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Community Board Reform

On Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn CB 6 Prioritizes Left Turns Over People’s Lives

Brooklyn Community Board 6 tossed aside years of community activism and months of public meetings about safety improvements on Fourth Avenue Wednesday night, voting against a DOT proposal to calm traffic and expand pedestrian space on one of the borough's deadliest streets. The board not only rejected a resolution in support of the plan but also passed a resolution expressing its disapproval.

Between 2007 and 2011, 52 people were severely injured on the 1.4 mile stretch of Fourth Avenue in Park Slope, and a senior citizen was killed in 2008, according to DOT. In addition to all the foot traffic generated by the subway lines that run beneath the street, the wave of residential development following a 2003 rezoning means more people than ever are walking on Fourth Avenue. There are seven schools along this stretch, including one, PS 118, set to open this year on Fourth Avenue at 8th Street. The safety improvements that CB 6 rejected would have narrowed traffic lanes and expanded pedestrian space, similar to improvements implemented on 50 blocks of Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park last year.

In introducing the proposal to the full board, transportation committee chair Tom Miskel spoke against the safety plan, before the board, chaired by Daniel Kummer, failed to pass a resolution supporting the proposal, 10-18 with four abstentions. After that vote, James Bernard, appointed to CB 6 by Council Member Stephen Levin, decided to go one step further and put forward another resolution expressing the board's rejection of the safety plan. His resolution passed 18-9, with five abstentions.

CB 6's full board is an outlier along Fourth Avenue. CB 2, which includes a few of Fourth Avenue's northernmost blocks, unanimously voted, 27-0, to support the plan on Wednesday. CB 7 approved the Sunset Park section last year in a 31-2 vote. In Bay Ridge, CB 10's transportation committee voted on Monday to support Fourth Avenue traffic calming; the plan goes before CB 10's full board on Monday.

In a letter to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan [PDF], Kummer acknowledged the extensive planning process, culminating in a plan that received the support of his board's transportation committee last month in a 14-1 vote, but said the board voted against the proposal after some residents and board members objected to key components of the safety plan. Those components include the wider pedestrian medians, which would reclaim street space for walking by implementing left turn restrictions and reducing travel lanes from three to two in each direction.

DOT's plan already maintains three northbound lanes north of Union Street, but Kummer said that trimming the northbound side of the street to two lanes south of Union Street could exacerbate morning rush-hour congestion. In addition, Kummer said the board objected to eight left-turn restrictions at intersections that would receive wider pedestrian medians, after residents on Fifth Street went to last night's meeting to express their opposition, saying the plan would increase traffic on their blocks.

Kummer also says the board opposed the plan because it includes potential locations for bike corrals. Even though the plan does not call for the installation of any corrals, each of which would go before the community board for future consideration, Kummer used it as a reason for the board to reject the safety plan entirely. The board "has a strong preference for proposals that are parking-neutral wherever possible," he said. Last month, the board rejected a bike corral on Columbia Street because it would have removed one car parking space.

Board members who worked on the plan for months expressed frustration with the cavalier rejection of their work. "The process is broken when the board is just placing no stock in the work that these committees do," transportation committee member Gary Reilly told Streetsblog. "This is a setback, but the cause of improving safety on Fourth Avenue is too important," he said. "I don't think this is over."

On Twitter yesterday, Council Member Brad Lander, who appoints CB members, said, "I strongly support DOT's safety improvements [and] will be working to make sure they move forward ASAP." A spokesperson for Lander told Streetsblog via e-mail that the council member "is evaluating the best path forward."

Streetsblog asked Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, who has championed safety improvements to Fourth Avenue and appoints community board members, about the board's vote and his position on DOT's proposal. We'll let you know if we hear anything back.

Since community boards serve only an advisory role, Lander and Levin, whose district includes Fourth Avenue north of Union, could urge DOT to move ahead with the plan. There's also the possibility that the community board could reverse its vote at a later date. CB 6 has an executive committee meeting scheduled for July 8. Because the board will soon be taking its summer break, the next full board meeting is scheduled for September 11, but Kummer said he is willing to call a special meeting on July 10 for DOT to present a modified plan to the full board.

This post has been corrected to accurately convey the comments of board chair Daniel Kummer and committee chair Tom Miskel when the plan was introduced to the full board.

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