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A Car-Free Plaza Is the Key to DOT’s Safety Plan for Myrtle-Wyckoff

Reconfiguring this dangerous intersection with a car-free plaza will simplify vehicle movements and reduce the potential for turning drivers to hit pedestrians. Image: DOT
The new plaza simplified vehicle movements and reduced the potential for turning drivers to hit pedestrians. Image: DOT [PDF]

The dangerous intersection of Myrtle Avenue and Wyckoff Avenue at the Bushwick-Ridgewood border is in line for a major DOT redesign this year. The proposal calls for pedestrianizing the block of Wyckoff between Myrtle and Gates to reduce potential motor vehicle turns at the intersection by 70 percent.

Myrtle-Wyckoff is a major transit hub, where the elevated M Train crosses paths with the underground L, and six bus routes converge at the Ridgewood Bus Terminal on Palmetto Street. Since 2009, three pedestrians have been killed at the six-legged intersection -- two by MTA bus drivers. Two years ago, hundreds of people gathered there to remember Ella Bandes, who was struck and killed by a bus driver in 2013, and call for safety improvements.

In 2014, the city eliminated five of the 25 potential turns at the intersection, and last year the MTA rerouted the B26 away from the westbound turn from Wyckoff onto Palmetto. With the car-free plaza, the number of turns would fall even more dramatically -- bus drivers would make five turns and drivers of personal vehicles would be limited to three turning movements.

According to DOT, three times as many pedestrians as cars pass through the block of the proposed plaza. Making it car-free would allow pedestrians to travel between the train station and bus terminal without having to cross motorized traffic lanes. The proposal also calls for demarcating the bus-only blocks by the bus terminal with red paint, and for converting Wyckoff to a one-way street south of the intersection.

On Tuesday night, about 60 people came to a public workshop hosted by DOT at International School 77 and weighed in on how they want to use the proposed plaza space.

The block of Wyckoff on the right side of the frame would go car-free Image: Google Street View
DOT wants to close off the block of Wyckoff Avenue to the right of the area shown here. Image: Google Maps

Speaking to reporters during the event, Queens DOT Commissioner Nicole Garcia said that while the city has eliminated turns in recent years, those new rules are often ignored. “It’s just a very complex intersection and we don’t think that a lot of non-compliance that we’re seeing is people going in there and trying to be aggressive,” Garcia said. “The best, most straightforward way that we can address this critical safety need is really reducing the amount of turns and creating more organization out of that intersection.”

The DOT plan will be presented to both Queens CB 5 and Brooklyn CB 4. On Saturday, April 9, the city will make the block car-free for a one-day temporary plaza. The permanent plaza could be implemented in early fall, Garcia said.

Queens Community Board 5 Chair Vincent Arcuri said that while he would prefer to keep the lane on Wyckoff open, he understood the severity of safety concerns at the intersection. “Something has to be done, obviously,” he told Streetsblog. “We’ve tried different things and we still haven’t stopped the fatalities. I have mixed feelings about the plaza, but what else can you do?”

CB 5 member Toby Sheppard Bloch, who like Arcuri lives in nearby Glendale, said that Arcuri’s change of heart reflects a growing acknowledgment in the neighborhood that the city has to prioritize safe streets. “Over time, I think that members of the community who have been reluctant to [change street designs] have taken the safety concerns more seriously and are willing to talk about these changes with a little more of an open mind,” he said. “It’s a pain to find parking, and traffic is becoming worse and worse everywhere, and so I think people are beginning to change their attitudes about the sanctity of public space being dedicated to cars.”

Some turning movements have been banned since 2014, but the new rules are often disregarded. A simpler configuration will be self-enforcing. Image: DOT

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