City Planning Department Suggests Safer Streets, Better Buses for Red Hook

The Department of City Planning is recommending making Hamilton Avenue beneath the Gowanus Expressway more pedestrian friendly. Image: DCP
The Department of City Planning recommends making Hamilton Avenue beneath the Gowanus Expressway more pedestrian friendly. Image: DCP

Cut off from the rest of the borough by the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway and lacking direct subway access, Red Hook can feel like an isolated part of Brooklyn. A study from the Department of City Planning, released last November, calls for expanded pedestrian space, new bus service to Manhattan, and bicycle and pedestrian safety fixes throughout the neighborhood.

A common complaint from Red Hook residents is that there aren’t enough transit connections to the area. Mostly beyond the reach of the F and G trains, the neighborhood is served only by the B57 and B61 buses. Nevertheless, most people depend on transit: Three-quarters of households in the neighborhood are car-free, compared to 55 percent citywide, and 61 percent of residents commute by train or bus.

Transit improvements have been difficult to secure. DOT studied and rejected a streetcar to Red Hook in 2011. While ferries have proven politically popular, especially warm-weather shuttles to IKEA operated by New York Waterway, DCP pointed to the 2011 Comprehensive Citywide Ferry Study, currently being updated, which found expanded ferry service to require too much subsidy to be feasible.

DCP is more receptive to the idea of a direct bus connection to Manhattan via the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. The agency says the extension of the M22, which runs between Battery Park City and Corlears Hook, just south of the Williamsburg Bridge, is a “viable option” that requires more study from the MTA. An alternative could be a peak-period shuttle, though DCP does not prefer this limited option.

The report’s recommendations aren’t limited to transit. Bicycling and street safety feature prominently, as well.

The report calls for changes to Woodhull Street where it makes a U-turn over the entrance to the tunnel. It suggests signage to direct cyclists to nearby Summit and Bowne Streets as alternate routes, expanded pedestrian and green space, and the installation of bollards and pedestrian crossings. These changes could transform the area from a wide-open expanse of asphalt to a more pedestrian-friendly space.

DCP recommends additional pedestrian space where Woodhull Avenue U-turns above the entrance to the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel. Image: DCP
DCP recommends additional pedestrian space where Woodhull Avenue U-turns above the entrance to the Hugh L. Carey Tunnel. Image: DCP

Another area on deck for big changes: Hamilton Avenue, which runs beneath the Gowanus Expressway and is a well-known danger zone for pedestrians and cyclists. In 2013, 60-year-old Lillian Cruz was killed by a tractor-trailer driver at Hamilton and Court Street. DCP is calling for the study of additional pedestrian crossings at Court Street, West 9th Street, Mill Street and Centre Street, as well as an upgraded median beneath the expressway featuring a pedestrian walkway with vegetation, seating, and improved lighting.

Changes could be coming soon to the southern end of Hamilton Avenue: The transportation committees of Community Boards 6 and 7 have both voted to support a DOT plan to construct a missing link in the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway between Red Hook and Sunset Park along Hamilton and Third Avenues [PDF].

DCP recommends more east-west connections in the neighborhood’s bike network, including to the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway. The report suggests a shared lane on Wolcott Street extending to the western waterfront and an extension of the West 9th Street bike route in Carroll Gardens across Hamilton Avenue to Columbia Street. It also suggests that DOT re-stripe the existing bike route on Bay Street, work with the community to identify locations for additional bike racks, and daylight the intersection of Van Brunt Street and Sullivan Street due to the high number of bike crashes there.

On Tuesday, the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative unveiled a proposal to integrate bikeway upgrades into green infrastructure and storm protection that would protect Red Hook from future flooding. Resiliency is largely missing from DCP’s report, and it’s something Council Member Carlos Menchaca’s office wants to see included in the neighborhood’s transportation plans.

“There are natural synergies between the resiliency planning that’s happening in Red Hook and transportation planning,” said Lee Wellington, Menchaca’s chief of staff. She mentioned the request for proposals from EDC for an integrated Red Hook flood protection plan. “These agencies are doing work in parallel with one another,” she said.

  • Alex

    These changes are so very much overdue. I would bike to Red Hook far more often if the routes were safer, but crossing Hamilton can be suicide. And the area around the tunnel is awful. Tons of pavement and wide lanes that really encourage speeding and dangerous driving. I’m glad they’re taking a serious look at all this. Red Hook deserves better.

  • BBnet3000

    Red Hook could be a pretty good biking neighborhood and is close to Downtown Brooklyn and Lower Manhattan. Unfortunately with CB6 its never going to happen. How many of their car-driving members have biked on Van Brunt since it got the sharrows they asked for over the real bike lanes DOT proposed? None, I’d wager. The limitation of Red Hook is that the highway and entrance to the Battery tunnel really cuts it off from the adjoining neighborhoods, and only a few streets go through. Its important to get these chokepoints right.

    Having the waterfront be the only bikeway is a great way to ensure nobody bikes in this neighborhood. Its very indirect to get to most places and very far out on the periphery. Its also quite a zig-zaggy route with a lot of turns. Its really a counterexample to the Hudson River Greenway which is straight as an arrow and easy to navigate to and from.

  • Eric McClure

    I don’t recall DOT proposing anything other than sharrows for Van Brunt. Can you link that?

    Also: the times are a-changin’ at CB6. The full board unanimously (save one abstention) supported the Hamilton Avenue Connector for the Greenway on Wednesday evening. That, thankfully, is a fully separated path.

  • Robert Wright

    I live in Carroll Gardens very close to where Lillian Cruze was killed and these changes are seriously overdue and I hope they’re made quickly.

    I’d make a point about the expressway, however. There are dead spaces like the one on Hamilton Avenue under vast numbers of the city’s expressways and they could all be far, far better used than at present. Why aren’t they turned into segregated cycle routes? They pretty much all head somewhere useful; there are limited crossings and the parking and other things that are currently under them aren’t well used. A well-designed route around Hamilton Avenue could form part of a high-capacity route towards Sunset Park and feed at Hamilton Avenue into the routes along Henry and Clinton Streets.

  • BBnet3000

    Actually looking back at the minutes I got it wrong. DOT was only proposing sharrows in the first place (this was 2-21-2013), much like they are on Wolcott today.

    If they wanted to connect this comprehensibly to Carroll Gardens they should run the Wolcott/Lorraine connection to Smith. The easternmost block of Lorraine today is one-way which makes this connection roundabout and complicated.

  • Eric McClure

    Thanks, that was what I thought. I was just appointed co-chair of CB6’s transportation committee, by the way.

  • BBnet3000

    Glad to hear it!

  • Mike

    Now if only they’d upgrade from cobblestones on many of Red Hook’s streets — really the only spot in the entire city where I feel motivated to ride on the sidewalk.

  • Cold Shoaler

    I’d rather see the sidewalk upgraded to ped/cycle multi-use space and the rest of the road surface remain cobbles. They’re a nice element of the neighborhood and keep speeds down. But I agree that between the current surface conditions and one way streets cyclists are strongly encourage to take to the sidewalks in RH.

  • millerstephen

    This is something the report addresses a little bit. DCP suggests a variety of maintenance or replacement options for cobblestone streets in Red Hook, including asphalt paving, cobblestone restoration, and adding smooth crosswalks on cobblestone streets where necessary.

  • JoshNY

    On the one hand, I wholeheartedly agree that Red Hook could use better transit and biking accessibility. On the other hand, the “common complaint from Red Hook residents [] that there aren’t enough transit connections to the area” reminds me of Staten Island residents complaining about traffic and tolls on the bridges. On the one hand, sure, I get where you’re coming from, but on the other hand, this has been the case for ages and nobody is forcing you to live there if you don’t like it.

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