, historic and environmental resources, while maintaining
safety and mobility. CSS is an approach that considers the total
context within which a transportation improvement project will exist.

Lo and behold, it turns out that when government approaches transportation planning as a collaboration and when community stakeholders with fine-grained knowledge of their area are involved in the planning of their own neighborhoods, the process runs faster, cheaper and more efficiently and the end-product is generally better.

  • Very good description of what happens. The system right now seems to be geared for maximum central control over final proposals and then either a ‘Yes’ or ‘No’ from the community which can easily be overwritten by the administration.

    And then we have Weinshall at last week’s hearings asking for political cover from the City Council on biking, parking reform and pedestrian improvement. Well, reform should start at home.

  • James

    Link to the Crain’s story?

  • JPF

    “narrow the travel lanes on Seventh Avenue to keep vehicles from exceeding the speed limit”

    What world is the DOT living in, where a narrow lane is enough to enforce a speed limit?

  • srock

    Narrow lanes keep speeds down? The lanes on the BQE and the Williamsburg Bridge are some of the narrowest I have ever seen, yet drivers consistently travel at twice the speed limit on these roads.

  • Steve

    JPF is right, the spin that DOT is now trying to put on the plan as it turns tail and runs is both striking and amusing. I generally am skeptical of the influence of internet chat but it certainly appears that in this case the leak of this plan to Sblog was a major factor in turning the tide (though we’re far from out of the woods). Many thanks to the sources of that leak–it should be apparent now that you did the right thing–and to Aaron for getting the information out.

  • Charlie D.

    Narrowing travel lanes does nothing to decrease vehicle speeds. We have a number of parkways in the Boston area that have 10 ft lanes and 30 mph speed limits, yet motorists frequently drive 45 mph and up on them. Narrowing lanes does have one noticeable effect, however: discouraging bicycle use on that roadway. If the goal is to decrease vehicular speeds, bicyclists should be accommodated, not discouraged.

  • Clarence

    Here’s a beautiful – if long – StreetFilm showing a group of community volunteers deciding to help plan out what in their neighborhood could be better. In this case, pedestrian access to Grand Army Plaza.

    This energy exists all around Park Slope and as the video shows, residents would be more than happy to help plan a better traffic flow and work with a group of engineers who really don’t know much about the “real” state of how the neighborhood works.

    Check it out, the kind of valuable (and FREE!) input DOT is ignoring on a daily basis.

  • epkwy

    “CB approval” – the common misconception is that community boards COULD stop this sort of thing if they want. The city charter only gives them advisory powers: CBs can register their opinion of city plans, of liquor license applications, of zoning variances, etc. And any wise agency would weigh that opinion heavily. But that opinion does not have the force of law.

    If the charter were revised (everyone’s favorite topic!) to give the community boards some veto power, or to mandate that they be materially involved earlier (in the analysis phase?) of proposed alterations like this, I think you would see a lot more grass-roots community based design around this city.

    And I don’t think the wheels of the bureaucracy would grind to a halt: don’t tell me that a process where traffic engineers and CB members work side-by-side to analyze problems and design solutions is slower or less efficient than presenting a scheme like this and then reworking it in the face of public pressure. I don’t think the city would lose sight of the broader view, and get stuck in neighborhood minutiae, either.

  • JF

    Epkwy, as it stands now, community boards are not elected. They’re appointed by the borough president, usually in response to nominations by politicians and community groups.

    I’d want to see them grounded in a more democratic process (however that happens) before they get any more control. Otherwise I’d rather that the advice and control be vested in elected officials like the city council representative.

  • JK

    CBs are appointed by BPs upon the recommendation of the local councilmember. The district managers are members of the BP staff and are hired/fired by the BP.

    The relationship between CBs and civic groups is complicated and challenging. They do not always agree — especially when it comes to livable streets issues. In the Slope and brownstone Bklyn, the civics have pushed much more aggressively than the CBs for traffic calming and traffic reduction.

    Context Sensitive Solutions is great. However, I would like to see a process that works well in places like the Slope with high population density. The Slope is 30k people/mile versus your average mid-size US city with densities of 3 to 5K. The complexity of finding consensus with these higher densities is much higher than in places dominated by single family, owner, homes.

    There are 59 community boards and 8.2million NYC residents. That’s an avg of 140k people per CB. That mean’s every NYC CB is “bigger” than Ft Collins Colorado (pop 128k)— which is one of the 200 biggest cities in the US.

    To do CSS citywide, NYC DOT needs at least two planner/outreach people per CB. (59×2=118)They probably currently have about 20 people in local outreach.

    Given the scarcity of their outreach resource, it would not be “more efficient” to do intense CSS style consensus building for things like this Slope traffic plan. Most efficient from DOT’s perspective is to pitch something and see what the community reaction is. If Park Slope hates it, so what? DOT can move along to a less contentious neighborhood. It probably didnt take DOT engineers too long to come up with this plan.

    It’s a “takes money, to make money” problem. The level of community involvement and consensus building called for on this blog simply does not jibe with the reality that the mayor and council have not been interested in investing in the significant planning infrastructure needed to create community level consensus. Way too much time is spent here busting on DOT, when it’s the political masters that need to be pressed for action.

  • Boon Doggle

    JK injecting some reality into the echo chamber as usual. The electeds are ultimately the accountable ones, not the mayoral agencies and their commissioners & staff.

  • Jeff Kahn


    I got hit by a BLACK SEDAN WITH TINTED WINDOWS on sixth ave and Berkeley three nights ago. It was doing 60 and swerved right at me. I was only a step off the curb. Miraculously I only broke my foot. A friend informs me that a car of the same description swerved at her and her little girl on seventh ave a week ago. Watch out for this car.

    Jeff Kahn

  • rob

    prospect park bike lane already a disaster!….cars still sppeding only now it takes someone parking in the middle lane vs park curb much longer to park…drivers get angry and then drive crazy…more honking…more bikes on sidewalks not in bike lane…with ups and fed ex and other deliveries now really only one lane on ppw….also bikes still going in all directions and 95% of them do not follow traffic rules….bike lanes are almost everywhere now but most of the bikes are not in those lanes….DOT needs to re-think this stupid move…..


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