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Zero Vision in DOT’s “Great Streets” Plan to Revamp Atlantic Avenue

This is one of the marquee Vision Zero projects under the "Great Streets" initiative. Image: DOT [PDF]
This is one of the marquee Vision Zero projects under the "Great Streets" initiative. Image: DOT [PDF]
This is one of the marquee Vision Zero projects under the "Great Streets" initiative. Image: DOT [PDF]

The de Blasio administration's Vision Zero "Great Streets" initiative aims to improve safety on the city's most dangerous streets. Will NYC DOT implement designs that are bold enough to save lives and prevent serious injuries? It's not looking that way on Atlantic Avenue.

The Great Streets program dedicated $250 million to rebuild and redesign four arterial streets. Designs for three of the streets, including Atlantic, have now been revealed. The biggest change is coming to Queens Boulevard, which will be getting its first stretch of protected bike lanes later this summer and a full reconstruction in the next few years. A road diet and wider pedestrian medians on Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, already implemented with temporary materials, will be cast in concrete. The redesign of the Grand Concourse has yet to be made public.

Atlantic Avenue covers more than 10 miles from the Brooklyn waterfront to the Van Wyck Expressway in Queens. DOT's $60 million Great Streets project focuses on two miles from Pennsylvania Avenue to Rockaway Parkway. The bulk of the project is in East New York, where the de Blasio administration also wants to spur housing growth. (This part of Atlantic does not overlap with the section to the west where the Department of City Planning is studying potential changes and where street safety advocates are focusing their efforts.)

The first phase covers the western half of that two-mile zone, between Pennsylvania Avenue and Conduit Avenue. Here Atlantic is 90 feet wide, and the crash rate is higher than on 90 percent of Brooklyn streets, according to DOT [PDF]. Two pedestrians and one motor vehicle occupant have been killed on this 1.2-mile segment since 2009. From 2009 to 2013, 37 people suffered severe injuries, two-thirds of them car occupants. Of the 993 total traffic injuries, nine out of 10 were sustained by people in motor vehicles.

The design proposed by DOT will make Atlantic look nicer and probably yield a marginal improvement in safety, but it does not fundamentally alter the geometry of the street.

The city is proposing raised medians featuring seating areas. Image: DOT [PDF]
DOT is proposing raised medians with seating areas. Image: DOT [PDF]
The city is proposing raised medians featuring seating areas. Image: DOT [PDF]

Atlantic already has pedestrian medians. Under the redesign, some of them would be extended further into the intersection and receive bell bollards for protection. The plan would also raise, but not widen, the existing median in an attempt to discourage people from crossing midblock. There would be benches at pedestrian crossings, as well as trees and other plantings in the median.

The design would be similar to the high medians on Houston Street, Broadway on the Upper West Side, and the Grand Concourse in the Bronx. Fourth Avenue in Brooklyn, another "Great Streets" project, is also in line for raised medians.

At seven crash-prone locations between Pennsylvania and Conduit, DOT is proposing other measures. The agency wants to add left turn lanes in the median at some of these intersections, which would remove pedestrian space, as well as left turn bans, curb extensions, and, in one location, a midblock crossing. The agency says it is still reviewing options at these locations during this preliminary design phase.

The street will not receive a road diet or bike lanes. DOT would not say whether it will narrow the width of the motor vehicle lanes, which could reduce speeding. "Regarding lane width," a spokesperson said, "DOT is in the early planning stages and has recently begun planning to reach out to local stakeholders in order to start the community input gathering process."

DOT made a presentation about Atlantic Avenue to Brooklyn Community Board 5 on June 24. The agency is working with the Department of Design and Construction on the plan, which it hopes to finalize by August 2016. Construction should begin in spring 2017 and wrap a year later. A future phase will cover Atlantic between Conduit Avenue and Rockaway Boulevard.

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