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Brooklyn CB 15 Asks Whether Safer Streets Are Worth 100,000 Sneezes

10:59 AM EDT on May 18, 2010

If you ever need a laugh but don't feel like shelling out for the two-drink minimum, you could do worse than head over to a Brooklyn CB 15 meeting. At an info session last night about plans for Brooklyn's inaugural rapid bus line, the first question out of the audience was, "How many parking spots are we going to lose in Community Board 15?" The evening spiraled into absurdity from there.

shpelfogel.jpgCB 15 member Mitchell Shpelfogel questions why pedestrian refuges should be installed to make streets safer for seniors to cross, instead of dedicated left-turn signals.

A few pieces of background before I go any further. CB 15 occupies the southeastern corner of Brooklyn -- Lew Fidler territory. Their idea of congestion relief is double-decking the Belt Parkway. At last night's info session, representatives from New York City Transit and NYCDOT explained the basics of Select Bus Service on the Nostrand Avenue corridor. As it happens, the project leaves the streets of CB 15 pretty much alone, with the service enhancements on this segment coming mainly from pre-paid fares, new low-floor buses, and signal priority for transit. Few, if any, parking spaces will be touched.

But that didn't stop the members of CB 15 from proving that real authority should be kept far, far away from the appointees who serve indefinite tenures on community boards. After the Q&A on Select Bus Service, they sank their teeth into a DOT presentation about a Safe Streets for Seniors project which promises to deliver safety enhancements like longer crossing times, sidewalk extensions, and pedestrian refuges to several intersections with histories of injury-causing crashes. Below are a few typical concerns raised by board members after each presentation.

You might think some, if not all, of these objections to safer streets and better transit were offered in a spirit of jest. I honestly can't tell whether that's the case. Read on and judge for yourself -- sincere NIMBYism, or one community board's idea of a cruel joke?

From the Q&A on Select Bus Service:

    • Sure, SBS is successful and popular in the Bronx, but you can't compare the Bronx to Brooklyn. 
    • "With Mayor Bloomberg aiming to go green," said one participant, "the thought of hundreds of thousands of paper receipts worries me."
    • "Why would you even take the bus?" (Editor's note: 42,000 people ride the B44 every weekday.)

From the Q&A on DOT's Safe Streets for Seniors project:

    • Pedestrian refuges with tree pits are bad because "trees make about 100,000 people in New York sneeze." Also, when the trees shed their leaves in the fall, the refuges will be rendered virtually invisible to unsuspecting motorists.
    • "People who drive cars are idiots," so just forget about traffic calming devices like pedestrian refuges, which might get in the way of the idiots who drive cars.
    • An elderly gentleman complained that when he's driving and turns his car, pedestrians in the crosswalk are sometimes in his way. When asked to elaborate, he said, "They're confused, I'm confused. I just pray they're aware of what's happening around them."
    • A refuge that's already been constructed at Coney Island Avenue and Brighton Beach Avenue has been a disaster, according to CB member Mitchell Shpelfogel. "Maybe there's a sense of seniors feeling more comfortable," he said, "but the damage to cars has increased."

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