Why Not Fix the Flatbush/Atlantic/Fourth Hellscape With a Traffic Circle?

The Flatbush/Atlantic/Fourth traffic circle concept from Perkins Eastman, with bike lane in blue.
The Flatbush/Atlantic/Fourth traffic circle concept from Perkins Eastman, with bike lane in blue.

Could a traffic circle tame cars and trucks at the chaotic intersection of Flatbush, Atlantic, and Fourth avenues in Brooklyn? A team of architects thinks so.

Earlier this week DOT held a public workshop about improving pedestrian safety in this area, where heavy traffic on wide, two-way streets meeting at irregular angles creates exceptional hazards. Motorists injured 78 people walking and biking there between 2010 and 2014, according to DOT, and have killed four pedestrians and one cyclist in the project area since 2008. Over half of pedestrian injuries occurred while the victim was crossing with the signal.

DOT’s draft plan would add pedestrian islands, curb extensions, and crosswalks, while leaving the basic geometry of the streets intact.

Perkins Eastman transportation project designer Jonathan Cohn, who lives in Park Slope, presented a different idea at the DOT workshop — a traffic circle.

It’s a rough concept that has yet to be fleshed out in detail, but one that merits strong consideration. With a traffic circle, left turns across multiple lanes of traffic would be eliminated, which should provide a major safety boost. The traffic pattern would be simpler for pedestrians to negotiate. Cohn’s concept also calls for a two-way bikeway around the edge of the circle.

“The flow of vehicle traffic becomes predictable,” said Perkins Eastman’s Justin Wolf. “It’s steady, it’s predictable, and that creates a safer environment.”

DOT staff at the workshop said there’s not enough space at Flatbush/Atlantic/Fourth for a traffic circle, but Cohn thinks that obstacle is surmountable, the Brooklyn Paper reports. He suggested the city could “take a bit” off the lot currently occupied by a PC Richards, which developer Forest City already plans to replace with an office tower. A safer, more welcoming pedestrian environment at the doorstep of the tower might be worth whatever tradeoff Forest City might have to make.

It’s worth a thorough study to see if a traffic circle could work at this location, even if it requires some negotiations with property owners.

For a very rough idea of how the Flatbush/Atlantic/Fourth site compares to two other large traffic circles in NYC, take a look at these Google satellite views at the same scale.

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Above is the Flatbush/Atlantic/Fourth convergence…
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…and here is Park Circle, at the southwest corner of Prospect Park, which has a two-way bike lane around most of its perimeter.
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This is Columbus Circle at the southwest corner of Central Park. Note the central area is smaller than the grassy area in Park Circle. It still manages to be a well-used public space despite the overbuilt roads encircling it…
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The public space in the middle of Columbus Circle. Via Google Street View

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