It only took Hilda Cohen and Ali Loxton ten weeks to collect 1,600 signatures supporting a traffic-calming redesign, including a bike lane, for Brooklyn's Lafayette Avenue. Yesterday evening they took their petition to the transportation committee of Community Board 2 and made their case. The result: a 9-1 committee vote asking DOT to study Cohen and Loxton's proposal.
There's still a long way to go before an official redesign moves forward, but Cohen and Loxton's impressive organizing has revived the idea of redesigning Lafayette, and it's a great case study in how to mobilize for safer streets.
Cohen and Loxton both live in Fort Greene and bike, walk and drive on Lafayette with their kids. They told the CB 2 committee last night that the street feels like it's geared more toward fast-moving cars than people, with two eastbound traffic lanes and two parking lanes. The galvanizing moment for them came last October, when two drivers crashed at high speeds at the corner of Lafayette and Vanderbilt Avenue, jumping the curb outside a packed church.
The next week, they started gathering signatures supporting "traffic calming and a bike lane" on Lafayette. Their regular sign-up spot was the farmers market by Fort Greene Park. Since the weekend of the New York City marathon in early November, 1,500 people have signed the petition in writing and another 100 have signed it online.
"You would just say 'Lafayette' and people would want to talk to us," said Loxton. "In the cold, they would stop."
Cohen said petition-signers described Lafayette as a "notorious speedway," and parents shared fears of letting 10-year-old kids cross the street alone. On a recent Friday evening, she clocked drivers routinely exceeding the speed limit by 7 - 10 mph.
Under the banner "Make Lafayette Safer," Cohen and Loxton propose extending the Lafayette Avenue bike lane from Fulton Street to Broadway, preferably on the left-hand side of the street, and adding sidewalk extensions and more prominent crosswalks at intersections. In addition to providing a useful new link in the bike network, especially for cyclists heading east from the Manhattan Bridge or neighborhoods on the other side of Flatbush Avenue, striping the bike lane could curb speeding by reducing excessive capacity for car traffic.
Following the committee vote, there will probably be another vote at the full Community Board before DOT puts out a plan to redesign Lafayette. ("If we hear a lot of support from the community, that could move things forward," said DOT's Chris Hrones last night.) There may also be some action at Community Board 3, which covers Lafayette east of Classon Avenue.
While "Make Lafayette Safer" has the backing of City Council Member Tish James and the Fort Greene Association, a Lafayette redesign is no gimme. Most committee members who spoke last night seemed to be open to change, but there's more apprehension on the board than the final vote lets on. Committee member Nancy Wolf questioned why a bike lane was needed to calm traffic: "There are a lot of ways to do that that don't involve a bike lane." And Board Chair John Dew framed the potential conversion of a motor lane to a bike lane as a loss: "Downtown Brooklyn has changed so much, with a new park, new condos, a new arena. We're not getting any more streets. We're losing streets." (Replied one committee member: "It makes it more urgent to look at issues like this to slow traffic and makes streets safer.")
Supporters of redesigning Lafayette for greater safety made a strong showing last night too, crowding the room and speaking extensively about their experiences on the street. It will take a few more evenings like that before the vision of a safer Lafayette reaches fruition.