Flatbush and Atlantic: Hellacious, Deadly, Likely to Get Worse

Yesterday Develop Don’t Destroy Brooklyn posted this photo of Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, as seen at 8:45 a.m.

"With Atlantic Yards’s 17,000 new residents, and
an 18,000 seat arena in use approximately 220 days per year, this
gridlock would be the good ol’ days," DDDB said.

Without major changes it won’t get better for pedestrians or cyclists either. On Tuesday a woman was killed one block away, at Atlantic and Fort Greene Place.

From the Daily News:

A Brooklyn woman was mowed down and killed by a van while crossing the street Tuesday, police said.

A van struck Beverly Cattouse, 57, as she crossed Atlantic Ave. in Boerum Hill about 4 p.m. She died at Brooklyn Hospital Center. The driver of the van remained at the scene and was not charged with a crime.

The police account of Ms. Cattouse’s death is on the Brooklynian forum, where one commenter describes the area as "hellacious." A look at Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat bears that out.

The blue and red markers indicate the number of pedestrian and bike involved crashes, respectively. Bike and pedestrian icons mark fatalities. 

Writes a commenter on the WABC web site:

drivers don’t want to stop for you even if you have the right of way. there is just no regard for human life. everyone is in a rush to go nowhere.

  • jack

    My girlfriend and I went out there for the first time last month. I am from Manhattan, but she is from Atlanta. We stepped out of the subway, looked around at the crossing of Atlantic and Flatbush and the sheet size of the streets, and first words out of my girlfriend’s mouth were “Jack, this is everything that is wrong with Atlanta.”

    So, I don’t exactly see how adding more high-rises and parking spaces can be helpful.

  • When I worked for the local CM I, and another, colleage were put in charge of coming up with traffic alternatives to the FEIS. Well, the results are:

    1. Can not do a tunnel do to existing rail lines
    2. Not enough clearance for an overpass (for either Atlantic or Flatbush)
    3. Make blocks of Atlantic along the new develop a pedestrian way (that was my urban planner pie in the sky suggestion) and create a new truck route.
    4. Hand it over to Polytech Traffic Engineers (which ended up being the solution).

    Without other changes to Manhattan Bridge and BQE, I really don’t see how you can make major changes that will actually reduce VMT.

  • CPer

    Shishi — congestion pricing in Manhattan will help this hellhole by reducing the 40% of traffic going through to the East River Bridges. Cracking down on permits, introducing RPPs and higher meter prices will also reduce driving here. This intersection is another example of why a fully functioning street grid with lots of smaller arterial streets is much better for pedestrians than these mega-streets. Marty will fix all this when he is mayor.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I believe this is an area where the constraint on congestion will be congestion. It will be an equal hellhole no matter how much development, or lack of development, there is.

    Anything that removes the incentive to drive through this area rather than take the BBT, however, would be welcome.

  • Josh

    As I may have mentioned in these comments previously, I live on Flatbush up near the Manhattan Bridge. Traffic into the city has just been a nightmare the past few days. Today the lower level of the Bridge was closed, and construction slow-downs/lane closures due to the condo towers getting built along Flatbush are basically a constant state of affairs. From Tillary you can see the traffic backed up all the way to Myrtle or DeKalb, and it doesn’t really surprise me that it’s actually backed up beyond Atlantic.

    It DOES still surprise me (though it probably shouldn’t at this point) that people drive anyway – it must take a good 45 minutes just to get from Atlantic to the bridges.

  • Jen

    CPer — Marty is the one who has been pushing through inappropriate overdevelopment at that very site, obviously Atlantic Yards. If you think Marty has any plans to “fix” that intersection *when* he becomes Mayor, you will be sadly disappointed.

  • Car Free Nation

    I live near this intersection, and it is hellish, but I really don’t think the problem is going to be Atlantic Yards. It’s that we basically pay people to come in over the Veranzano (one way toll) and drive free over the Manhattan Bridge. Because of this, the BQE becomes full, and the only escape valve is up 4th Avenue into this intersection.

    If we have congestion prices, or even just two way toll on the Veranzaon and tolls on the Manhattan and the Brooklyn Bridge, a lot of this traffic will disappear.

    Another suggestion would be to reduce the nunber if lanes through a dedicated and separated bus lane. Nothing gets people out of their cars faster than seeing a bus zoom past them. (pipe dream I know)

  • Car Free Nation

    By the way, Joan Milman, who represents this district, is on the record against congestion pricing. Write to her.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    If Congestion Pricing needs Develop Dont Destroy Brooklyn to pass legislation at the city council and state legislature then we are totally fucked. This photo merely shows the horrible present situation. That construction will restrict this traffic further is a blessing not a curse and dovetail perfectly with congestion pricing. In addition, this is one of the most transit rich blocks in the world, maybe second or third in the whole country. Increasing density there is actually ideal. That they take any argument and twist it into their reactionary view of proper urban population density only demonstrates the weakness of their position.

    This is truly a traffic hellhole, worse in the evenings when there is less traffic and the speeds pump up to 50-60. I am curious how many of these horrible pedestrian fatalities occurred during rush hour when this picture was obviously taken and how many occurred in the evenings when aggressive driving becomes the norm.

  • MrManhattan

    >> “With Atlantic Yards’s 17,000 new residents, and an 18,000 seat arena in use approximately 220 days per year, this gridlock would be the good ol’ days,” DDDB said.

    So maybe Ratner should be given the right to take over the streets that run through the Atlantic Yards Project and turn them into pedestrian malls???

    Outdoor Cafes, Performance spaces??

    Win-Win I say.

  • Michael1

    Yeah, Ratner’s not going to do that. I don’t even know why we need the Nets to Brooklyn anyways. It will take something like congestion pricing or a serious surface transit initiative (like BRT on Flatbush) to help alleviate congestion in Downtown Brooklyn. Closing off more side streets to cars all together for pedestrian use should be considered, since everything is in such close walking distance. Being so, this brings up the idea of light rail for Downtown Brooklyn. Congestion Pricing and BRT will help reduce traffic to Manhattan-bound travellers but Light Rail or some other means of transit to travel around Downtown Brooklyn itself will greatly cut down on the cars. For the immediate future, I think some good suggestions right now to reduce pedestrian-car conflicts is install some sort of concrete island on the crosswalk for Flatbush and Atlantic. Also, to reduce the number of travel lanes (I’m looking at a four-lane wide westbound Atlantic on that picture). I’m guessing the traffic on Atlantic is backed up because Flatbush keeps blocking the way, so stepped up traffic enforcement should be encouraged. And if that idiot Ratner had any more sense, if he so desires to continue with that Giza Complex he wants to build, it better not come with garages in the plans.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (In addition, this is one of the most transit rich blocks in the world, maybe second or third in the whole country. Increasing density there is actually ideal. That they take any argument and twist it into their reactionary view of proper urban population density only demonstrates the weakness of their position.)

    Right. DDDB is following the lead of 1950s planners who believed the solution to urban congestion was suburban sprawl, increasing the amount of road and parking space relative to population and employment. That’s what they are saying by objecting to decreasing the amount of road and parking space relative to population and employment.

    DDDB seems to have devolved into Drive and Don’t put Density near my Block.

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Larry and Nico, I think that’s a very unfair characterization of DDDB. Do you really think they’d disagree if you explained that construction would calm the traffic?

    As far as density goes, my understanding is that they’ve never been opposed to increasing density in that area, just to the unprecedented increase in density that Ratner wants.

  • Eric

    You guys (Nic and Larry) apparently have been drinking the Ratner Kool-Aid regarding DDDB and all the rest of we Brooklynites who oppose Ratner’s Atlantic Yards plan.

    “Following the lead of 1950s planners who believed the solution to urban congestion was suburban sprawl?” Your characterization of DDDB is just bullshit, Larry. DDDB and many others have advocated for building a significant amount of density over the railyards, and against the 3,600 parking spaces that are planned for Atlantic Yards. Just not the degree of ridiculous density that Ratner’s plan calls for. DDDB has never advocated for more driving.

    And Nic, yes, it is a good location for more development (see above). Ratner, however, is proposing creating the densest residential tract in North America, by a factor of two. And that transit-rich block is also already stretched. Subway turnstile counts at that station jumped 16% from 2003 to 2005, and the narrow platforms there are very crowded at peak times. The state EIS, of course, used a 0.5% background growth rate to estimate future transit demand, but (no surprise) citywide ridership grew by more than 4% last year — eight years’ worth of “future demand.!” And with the MTA in budget crisis, the probability of being able to absorb significant demand increase isn’t great. The transportation sections of the EIS are especially egregious in their mischaracterizations, obfuscations and outright lies. By the way, if Brooklynian’s report of Beverly Cattouse’s death is accurate, she was struck and killed right around the beginning of rush hour.

    And never mind that aside from issues of traffic and density, Atlantic Yards is the poster child for lack of public process, backroom boondoggling and massive taxpayer subsidies. Go Nets!

    So, yeah, you guys go ahead and blame DDDB for the traffic problems at Atlantic, Flatbush and Fourth Avenues. Just get your facts straight before you start name-calling.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (So, yeah, you guys go ahead and blame DDDB for the traffic problems at Atlantic, Flatbush and Fourth Avenues. Just get your facts straight before you start name-calling.)

    I’m not blaming them for the traffic problems at that intersection. I’m point out that the argument that there shouldn’t be any development in any place with traffic is an argument for suburban sprawl. And that is the argument they are making.

    They would have been better off objecting to the parking and calling for residential parking permits and traffic calming, to make it harder to drive and park there, than objecting to the buildings (many of which, based on market issues, will probably never be built). They could still do it.

  • Eric

    But Larry, no one at DDDB or any other opposed group is arguing “that there shouldn’t be any development” at that location. Quite the opposite. DDDB contacted bout 100 developers when the MTA was forced to hold their sham bid for the railyards, and Extell submitted a bid largely based on the UNITY Plan. Atlantic Yards Report contrasts the UNITY Plan and Ratner’s plan thusly:

    What’s clear is that two very different visions have emerged. While the UNITY plan would add significant residential density (1500 units over eight acres would be 187.5 units/acre, compared to 6430 units over 22 acres, or 292 units/acre).

    187.5 units per acre is significantly dense, just not historically (some would say absurdly) so like Ratner has proposed. And there’s actually a workshop tomorrow (see the first item on the Streetsblog calendar on the top right of this page) devoted to exploring the re-zoning of the entire Ratner footprint.

    DDDB is opposed, and rightly so, in my opinion, to Ratner’s vision for that location. But I think we all want to see good development done there. And I intend to devote a lot of energy to seeing that happen once the bloated Atlantic Yards is sunk by market forces.

    And for what it’s worth, given the orientation of this site, let’s not forget that the MTA agreed to sell the Vanderbilt Yard to Ratner for a mere $100 million, less than half what it’s own appraiser said it was worth, and less than Extell offered by a third, in a rigged bid. That’s cheating our transit system, which so badly needs the money.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (But Larry, no one at DDDB or any other opposed group is arguing “that there shouldn’t be any development” at that location.)

    If the intersection is at capacity, and development will mean more traffic at the intersection, than the argument is that development should go elsewhere. My view is that even something as dense as AY would add little compared with the through traffic, unless everyone drives to a Nets game on a weeknight.

    “With Atlantic Yards’s 17,000 new residents, and an 18,000 seat arena in use approximately 220 days per year, this gridlock would be the good ol’ days.”

    Assume they are going to drive, and you could make the same argument about 1,700 new residents and an 1,800-seat high school in use 180 days per year.

    I have some sympathy with DDDB’s eminent domain arguments, but not with this one.

  • Eric

    You lost me a little with that last comment. Not sure what you mean, exactly.

    One of the major problems is with the parking. I think one has to assume a good portion of people are going to drive, because they aren’t planning on tough-enough provisions to deter people from driving. For example, they are planning on some HOV parking for events, but luxury-suite owners will be exempted! Added lenience for exactly the people who are most likely to drive. And they’re only planning a 50% transit discount for ticket holders, rather than building in a full free subway roundtrip. The average ticket is going to be, what, $125 probably?

    Now maybe if you capped the number of parking spots at 10% of units, rather than roughly half, that’d be different, potentially. Especially since the state is completely overriding zoning, so they could do what they want. But then is the person shelling out $1mm+ for a glitzy Frank Gehry condo unit going to give up his Range Rover? Not likely.

    And the sale of the thing is just out of whack. You live in Windsor Terrace, I think you’ve said, right? Imagine 40- or 50-story buildings sprouting up across the street from your home. That’s what we’re talking about. Fort Greene and Prospect Heights and the northern end of the Slope are similar to W.T. in building heights. Density is great, but that’s just crazy.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (they aren’t planning on tough-enough provisions to deter people from driving. For example, they are planning on some HOV parking for events, but luxury-suite owners will be exempted! Added lenience for exactly the people who are most likely to drive.)

    The city and neighbors should have demanded cutbacks in the parking. I said so when I first heard of the development. But everyone was either against to matter what or in favor no matter what.

    (You live in Windsor Terrace, I think you’ve said, right? Imagine 40- or 50-story buildings sprouting up across the street from your home. That’s what we’re talking about. Fort Greene and Prospect Heights and the northern end of the Slope are similar to W.T. in building heights.)

    But the transit density is greater in the vicinity of Atlantic and Flatbush. Not on the other end, but see the comment above — it was an all or nothing deal.

    In Windsor Terrace, a late 1980s rezonings increased density in some areas and decreased it elsewhere. That is typical DCP policy. Fort Green and Prospect Heights were pretty much downzoned. One could argue AY is the upzone.

    As for the 40 story buildings at the far eastern end of the site, we’ll see. I see the whole development as financially challenged.

  • anon

    Re scale, I live amidst new construction of 20 and 40+ story buildings, and experience no difference in scale. The greater impact is in the bulk of highrises vs. lower density, because they often take up a entire block with only a single entrance. I’m just saying that once you get to a certain height/bulk, they may as well go for the sky. The plus side is the infusion of amenities that come with the added population – a new library, Barnes & Noble, Whole Foods, Poetry Center, swimming pool, ferry service, elementary school. Traffic, I agree, is a crucial part of the story.

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    I may have unfairly painted DDDB with too broad a brush. I couldn’t really take the “public participation” part of the Atlantic Yards debate because there were too many people shouting down all development too early on to bother with. A lot of them claimed to be from DDDB but who knows. At a certain point their NIMBY positions (whether the exact position of DDDB or not) became impossible to negotiate with and they were consigned to irrelevance. Anyone who thought otherwise was accused, as above, of “drinking Ratner’s Kool Aid”. So, why bother with the debate? I’ll just let Mr. Ratner fight it out for himself and everyone with a vision of the bucolic possibilities at Flatbush and Atlantic can bravely continue the fight against the project to the Supreme Court. Good Luck.

    The main thing is to keep the main thing the main thing. And, this all started out with DDDB pointing out how horrible the traffic is at that intersection. Tell me something I don’t know. Then they rocket off into how thats another reason to downsize it to their ideal density.

    Flatbush and Atlantic is busy with cars, buses, trains. It will always be. I too objected to the parking required in the project but found participation in the debate impossible given the approach of DDDB and their hangers on. Maybe the market will correct his vision. I don’t care. You guys chased away resonable people from this debate a long time ago.

  • brokeland

    Nice red herrings Larry.

  • Eric

    Nic,

    You’re right, it’s not worth rehashing. But I think the point of the DDDB posting was that there is no real plan for mitigating the additional traffic.

    As for me, I’m a very reasonable person. It’s too bad that you feel you got chased away. I myself found the orchestrated “community” support for the project much more disturbing.

  • Larry Littlefield

    No red herrings. What I say I what I actually think.

    There is good and bad to the AY proposal, which is why I don’t spend too much time discussing it or thinking about it. There is enough that is flat out bad to ruin my day as it is.

    But the argument that no additional people shoud live or activities take place in places where there is a lot of traffic because it will make it harder for existing drivers to drive is going to drive me nuts every time, and that is what this post said. It’s been made by plenty of other people, mostly not very nice people, about plenty of other things.

    If you could pick up that arena and put it down anywhere else, where would it be? The Meadowlands, where everyone would drive? Has the whole return of large gathering places to central cities from suburban highway exits over the past two decades been a mistake? Or is there some limit to the number of people who should be allowed to gather in any one place? Say 200 or so? Or 500?

    This is just not an argument I want to hear. If the cars will be a problem, take steps to limit the cars.

  • Charles

    The fact of the matter is Ratner is out of money, and running out of time. If current economic conditions continue, it is only a matter of time before the modified plan Ratner will put forth are sufficiently inconsistent with his original plan as to compel a new public process.

    I believe DDDB is going to get a win on this one. Sorry Larry, tricks are for kids.

    No one comes into this section of Brooklyn, pushes the community around, and then expects the communtiy not to push back.

    Charles
    Park Slope

  • Niccolo Machiavelli

    Charles, there are lots of people in my community. That some of them yell louder than me doesn’t mean I’m going to support their position.

    DDDB became the voice of the opposition on Atlantic Yards. The picture of this traffic could have been taken further out on Atlantic in Lew Fidler’s neighborhood in front of Kings Plaza. I have resisted posting just such a picture for several months now. After all, what is pictured is traffic congestion, not population density.

    I look forward to the construction at Flatbush and Atlantic and its traffic calming effect. I hope they make it bus only for the entire period of construction that you think will never occur. We will see if it gets built. I’m a betting man though and if you know anyone who is making book on this project I’d like to get in on some of that. Since they have started construction at the old ILA Hall on Court and Union I don’t know where to put down a bet.

    I have always thought that the protests about “process” coming from the opponents of congestion pricing sounded a lot like the protests about “process” coming from the opponents of Atlantic Yards.

    Land use decisions in New York City are properly made by New York City as a whole. No individual community can ever make the land use decisions that are best for New York City as a whole. Thats one of the things that distinguishes NYC from Nassau County. Out in the burbs little “communities” make atomized land use and transportation decisions that basically keep others out. DDDB is that tendency transplanted in Brooklyn.

    I disagree with lots of the land use decisions New York City makes. I protest some, I have often testified at City Council hearings on land use (and other matters). And, I disagree with most of the down-zonings that have ripped through Brooklyn in the wake of Atlantic Yards. The neighbors never want anything built, never want increased density and never want industrial retention. It is important for land use planning to stand up to that tendency.

    There is a very important connection between population density and public transit efficiency. Many of the down-zoning advocates also opposed fare increases on the MTA and also favor expansion of the system. I find their position entirely contradictory.

    And it is an easy argument to say that you favor increasing density in the area just not that much density. Right now its a hole in the ground and it has been that way for decades with exquisite silence from the community.

    I’d like to continue this debate but the construction noise outside my brownstone is too loud and Mr. Ratner is bringing more Kool Aid over.

  • breuklen

    Niccolo, interesting comments. Or at least they would be if they were based on reality. You wrote:

    “Land use decisions in New York City are properly made by New York City as a whole. No individual community can ever make the land use decisions that are best for New York City as a whole. ”

    I agree (partially), that land use decisions in New York City are properly made by New York City as a whole. But by arguing so, you argue the precise point about the AY process, namely that New York City as a whole, or in part, did not make any land use decisions when it came to Atlantic Yards. Those decisions were made by Bruce Ratner and Pataki ESDC appointees.

    More non-reality is that “that area has been a whole in the ground for decades.” Do you mean the rail yards? sure. But obviously the other 14 acres are comprised of occupied private property, city streets and city facilities, thus that little argument over eminent domain.

    it’s truly incredible that anyone paying the slightest attention Atlantic Yards could say that “its a whole in the ground” over there with a straight face. incredible or dishonest; take your pick.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (The fact of the matter is Ratner is out of money, and running out of time. If current economic conditions continue, it is only a matter of time before the modified plan Ratner will put forth are sufficiently inconsistent with his original plan as to compel a new public process.)

    That is probably true, as the goal in any lawsuit is to stall things until a recession hits. But in this case, the stall is probably so long that nothing will move forward until the next boom.

    The housing was probably doomed from the start. My guess is the arena moves forward with an office building or hotel nearby, all in the vicinity of the transit hub.

    The whole rest of the plan will be “deferred,” and nothing will happen for so long the entire debate will have become irrelevant.

    It is also possible that nothing will be built, and Ratner will sell the Nets at a big loss. In that case, the fight will be to make sure no public subsidies go into the area to “do something.”

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