UNBELIEVABLE! DOT Adds Parking to Car-Choked DUMBO

This sign now greets cyclists as they simply try to get from Downtown Brooklyn to DUMBO. Photo: Daniel Hopkins
This sign now greets cyclists as they simply try to get from Downtown Brooklyn to DUMBO. Photo: Daniel Hopkins

Pedestrian-packed and car-clogged Washington Street in Brooklyn’s DUMBO neighborhood has been converted to a one-way between Front and York streets — a change spurred by a two-year effort by a neighborhood resident that will actually add more cars and more danger to the roadway.

As of three weeks ago, vehicles can only travel southbound on the block — or up and out of the low-lying neighborhood. There is also now metered parking on both sides of the street, effectively adding almost a dozen new parking spots to the already crowded corridor. The block had been two-way since 2010.

DUMBO resident Jamel Talbi
DUMBO resident Jamel Talbi — he got the change that will lead to more cars in his own neighborhood.

The change was quietly made by the Department of Transportation, nearly two years after DUMBO resident Jamel Talbi approached his community board to argue for a change on the roadway, which, at 30 feet wide, is 10 feet narrower than most two-lane streets. Talbi said that even though parking was banned on one side of the block, illegal parking persisted. The selfish drivers caused standstill traffic that created dangerous situations for all road users.

“It was a broad effort — I just happened to have been at the center of it,” Talbi told Streetsblog. “You just walk out onto the street for the umpteenth time and try to unload your child from the car seat, or even your groceries, and it was just madness on Washington.

“It is still busy, it is still dangerous, but it is much improved,” he added.

But has one solved problem created several new problems? Talbi’s issue has been fixed: two-way car traffic will no longer get gummed up due to illegal parking. However, with vehicles now legally parked on each side of the street, the road becomes impassable when a vehicle inevitably double-parks. Add bicyclists and pedestrians into the mix and you still have a recipe for danger. Plus, the one-way street means that one of the main bike routes into DUMBO is now more dangerous. Cyclists from Downtown Brooklyn — and those exiting the Brooklyn Bridge bike path — often used Washington Street to legally head into DUMBO’s core. Now they face a “Do Not Enter” sign — and no place to ride into the neighborhood legally.

“This turns a street that could barely handle having two travel lanes and two parking lanes into a regular, narrow one-way street,” said Brian Howald, a member of Brooklyn Community Board 2, which had approved the project overwhelmingly with little debate. “The same potential for double-parking exists because there is a substantial amount of commercial businesses on that block that need loading and unloading from trucks.”

A cyclist heading the wrong way down the newly one-way Washington Street in DUMBO. The double-parked truck is a key source of the problem. Photo: Daniel Hopkins
A cyclist heading the wrong way down the newly one-way Washington Street in DUMBO. The double-parked truck is a key source of the problem. Photo: Daniel Hopkins

Howald said whatever upside the change may have is more than offset by the downsides.

“My main concern is that making that block one-way southbound is that it forces all traffic heading north on Washington Street to have to make a left turn at York Street,” he said. “That left turn is in the face of oncoming traffic. It’s also an intersection where the sight lines are incredibly limited due to the BQE passing overhead.

“The resident who proposed the change argued that it was safety project, but I don’t think DOT has shown any data suggesting that’s true,” Howald added. “I also don’t think any studies on one-vs.-two way streets suggest one-way streets are any safer.”

Talbi argues the problems on his block are symptomatic of the entire neighborhood. He said the major issue in DUMBO is that massive growth in the business, tourism and residential sectors hasn’t been met by policies to effectively manage the increase in foot and vehicular traffic. On this, there is widespread agreement.

“Everyone wants a piece of the gold rush that is DUMBO, which is great, but it needs to be better managed,” he said. “Right now, it’s the Wild Wild West out here.”

Talbi argues that better management would include improved enforcement of parking violations. Melissa Prober, the co-chairwoman of a local advocacy group DUMBO Action Committee, says that no one is focused on protecting pedestrians.

“For years, there were people who fought to protect the Belgian blocks in DUMBO,” Prober said. “We all love the Belgian blocks. But nobody has fought for safe streets for the pedestrians and bikers who live, work and visit DUMBO. There’s been no focus on protecting the people, and that needs to change.”

Will it? DUMBO might have become the perfect test case for a car-free neighborhood, thanks to its configuration as basically a big cul-de-sac, and its former guise as a haven for artists, cheap loft renters, squatters and industry. Even as the neighborhood started to develop, car ownership was low. But the more recent development of several large skyscrapers have brought even wealthier people — and parking lots — to the neighborhood. Those parking lots — and the dozen new spaces on Talbi’s block — have created an entrenched, and now entitled, car-owning minority. Studies, after all, show that the creation of new parking tends to lead to an increase in local car ownership and use.

Meanwhile, DUMBO cultural attractions and Brooklyn Bridge Park has been drawing more and more tourists, who turn Washington Street in to a de facto pedestrian zone as they pose for artsy shots of the Empire State Building perfectly framed inside a Manhattan Bridge archway.

“DUMBO is a prime candidate for being a car-free or car-lite part of the city, because of all the pedestrians,” Howald said. “But while our peer cities in Europe and other parts of the world are finding ways to make their downtown cores car-free, the current administration doesn’t seem to be even considering those issues.”

Mayor de Blasio has consistently told Streetsblog he is not interested in following the leads of London, Paris, Madrid and other world capitals by creating neighborhood-wide pedestrian zones.

  • Charlie Romanow

    The block north of Front St is also one-way southbound, so it’s continuing the same treatment as already exists and improves the consistency of the road network. And as for ““My main concern is that making that block one-way southbound is that it forces all traffic heading north on Washington Street to have to make a left turn at York Street,” when the block was two-way, this same condition existed, so that hasn’t changed. Having one-way streets cause fewer intersection conflicts, and thus, can potentially improve safety (key is “potentially”). Making the street one-way doesn’t increase capacity either. Additionally, it’s better to have traffic caused by illegal conditions like double-parking than by typical, routine traffic (where nobody can be penalized), as had been the case.

  • 6SJ7

    The NYCDOT has a minimum width for two-way streets with parking, I think it’s 34′ wide. Sometimes they eliminate parking on one side or if requested will paint a broken-yellow line down the middle of the street. https://uploads.disquscdn.com/images/1da410d0301665ffe6238efe5b3796862087c587e0cc0f1301aa61ebb83f1094.jpg

  • MtotheI

    It’s amazing the process the community has to go through to get 1 or 2 parking space removed for safety and how easy it is for DOT to add parking without consulting anyone.

  • “You just walk out onto the street for the umpteenth time and try to unload your child from the car seat, or even your groceries, and it was just madness on Washington.”

    Most New Yorkers are able to tote kids and groceries just fine without cars.

  • Robert Perris

    How does discussion at three committee meetings and one general meeting of Community Board 2 over a two-year period qualify as “with little debate?”

  • com63

    Seems like a good street to try a “do not enter, except for bikes” type shared street that they often have in Europe where cars are one way, but bikes are contraflow with sharrows.

  • MtotheI

    I though CB’s voted on things like this. At least they have to vote on changes to streets that take away 1 parking space or add a bicycle lane or a road diet. Why just discussions? Was there a vote? And, how long did it take between discussions and DOT action?

  • AMH

    Unbelieveable–it’s already hellish trying to find your way around on a bike. All the one-ways go the wrong way. It makes no sense.

  • Previ

    You seem to be one of those people that wants to eliminate all cars from the city. This is a silly argument meant to just fill space on a blog. There’s nothing wrong with putting in more parking spots.

  • petercow

    How many more parking spots do you think DUMO needs?
    The city needs?

  • Joe R.

    Yes, there is, not the least because more parking encourages more car use. More car use is a net negative for the city for a whole bunch of reasons. In fact, that entire subject is why this blog exists. If car use were so benign, there would be no need to regulate it or try to reduce it.

  • Previ

    As many as the streets could handle. Either side of each street if wide enough, not on a hydrant and doesn’t prevent large trucks from turning should be a legal parking spot. Every street. And if you like to walk and use mass transit perfect. The spots wont affect you in any way.

  • CDC

    Parking spots are like pools of standing water. They seemingly won’t affect you in any way, but it turns out that they both attract pests which are public health hazards.

  • Bluewndrpwrmlk

    That could work, but I doubt DOT will implement, saying cyclists could just use Adams St. Perhaps a bike lane on Prospect St to compensate…

  • jen

    And he’s still going to find madness on Washington because he will have to double park to unload, creating the madness himself.

  • Andrew

    There’s nothing wrong with putting in more parking spots.

    https://www.goodreads.com/book/show/101843.The_High_Cost_of_Free_Parking

  • Andrew

    As many as the streets could handle.

    So, basically, in your mind, parking should take priority over all other possible uses of street space, aside from street space devoted to moving cars, regardless of the potential productivity of those other uses, and regardless of the unnecessary driving that those parking spaces induce.

    Some examples – not an exhaustive list – of other possible uses of street space: truck loading/unloading, bike lane, bike share station, bus lane, pedestrian area or wider sidewalk, public seating, parklet with grass/trees. Not all of those uses will be relevant at any given location, but you’ve just managed to summarily dismiss every single one of them, everywhere, regardless of circumstances, in favor of more parking.

    And if you like to walk and use mass transit perfect. The spots wont affect you in any way.

    When I walk, I am often delayed by heavy pedestrian volumes on sidewalks that are too narrow. Conversion of some parking lanes to wider sidewalks would yield a huge improvement for pedestrians. Conversion of parking spaces near crosswalks to bulbouts would greatly enhance safety, by reducing the crossing distance for pedestrians and by improving sightlines for motorists.

    When I use transit, my bus is often delayed by heavy vehicular volumes on streets that encourage (through widely available parking!) heavy SOV usage. My bus is also often delayed by double-parked trucks, and trucks illegally parked in bus stops, making deliveries in areas where the curb is otherwise occupied by private vehicles parked for days at a time. Conversion of some parking spaces to truck loading zones would eliminate the need for trucks to double-park and would speed up my bus service. Conversion of some parking lanes to bus lanes would give priority to buses carrying dozens of people over cars carrying one or two or three people and would speed up my bus service even more. Better yet, on streets with considerable bus traffic, do both – a bus lane on one side of the street and designated truck loading zones on the other.

    By the way, it’s not only that I like to walk and use mass transit. I also don’t own a car, like most residents of this city. Every parking space in the city is a parking space that my taxes and the taxes of all city taxpayers pays for, even though most city residents are unable to use it. That isn’t a particularly equitable or functional way to spend the city’s limited resources.

  • Finding parking in Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem, and the Bronx is and always been an everyday struggle!! Take our survey to help out with the frustrating parking in our city. We want to hear your frustrations and help finding parking 24/7 easier!!!

    https://marcmarcelin.typeform.com/to/gKrFPJ

  • Take our survey to help out with the frustrating parking in our city. We want to hear your frustrations and help finding parking 24/7 easier!!!

    https://marcmarcelin.typeform.com/to/gKrFPJ

  • Finding parking in Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem, and the Bronx is and always been an everyday struggle!! Take our survey to help out with the frustrating parking in our city. We want to hear your frustrations and help finding parking 24/7 easier!!!

    https://marcmarcelin.typeform.com/to/gKrFPJ

  • Andrew

    Finding parking in Brooklyn, Queens, Harlem, and the Bronx is and always been an everyday struggle!!

    Not for the majority of New York City households, who don’t own cars. Nice spam, though.

  • Joe R.

    Besides all the things Andrew mentioned, the rows of parked cars are also a visual blight. In addition, people looking for parking cause additional traffic. People stopping and backing into parking spots are a hazard to everyone else, and also delay traffic. Then there’s the fundamental fairness issue. Why can people store cars on streets but not other kinds of personal property? At least if we allowed people to put storage containers by the curb non-car owners might have use of that space as well. In fact, we should allow exactly that. If we did, my guess is all the curbside space would quickly be filled with storage containers instead of cars simply because that use of the space represents more utility to more NYers than car storage.

    NYC should do like Tokyo. You want a car, prove you own an off-street place to keep it or no car.

  • A ot of people in the boroughs have to deal with frustrating parking unavailability daily, not spam

  • Robert Perris

    Per DOT protocol, community residents presented first to the CB2 transportation committee, which voted to recommend that the community board ask DOT to study the issue. The full board voted to ratify the committee recommendation. When DOT completed its study, the agency presented it to the committee, which then voted in favor of the proposed change. That action came just before a summer recess and the final action was taken by the CB2 exec’ committee. The minutes of all of these meetings were provided to the author. From initial appeal by community residents to community board request to have the block made one-way took two years.

  • Joe R.

    No, they have to deal with the unavailability of FREE parking. There’s always parking if you’re willing to pay market rates for it. If you want free parking, you know the old adage beggars can’t be choosers.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t own a car, so I don’t have to deal with any frustrations parking it.

  • How do you get around the city effectively? especially in the pour rain like today, or in the winter months? Gotta be tough as well

  • Thats true, but those garages are expensive not to mention some people are not walking distance to an affordable lot

  • Joe R.

    Walk, bike, or take public transit? There are things known as umbrellas and coats to protect you against rain and cold. It’s far easier to walk or bike or take public transit than to deal with the hassle and expense of owning a car.

  • WhyleKat

    you post the same comment and link over and over again. Literally the very definition of spam.

  • Just trying to engage with the community, not trying to spam this post, just want to get an idea of the beef with parking. A spammer wouldn’t politely respond.

  • i’ve done both and the unpredictability of the MTA, the northeast weather i.e cold half the year, and how dangerous it is to ride a pedal bike has me on team car. I’m a Physical therapist that had and will continue to have patients that got hit by cars and 9/10 times its a hit and run. All in all there is not enough spots for all the cars in the city

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