Eyes on the Street: A Refuge on Vanderbilt


A tipster sends along these fresh shots of construction on Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights. The new pedestrian refuges give the street a geometry very similar to what we saw on Broadway in Williamsburg two weeks ago. Below, the remnants of old trolley tracks get unearthed. We’re told the foreman says his crew is having a devil of a time working around the tangle of metal.

Pre-road diet photos of Vanderbilt Avenue can be found here.


  • mike

    Mmm, would be nice if we had a light-rail down Vanderbilt..

  • Sam

    I never got to experience trolleys but I miss em anyway 🙁

  • Eric

    Creepy! That looks like a skull about two feet to the right of the fourth cone on the left.

    But Vandy’s gonna look nice once the work is completed.

  • paul
  • Josh

    Looks really nice. More reason for me to move to Prospect Heights like I’ve been considering.

  • Mark Walker

    I used to see trolley tracks down the middle of Route 28 in NJ where I grew up. Never saw the trolleys themselves. We may have need of them again soon.

  • vnm

    Kudos. Great job DOT!

  • Paul C.

    Ya, Eric… that DOES look like a human skull.


  • And I wonder, Still I wonder Who’ll stop the rain

    The top pic does not look like the city’s “new and improved green streets” you reported here:

    Perhaps the community board did not ask for stormwater capture, but the strategic plan’s”Greening the Department From Top to Bottom” promised stormwater capture.

    Flooding and combined sewer overflow do not a livable city make! Nor do trucks that drive around to deliver water to these greenstreets.

    On the whole, increased vegetation and safer crossings are great for the neighborhood, but DOT could have planned this one better. And, considering the trolley track removal is slowing things down, perhaps it’s not too late to do at least some redesign???

  • vehicles in the bike lane.

    i spy a truck and a livery car in the bike lane on the right.

    sure, there’s some construction in the way, but i doubt this shot is an isolated incident.

  • bureaucrat

    don’t see how you could get stormwater to get into the greenstreets – the roadbed has a single crown (i.e. it slopes from the middle outward), so all rain that falls on the street flows to the outside (the gutter) rather than the middle of the street. So you could cut holes in those curbs around the greenstreets but little to no water would flow in.

  • harry D’amato

    I grew up in this neighborhood when the trolley were on Vanderbilt, as well as on Bergen Street.

    Why would anyone want them back? They were dangerous. Unlike a bus that could swerve out of the way of an errant cyclist or pedestrian, trolleys could not. Injuries and deaths result.

    Furthermore, the contac poles were always coming off the overhead electric power wires, which would cause the driver to stop, get out, fix the problem, all the while delaying traffic and creating a mess.

    Also, the overhead power lines were ugly.

    Trolleys were removed for a good reason.

    Too bad all these newbie transplants who want the trolleys back do not investigate these reasons for removing them before espousing some ludicrous transportation failure of the 19th and early 20th century and calling it “green progress”.

  • nobody


    You are so wrong I don’t know where to begin. Ever been to Europe, San Francisco or Jersey City? Newark? Plenty of light-rail systems operating there, with none of the problems you speak of. Try again.

  • Ian Turner

    I don’t know anything about 1800s trolley technology, but plenty of other cities seem to operate trams and light rail without any of the problems you cite.

  • Paul

    Man Harry, you need to open your eyes up. Over 100 cities in Europe alone operate trams safely, and there area growing number of cities in North America using trams and light rail – Boston, Portland, Seattle, Tacoma, San Fran, LA, San Diego, Little Rock, Charlotte, Houston, Denver, Minneapolis, Toronto……They work and are safe.

  • Harry D’amato

    My grandfather was killed in Europe in the 1940s when he was struck by a trolley at night.

    I don’t know all the details and it is possible even that he walked in front of it.
    However, it is very likely a bus would have swerved out of the way. Trolleys do not have that capability. That is the bottom line.

    So, don’t say trolleys are safe. They are ipso facto not as safe as buses. Right?

    Moreover, I do remember the nightmares that the trolleys caused in Brooklyn. Traffic chaos and delays and honking. I lived it while many of you were not yet a gleam in your mother’s eye in suburbia. So please don’t preach to me until you witnessed what I witnessed.

    Do you not know how the B’klyn Dodgers got their name? It was shortened from the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers.

    Right! People had to dodge trolleys or risk injury.

    But you wouldn’t know much about Bklyn, since you were likely a Cincinnati Reds fan, or perhaps the Portland Trail blazers. Maybe the Seattle Mariners. They have trolleys there.

  • Mark Walker

    If all street vehicles ran on rails, pedestrians would have a much more predictable and safer world in which to walk.

    As for the “traffic chaos and delays and honking,” the solution is obvious — eliminate private cars.

  • But you wouldn’t know much about Bklyn, since you were likely a Cincinnati Reds fan, or perhaps the Portland Trail blazers. Maybe the Seattle Mariners. They have trolleys there.

    Must be nice to be able to dismiss any argument you don’t like by painting its proponents as out-of-touch suburbanites or out-of-towners.

    My family’s been in New York for five generations and counting. My mom misses the trolleys. Just because there were some positives about getting rid of them doesn’t mean it was the right thing to do.

  • Michael1

    #10. I see your truck and cab and raise you an SUV in the bike lane. First picture, look to the left adjacent to a parked, white van. Note: that stretch of street is complete. Ha! 😛

  • Michael1

    It’s suppose to be a tounge sticking out but doesn’t look like it too much. Ah well.

  • My best team of MLB is The Cincinnati Reds . This why I always fallow their games especially whenever I have some time. I’m always trying not o miss any of their game and hear about the team’s news. But The Cincinnati Reds tickets get more pricy especially when there are some hot games. But, if we’re really good fans we should try not to be mean when we’re talking about a favourite teams. It’s not only the Reds tickets that got pricy, but there are other major teams too, so the team needs our support and we should provide as much as we can.

  • Harry D’amato

    Hi Angus:

    You write regarding #16:”painting its proponents as out-of-touch suburbanites or out-of-towners.”

    What don’t you understand about the meaning of”likely”.” Read what I wrote:”you were LIKELY a Cincinnati Reds fan”
    Of course, some native NYers want trolleys, but those who witnessed them were mostly glad to see them go.

    That is why they were removed. They were a nightmare.

    And for those who continue to say trollyes are “safe”, see my post #16.

    Tell my widowed grandmother and her 8 young children raised without a father that trolleys are safe.

    Get real, please!

  • Marty Barfowitz


    I’m sorry about your grandfather but his death on a European trolley track in the 1940s doesn’t add up to a conclusive statement that urban light rail is unsafe, unwanted or unappealing.

    Many older Brooklynites have a great deeal of affection for trolleys. They were a big part of our identity until GM bought out our trolley lines and replaced them with diesel-spewing buses. The buses we never loved and, essentially, pushed many of us into private automobiles, stealing street space from kids, vendors and stickball. Yes, indeed, we were “Trolley Dodgers” growing up in Brooklyn. So much so, that we named our beloved baseball team after our favored and dominant mode of transportation. Today we are SUV Dodgers, I guess.

    The modern trolley systems I’ve seen in cities like Portland, Paris, Berlin and Amsterdam are pretty fantastic and, I’m sure, produce fewer car crashes, injuries and fatalities than our highways and roadways do. I know I’m not alone in hoping to see trolleys brought back to Brooklyn some day soon.

  • Trolleys used to run in the ordinary traffic lanes, and that did create problems after cars became common. One trolley line in San Francisco still runs in the traffic lane for a small part of its route (the N Judah). Riders say that it is so slow there that they can get off, do an ATM transaction, jog to the next stop, and get back on the same trolley. They also say that the trolley is constantly honking its horn there to get oblivious drivers out of its way.

    This is why virtually all new light rail lines run on dedicated lanes. Bus Rapid Transit also runs on dedicated lanes, ideally separated from the traffic lane by a curb. They can’t swerve to avoid pedestrians, but because they are separated from the car lanes by curbing, pedestrians are not likely to walk out in front them.

  • What don’t you understand about the meaning of”likely”.

    I understand that it’s a weasel word. It doesn’t change the fact that you don’t know how to argue politely.

    You raise a point worth discussing, and if you stop belittling other people and calling names, I’d be happy to discuss it.

  • Harry D’amato

    My friend:

    “Likely” is a word frequently used in the field of statistics and probability. Have you ever had an academic course in these disciplines? I have. It is fascinating. Perhaps you should.

    However, you are the person to characterize a neutral word like ‘likely’ and introduce “weasel” to define it. Then, you have the audacity to criticize others!

    Have you no shame?

  • Angus Grieve-Smith

    Have you no shame?

    Have you no manners?

  • And I wonder, Still I wonder Who’ll stop the rain

    You may be right on the crown slope now.
    But, there could be a sub-grade trench drain from the curb directly into the greenstreet, if the slope on the drain were done right.
    We know DOT is willing to experiment and get creative.
    Wish them well.

  • Max Rockatansky

    Angus and Harry – time for Thunderdome. Two men enter, one man leaves…

  • Mark Walker

    In Manchester (the English city) there’s an amazing system that combines suburban rail and urban trolley. You board in the burbs from a normal rail station, go through a warehouse district at the edge of the city, and before you know it, the train has left its dedicated right-of-way and begun winding its way through crowded city streets to Piccadilly Station. Of course it slows down a lot, and the streets are dense with cars and peds. But what’s amazing is that it works. British drivers and peds accept the presence of the train and act accordingly. I wouldn’t have believed it if I hadn’t seen it myself. My Mancunian friend tells me the system is very well regarded — and was constructed under the Thatcher administration!

  • Mark, the suburban rail/urban trolley combo is fairly common among “modern” light rail systems; you can find one just across the river in Jersey City, but they’re also in Denver and Salt Lake City.

    The older pattern seems to have been suburban commuter rail that connects to a big station downtown, or suburban trolleys that connect to downtown tunnels like the Newark City Subway, Philadelphia’s trolleys and the San Francisco Muni.

  • Paul

    “Do you not know how the B’klyn Dodgers got their name? It was shortened from the Brooklyn Trolley Dodgers.

    Right! People had to dodge trolleys or risk injury.”

    That’s what happens when you build a field around trolley tracks.

    One who is struck by something constrained to a rail is probably most likely at fault for not looking. I lived in a European city with one of the most extensive tram networks in the world and there was one simple rule to follow. Look before crossing some tracks. Besides, modern low-floor trams also benefit from very good braking systems, rarely exceed 20mph while sharing car traffic and can stop quite quickly as I’ve personally experienced should a car run a stop sign. I don’t think it’s a good idea for large vehicles to swerve anyway. They could easily blindside a pedestrian, cyclist or small vehicle.

  • vnm

    We’re arguing about the wrong things here.

    All modes of travel have an inherent level of danger. Light rail can be deadly, as Harry’s family history attests. But buses can be just as deadly. One tragedy, no matter how emotionally wrought it may be, does not make a trend. It would be more useful to cite statistics about relative safety of trolleys versus buses to make a case either way. I think that both of them are probably about the same, but I don’t have statistics to back that up.

    What is more relevant, I think, is that private automobiles are far, far more deadly than either one. They kill 45,000 people in the United States alone each year. The goal should be to get as many people as possible to stop using cars so much, not just because they’re so lethal, but because they’re warming the planet and making our nation dependent on nations that don’t like us. So, the question is what is more effective at attracting people out of their cars?

    I suspect light rail is a more powerful attractor than buses, and I’ve seen numerous light rail advocates who have studies to that effect, none of which I can produce at this moment.

    The most important thing is probably the status of the right-of-way. Light rail with its own right-of-way beats buses in traffic. Buses with their own right-of-way beat light rail in traffic.

  • paulb

    As I live right at GAP and bike commute each day, I’ll be one of the first to know if the new scheme on Vanderbilt is successful. Meanwhile, what a great makeover for a strip that’s been aesthetically dearthed for so long.

    I’m surprised no one has pointed out that streetcar tracks, not necessarily the streetcars themselves, are quite dangerous to cyclists. A wheel goes into the slot and you are finished if there’s other traffic around.


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