Brooklyn CB 6 Reverses Course, Supports Fourth Avenue Traffic Calming

The proposal calls for wider medians and a southbound left-turn ban at 3rd Street. Image: ##http://a841-tfpweb.nyc.gov/4thave/files/2013/07/4th-Ave_Park-Slope_CB6-presentation-July_10_2013.pdf##NYC DOT##

One month after Brooklyn Community Board 6 passed a resolution condemning DOT’s safety proposal for Fourth Avenue, upending months of public workshops and the decision of its own transportation committee, the full board voted 21-3, with two abstentions, to support a modified version of the plan at a special meeting last night.

Beginning in February, DOT held public workshops to craft the plan, which is similar to changes that were supported by CB 7 and implemented in Sunset Park last year. The street would be tamed with wider pedestrian medians, left-turn restrictions, and a reduction from three lanes in each direction to two. DOT project manager Jesse Mintz-Roth noted that the workshops attracted up to 100 people each. “There’s been extensive public input on this project,” he said.

In the wake of CB 6’s unexpected rejection of the plan, Council Members Brad Lander and Stephen Levin, who appoint members to the board, asked DOT to move forward without the CB’s stamp of approval. But board chair Daniel Kummer urged DOT to modify the plan before last night’s special meeting, which he called specifically to address the Fourth Avenue project.

Most of DOT’s presentation last night [PDF] focused on the plan’s benefits not only to pedestrians, but also drivers. Mintz-Roth reviewed the rationale and planning process behind the proposal, which did not receive much explanation at last month’s meeting before the board voted to reject it.

The tweaks DOT made to its plan were relatively modest, but include some changes that will weaken the safety benefits of the original proposal.

  • The new plan retains three lanes of traffic northbound on Fourth Avenue starting at Carroll Street, rather than Union Street, as previously planned. This change adds two extra blocks where DOT retains the existing street design to accommodate morning rush hour backups.
  • There are now six left turn bans from Fourth Avenue, rather than eight. Under the new plan, left turns from northbound Fourth Avenue to Degraw and Bulter streets have been retained. As a result, the median in these locations will not be widened as much as previously planned.
  • A painted curb extension will be added at the southeast corner of Fourth Avenue and Fifth Street. Separately, Fifth Street is on track to receive speed humps before the start of the school year, at the request of the principal of M.S. 51.

Along with an extensive question-and-answer session with DOT staff, these changes were enough to win the unanimous support of the transportation committee and the overwhelming support of the full board.

Residents of Fifth Street showed up at last month’s meeting to oppose left turn restrictions at Third and Ninth Streets that they feared would lead to increased traffic by their homes. During last night’s public comment period, 13 people spoke, with nine in favor and four against. All but one of the public speakers against the plan lived on Fifth Street.

Mintz-Roth explained that the number of drivers diverted by the left-turn restrictions would actually be quite low, and that side streets could expect to see two or three additional vehicles per hour as a result. Because Fifth Street begins at Fourth Avenue, he noted, it already has low traffic volumes.

Fifth Street residents, supported by Council Member Lander, have also requested a traffic signal at the intersection with Fourth Avenue. “We would love for that answer to be yes,” Mintz-Roth said, but said DOT’s signals division has determined that the intersection did not meet its warrant requirements for a stop light. After the traffic calming plan is implemented, the signals division will re-examine the intersection to see if a light would meet its standards.

Last night's special CB 6 meeting attracted approximately 75 people. Photo: Stephen Miller

The plan aims to cut down on speeding, which Mintz-Roth described as occurring “everywhere” on the avenue. During weekday evenings from 9 p.m. to 11 p.m., up to 78 percent of drivers are going faster than 30 mph. According to DOT, speeding is the leading cause of fatal crashes in New York City.

At the request of a board member, DOT revealed some preliminary safety numbers from Sunset Park, where pedestrian injuries have fallen 24 percent and injuries for all road users have fallen 13 percent since the road diet was implemented. Mintz-Roth added a word of caution that the changes took effect recently, and the numbers do not reflect the natural variability in statistics over multiple years.

Board member David Mazzuca asked about bike lanes. Mintz-Roth said the curbside parking lane on Fourth Avenue would be 13 feet wide. A typical curbside parking lane is eight feet wide, leaving enough room for a standard five-foot-wide bike lane, though one is not included in the design. Instead of discussing bike lanes, however, other board members were more concerned with accommodating double parking. Mintz-Roth said that most vehicles are seven feet wide and will be able to double-park in the parking lane without disrupting traffic; the exceptions would be wide trucks.

The resolution passed by CB 6 last night also asks DOT to consider beautification and greenery in the median. Mintz-Roth said that, because Fourth Avenue does not have a maintenance partner such as a business improvement district, DOT is testing low-maintenance planters that require less frequent watering. The planters were installed yesterday and could be brought to more areas if successful.

  • guest

    Also should be noted that those speaking in favor were generally 4th Avenue
    area residents, reminding the Board of the clear and present traffic dangers in
    the 4th Avenue neighborhood and local efforts to address those dangers. While some board members insisted on referring to 4th only as a thoroughfare, to their credit, other board members referenced the changes in demographics along the avenue and related safety needs in explaining their vote.

  • Ian Turner

    Seems like plan modifications were basically designed to give the CB an opportunity to save face.

  • Anonymous

    Okay. I am one of the 5th Streeters. We are not against the whole plan! We don’t like the current state of 4th Ave. any better than the rest of you – we and our kids have to cross there on a regular basis. We just think moving the left turns from 3rd to 5th is a terrible idea, and still do. I’m really glad you included the shot of the 3rd St. intersection (the pic is facing south, with 5th St. in the distance, and Washington Park visible on the southeast corner), because I would like to point out a few things:

    1 – “Removes conflicts with pedestrians in east corner” is a misnomer. It moves the conflict with pedestrians to 5th St., where drivers will be too busy navigating oncoming traffic to watch carefully for pedestrians, and a painted curb extension will not help. At this meeting, the DOT stated they’d need “an increase in accidents” to help get a light installed there. Keep in mind that with the start of the new PS 118 in the fall, more students will be crossing the east corners of 4th ave., esp. btw 3rd and 8th st. 3rd St. is a better crossing point, with very few pedestrian injuries in recent years (the vehicular injuries are the problem).

    2 – In the rendering shown, lots of people are enjoying the new pedestrian island while crossing on the north side of 3rd St. In reality, the majority of people use the south side, and the turn bay with the tiny median will still be there. The south side is adjacent to Washington Park and MS 51 on the east side, and sees much more pedestrian traffic. Whole Foods will also be on the south side. The northwest side, which you can’t see from the pic, leads to a rather hulking, block-long ConEd structure on that corner and not much else. People naturally stick to the east side and cross at a different intersection. So that island will not be as much of a boon as it appears.

    3 – While there is already contradictory data re- the DOT’s numbers, unmentioned in this discussion is the fact that farther up 5th St., Methodist Hospital is planning a seven-story, block long expansion, razing brownstones and creating a cut-through street to facilitate traffic. The plans are at an early stage, but everyone agrees an expansion fronting 5th St. is going to happen, probably starting a year from now. Methodist-bound traffic and parking on the nearby blocks is already a problem. With left turns not an option at 3rd and 9th St., what does this mean for Methodist-bound delivery trucks and other vehicles? How does that work into the estimate of increased traffic volume on 5th, 6th and 7th St.’s?

    Can we stop simplifying this discussion to a white hat/black hat thing and admit we might have a problem here? I believe that the DOT does want to make the avenue safer, and much of the plan achieves that. But when doing these studies, they don’t need to consider the area as a whole, and they don’t have to live with unintended consequences.

  • Daphna

    It is too bad this plan was watered down. The two blocks between Union and Carroll needed the road diet and this safer street design and will not get it. Pedestrians will not have the benefit of wider medians for those two blocks and bicyclists will not have the benefit of the de facto bike lane that would have been created had there been the 13′ wide parking lane.

    Also, allowing two more places where vehicles can turn left compromises safety. Pedestrians will not have the space on the median they were supposed to get at those two places, and pedestrians crossing will be in danger of turning vehicles who don’t yield, who are impatient, and who make a dash for a left turn when there is a gap in the oncoming traffic irrespective of whether there is also a gap in the pedestrians in the crosswalk.

  • Daphna

    If CB6 wanted to save face, they should have approved the plan as it was before it was watered down. Road users deserved the original plan, not this watered down plan. I hope Steve Levin and Brad Lander replace a lot of CB6 members when their current two year term is up. The community board process is supposed to be advisory only, but if community boards are going to continue to be given actual up or down say by the DOT, then community boards need to be made up of more people who are informed, who are open minded, who are capable of understanding positive change, and who are not biased in favor of driving and parking.

  • Guest

    “It moves the conflict with pedestrians to 5th St.” This oversimplifies it a tad, since 3rd Street and 5th Street are very different.

    The reason for eliminating the southbound left turn at 3rd has to do with more than just pedestrian conflicts. In fact, it largely is about conflicts between motorists, a point DOT made repeatedly last night.

    In addition to the current southbound left turn at 3rd St, there’s an opposing northbound left turn at the same intersection, since 3rd St is two-way west of Fourth Avenue. Third Street is narrow, which means that drivers’ paths overlap in the middle of their turns, potentially leading to crashes. Indeed, of the 53 serious injuries at this intersection, 52 were motor vehicle occupant injuries.

    Unlike 3rd St, which runs in both directions all the way to/from Smith Street, 5th Street begins at 4th Ave and only goes up into the Slope. (There’s a block-long taxi depot on the west side of 4th Ave and 5th Street.) Since there’s no thru traffic from Gowanus, you’re already starting at a very low level of traffic as compared to other streets.

    This also means that there’s no opposing northbound left turn at 5th St. There’s just one southbound left. Diverting a few driers to 5th from 3rd won’t increase the danger because the turn is already fairly safe.

    I believe it’s the residents of 5th Street who also need to consider the area as a whole. For the sake of extra safety at 3rd Street, largely for drivers, 5th Street is likely to absorb only a small handful of extra cars per hour, as DOT numbers showed. Seems worth it to me.

  • tyler

    WHAT!? I have to drive two extra short blocks to turn left!?! This is an outrage! I will be exhausted from all of that extra pedal pushing! 🙂

    I do like that the DOT calls the extra lane north of Carrol “storage” space for backed up traffic.

  • car free nation

    “We’re not against the whole plan” says Brooklyn Petunia, yet the 5th Street neighbors agitation at the last meeting almost scuttled the whole thing. This is the problem with this kind of picayune NIMBY’s. If you’re not willing to take a minor inconvenience (20 cars per hour, maybe), on your street for the greater good of the rest of the neighborhood, then nothing happens.

    I will say it’s nice that you’re getting those speed humps. My neighborhood agitated for speed humps, signed petitions, etc. but were not able to get them, and we have a lot more traffic that goes a lot faster than you do.

    I’m with Daphna. I think DOT dropped the left turn restrictions at Butler and DeGraw to make it look like they were responsive. Not sure how that helped, but now it’s more dangerous for any kids who have to cross the street at the new school. If someone from DOT is here, I never did hear an explanation of why those left turns were added back.

    In any case, at least the current plan passed. It will be a huge improvement, and was worth the accommodations to the community board.

  • Anonymous

    Guest – I know that “In fact, (3rd St. is) largely about conflicts between motorists.” I already said that in my comment. I also know about the intersecting radii of the left turns. But 3rd St. itself is actually very wide, with several pedestrian safety features that 5th does not have, even with a painted curb.

    And yes, I’ve heard over and over again about 5th St. getting only one extra car per traffic cycle. Please read up on the proposed Methodist expansion, starting next year. Tell me where you think that traffic is going to go. Also, the DOT admitted last night at the meeting that when they are counting left-turning vehicles, they don’t count those that turn as the light goes to red. Once the light is red, the vehicles are considered through traffic. So that would explain the undercount.

    As I was trying to explain, the issue on 5th St. is not pedestrians crossing from the taxi depot, because that doesn’t happen. People cross north-south on the east side crosswalk, and that is where the left-turning vehicles are headed. This is also the new walking route for kids going to PS 118 in the fall.

    There is no opposing northbound turn, but there is also no light to slow down opposing traffic! How on earth is that “relatively safe?” That is the classic scenario for pedestrian/turning vehicle collisions. So I think you are trading one safety problem for another. The DOT, at the meeting, said there would need to be more accidents before they could meet the warrant for a light.

    What I am saying is that the DOT is trading an intersection that is problematic for vehicles to one that is problematic for both vehicles and pedestrians. It would make more sense to make the original intersection less problematic without removing the turn bay (as I also said, that new pedestrian island is not going to get used much.) This could be done by moving the northeast sidewalk extension to the south side, thus moving the southbound turning radius back a few feet.

    And Guest, I support what you support, mostly. Please do not condescend to me by telling me things I already know, and assuming I don’t care about benefits at 3rd St. and elsewhere. I walk everywhere, every day around this area, so do my kids, and we have to watch out for traffic wherever we are. You are obediently repeating what you have heard in the DOT’s presentation. I have heard the same things, and have very specific questions about some of the DOT’s conclusions. While I applaud the plan as a whole, I’m not going to accept a “trade-off” on a part of it that is flawed and fixable, or gloss over the details in light of its overall wonderfulness. I’ve supported wholeheartedly all the causes Streetsbloggers hold dear, and now I’m seeing a bit of a lock-step mentality from this bunch of progressives.

  • Anonymous

    “almost scuttled the whole thing”?? Enough with the oversimplifications, untruths and name-calling. They indicate a preference for agitating on blogs rather than going to an un-air-conditioned, overlong Community Board meeting and hearing firsthand how the process works. Otherwise, see my comments below.

  • Michael King

    I attended the hearing last night and think that these statements from CB6 Board members ought to be recorded for when Lander and Levin consider re-appointments:
    “when I return from my house on the Jersey Shore…”
    “like most here, all I want to be able to do it get home [in my car] in a reasonable amount of time…”
    “I don’t know who you’ve been asking, but all my friends say they hate driving on 4th Av in Sunset Park now…”

  • Guest

    I think that’s accurate. Had the board not convened a special session last night, DOT plans might not have been tweaked or installed until well into the fall, after school began.

  • Guest

    The Jersey Shore comment was obnoxious. Yes, let’s totally maintain the status quo so that one guy can preserve his once-a-week-and-probably-only-in-the-summer drive just as it’s always been at the expense of thousands of other street users.

    It speaks volumes about the problems with Community Boards.

  • Anonymous

    Thanks Michael. But the session *was* convened specifically because of that vote, with that time frame in mind. No one wanted the whole thing shelved.

  • Alex Knight

    I agree. I’m glad the plan passed with relatively minor changes, but it’s bothersome that a small minority was able to throw a fit and water the original plan down in spite of vast community support. I suppose we can hold out hope that when they review things a year from now they’ll have evidence that supports implementing the original plan in full.

  • Joe R.

    If someone lives on the Jersey Shore, then why are they on a NYC Community Board? Shouldn’t you have to live in the neighborhood you’re representing?

  • Anonymous

    They were probably referring to their “second home”, which they visit for weekends and vacations. Thus making them even less representative of the “average citizen”.

  • Jabir

    Personally I’d be okay with eliminating ALL left turns from 4th Ave into Park Slope.

  • JamesR

    I don’t disagree with you, but with all due respect, maybe you ought to join your CB and be the change you want to see if you’ve got a problem with the way the decision-making process works. Just throwing that out there. It’s a big time commitment, but one that can potentially a lot further toward accomplishing the goals of livable streets movement than comments typed into the ether of the Internet.

  • JamesR

    I don’t disagree with you, but with all due respect, maybe you ought to join your CB and be the change you want to see if you’ve got a problem with the way the decision-making process works. Just throwing that out there. It’s a big time commitment, but one that can potentially a lot further toward accomplishing the goals of livable streets movement than comments typed into the ether of the Internet.

  • Jeffrey Hyman

    As a former community board member (elsewhere), I disagree. Although I don’t agree with the Park Slope/Jersey Shore person, her or his opinion is probably not all that unique. Community Board’s benefit from having a range of perspectives.

  • Car free nation

    Just for the record, I was at the meeting in the hot room and I was also at many of the planning meetings. What I meant to say is that one neighborhood’s intransigence can inadvertently kill good plans. I’m sure you didn’t mean to scuttle the plan but the fact that the fifth street people were at the previous meeting distorting the general sense of what the community really wanted could practically have killed the whole thing. But for the blogosphere and many outraged community resident who had worked tirelessly on this thing , it would not ha e happened in the bloomberg administration which means it might not have happened at all. No offence intended.

  • Anonymous

    My personal faves were

    1) the woman who said she “didn’t know what to do” when she was driving and saw plastic bollards.

    2) the guy who objected to bringing up his daughter to speak to how dangerous it was to cross 4th Ave. on way to school (“we shouldn’t bring emotion into this”)

    3) the same guy – who after having explained for him how DOT models traffic, and how they compare their models to reality to validate the model said, “I don’t believe it”.

    4) same guy again, who said about Sunset Park traffic calming, “What was the secret of its success?”

    I’ll tell you what the secret sauce was.. THEY F*CKING IMPLEMENTED IT!

  • Ian Turner

    There is no residency requirement for community boards. The only requirement is that you have to have some kind of “active and involved” connection to the community, which can arise from residency, employment, business ownership, or other interests.

    Basically, it’s quite open-ended. I doubt there is anyone interested in being on a CB who does not meet the requirements who could nonetheless get appointed.

  • Ian Turner

    Quite common for those with rent controlled apartments.

  • Anonymous

    That’s ok, Car Free, thanks. I wouldn’t say distorting, because believe it or not, not everyone in the Slope is so plugged in – a lot of people I’ve talked to still don’t know about the DOT plan! And it has been made abundantly clear that we don’t have anywhere near the influence that has been attributed to us.

    Since you live in the Slope, though, please take a look at the Methodist coverage that’ll hit tomorrow. I was just at that meeting, and the size of what they’re proposing is a bit stunning. They’re adding at least 50% more outpatient services, which means that many more drop-off and pick-ups, and people cruising around the neighborhood for parking spaces. It’ll affect 5th, 6th and 7th streets the most, but will impact a larger area as well. The hospital’s presentation did not address any community impact concerns beyond the actual block the expansion will be on, and they don’t seem aware of the traffic impact they already have. They’ll have a paid parking garage and a drive-through, which they seem to think is sufficient for traffic concerns.

  • Mike

    Methodist is three very long blocks from 4th Ave. It also is a completely separate issue. If you have a problem with Methodist’s plans, the answer is not to make 4th Ave. somewhat less safe than it would’ve been if the full plan had been implemented. The answer is to talk to Methodist.

  • Anonymous

    It’s not a separate issue at all – it will affect the entire neighborhood, 4th ave. traffic too. The expansion is designed to attract many more vehicles to the area, and they won’t just drop out of the sky and land in front of the hospital. And the changes made to the plan had nothing to do with what we asked for – so don’t blame us for that. The intersection of 5th and 4th ave., as well as 5th and 5th ave., will be more dangerous now, and everyone seems just fine with that. Look, I don’t mean to be baiting people, but what is being proposed 3 blocks (aka a 10 minute walk) away is a real traffic-generating behemoth, and no one seems aware of it as yet.

  • Mike

    There’s been no study that I’m aware of on this, so I may be pulling stuff out of my butt, but it seems like most traffic to Methodist doesn’t come from 4th Ave. If it’s from the north, it would likely come from Flatbush and then down either PPW or 7th. If it’s from the south, it would likely come from the Prospect Expressway to 8th Ave. or from 278 to a more major street like 9th St. or Prospect Ave. before heading to 7th or 8th Ave. Coming from the west would involve 3rd St. or 9th St., but not 5th since 5th St. ends at 4th Ave. From the east involves going around the park to either the north or south.

    I really don’t see any trouble for 5th Street because of this. And, I’m fine with Methodist growing. I broke my shoulder recently and had to go to the run down ER of SUNY LICH — having a larger modern facility nearby is good, and people who need to go the hospital often can’t walk or bike there thanks to their injuries. May Methodist help many more people.

  • Anonymous

    Exactly – they will drive, just as they already do. Only it will be about 200K more per year, based on the rough estimate at the meeting. And since 4th ave. is still a major north/south artery, patients and workers will be coming up that way as well, along with all the other routes you mentioned. I actually like Methodist – but they haven’t even acknowledged the traffic and parking burden their last expansion placed on the neighborhood. As was pointed out at the meeting, the people in Cobble Hill who are getting arrested right now at LICH would love to have these very same services coming to them – now they will have to go out of their way, with LICH’s newly renovated facilities going to waste, and our historic buildings getting knocked down in their stead. And re- 5th St., I honestly invite you to come out during alternate side parking hours (maybe not now – in Sept.) and see for yourself how the hospital’s inadequate parking set-up already affects nearby blocks.

  • Guest

    Do you own a car?

  • Anonymous

    Why, no. haven’t had one in many years. That’s kind of a funny question though.

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