Op-Ed: The Atlantic Avenue Rebuild Is Taking Too Long

“Great Street”? Hah! Change can't come soon enough to this crash-inducing boulevard.

A DOT rendering from the second phase of the Atlantic Avenue rebuild shows bike lanes along the median. Image: DOT
A DOT rendering from the second phase of the Atlantic Avenue rebuild shows bike lanes along the median. Image: DOT

The next chapter of the Department of Transportation’s long-awaited rebuild of Atlantic Avenue — one of the city’s deadliest corridors — won’t likely start until 2021, according to Council Member Rafael Espinal, Jr., whose district includes the project’s Brooklyn end.

The late anticipated start of the construction undoubtedly will disappoint those who have clamored for changes on the unsafe street. Speeding drivers on Atlantic constantly endanger both pedestrians and cyclists, with 20 killed and more than 1,100 injured since 2012 along the entire 10 miles from New York Harbor to Jamaica, according to data compiled by CrashMapper. In all, there have been 19,589 crashes — roughly seven per day.

When complete, the mile portion of Atlantic Avenue between the notorious Logan Street in East New York and Rockaway Boulevard in Woodhaven will include left-turn bays at eight intersections, fewer travel lanes, and longer pedestrian-refuge spaces.

A DOT rendering details Phase II of the Atlantic Avenue redesign. Image: DOT
A DOT rendering details Phase II of the Atlantic Avenue redesign. Image: DOT

“This redesign is going to make left turns on Atlantic Avenue much safer,” said Espinal. “It’s those turns that put pedestrians and drivers at the biggest risk of collision.”

The project, part of DOT’s “Great Streets” program, an effort to “rethink” four dangerous corridors across the city, also envisions raised bike lanes along the medians, the first lanes anywhere on Atlantic. That means East New York, a priority bicycle district with high numbers of cyclists killed or severely injured, but little access to the bike network, will finally have new cycling infrastructure.

David Herman, pictured on his home turf in Brooklyn.
David Herman, pictured on his home turf in Brooklyn.

“This side of the district doesn’t have a lot of bike lanes, so while we continue to push for a comprehensive bike network, we have to also take the steps we can to protect bikers who use our streets without lanes,” Espinal said. “I’d love to see a protected bike lane along the Conduit giving residents safer access to Queens by bike, and a connection to the rest of Atlantic Avenue to Downtown Brooklyn.”

The city has struggled with fixing Atlantic Avenue ever since the death of a baby and two young mothers by a speeding, drugged-out driver in 2003, who plowed into the families near Logan Street in Cypress Hills, along the Brooklyn-Queens border.

Drivers kept killing pedestrians at such a rate that in 2010 the Daily News dubbed Atlantic “the Avenue of Death”: With 9  — count ’em, 9 — deaths along the avenue just between 2006 and 2008, the avenue emerged as one of the two deadliest streets in the city, according to a study by the Tri-State Transportation Campaign.

In an effort to stop the carnage, DOT finally named Atlantic Avenue the city’s first arterial “slow zone” in 2014 and included it a year later in the Great Streets program, which seeks to redesign the four arteries to prevent crashes, improve accessibility, and strengthen neighborhoods.

Unfortunately, progress to achieve those goals on Atlantic has paled in comparison to its Great Streets brethren, especially Queens Boulevard. This first phase of the rebuild, now under way on the 1.2 miles from Georgia Avenue to Logan Street in East New York and Cypress Hills, fails to deliver many improvements sought by safe-streets advocates. It offers pedestrians some help — bulbouts and higher-visibility crosswalks — but it doesn’t impinge on the six full lanes now dedicated for vehicles. And DOT refuses to install any bike lanes here.

“Many of these interventions are designed to protect pedestrians from dangerous drivers, instead of implementing changes that would fundamentally alter dangerous driving behavior,” according to Transportation Alternatives’ 2016 report, “Atlantic Avenue’s Inequitable Crash Burden.”

On more affluent stretches of Atlantic, DOT has done a good job of improving specific intersections. For example, it redesigned Times Plaza — the perilous junction of Atlantic, Flatbush, and Fourth avenues in Downtown Brooklyn — last year, following a prolonged effort by safe-streets advocates and local elected leaders.

Atlantic Avenue offers unique challenges as a Great Street and Priority Corridor. Atlantic Yards construction, for example, could tie up progress in Prospect Heights for some time. The Long Island Rail Road, rising up between Bedford and Howard avenues in Bedford-Stuyvesant, constrains the street’s redesign in ways unlike most other corridors — but may provide opportunities for public spaces beneath elevated tracks.

These obstacles can be overcome, with the vision and commitment of residents, their elected officials, and DOT — and must be overcome to create the safe, equitable Atlantic Avenue we all deserve.

David Herman is a safe-streets advocate and co-chair of Transportation Alternatives’ Brooklyn Activist Committee. He tweets about Atlantic as @dhfixatlantic.

  • Unprotected lane up against the median? Hell no.

  • Hell, yes! Bike lanes in the centre of the street work beautifully on Pennsylvania Avenue in Washington between the White House and the Capitol. There’s no median in Pennsylvania Avenue, which is even wider than Atlantic Avenue.


    This sort of bike lane would be a wonderful thing for Woodhaven.

  • Hell no. You can’t get to any building on Pennsylvania Avenue from the bike lane. And that one isn’t even physically protected. Atlantic has medians without gaps in some intersections, forcing people on bikes to ride across traffic just to get to the bike lane. It’s a good idea if you want a bike lane that’s designed like a highway that a limited demographic can use. But if you want 8-80 infrastructure for all ages and abilities and a bike lane that’s useful to as many people as possible (including businesses), it must always be against the curb, no exceptions. Allen Street was a mistake, and it will also be a mistake on Woodhaven where people who live there have to cross five lanes of traffic mid-block just to get to the bike lane. Buses should be in the middle, never bikes. http://www.copenhagenize.com/2016/03/bicycle-infrastructure-fails.html

  • This makes no sense. You can get to any building you want on Pennsylvania Avenue, simply by crossing with the light at any corner.

    The centre placement of the bike lane is appropriate for many locations; it should be used much more than it is. For example, it should be used on Northern Boulevard.

    And calling Allen Street, which is one of our best bike lanes, “a mistake” is so absurd that it’s almost offensive.

    Finally, by your comment “on Woodhaven”, you seem to think that a centre bike lane is coming to Woodhaven Boulevard. If only! That would be an excellent street for such a configuration, as the bus lane moves to the outside of the street for much of its run. Unfortunately, there are no plans for that. The plans involve Atlantic Avenue, on a segment that is in the section of Woodhaven.

  • Cross with the light (on a crosswalk where other people are walking) … and then what? Ride with traffic? On the sidewalk? Anything else that will cause scorn or danger while confusing people on bikes? Just for that you’ll need the bike lane against the curb anyway. That’s also where the bike parking is.

    It’s short-sighted and divisive no matter how you put it. If this gets put on Northern Boulevard, at best, sidewalk riding is going to happen; at worst, ridership will be stifled. And someone has yet to explain how to protect cars from moving onto a center bike lane if they want to make a left turn. https://transitninja.wordpress.com/2018/10/13/queens-blvd-capital-potential/

  • What do you mean “and then what”?! And then you go into the building that you are going to. (Don’t forget that I was responding to the incomprehensible claim “You can’t get to any building on Pennsylvania Avenue from the bike lane.”)

    Also, the concern about cars crossing the bike lane is a straw man, as there will be some crossing no matter where you put the bike lane. You could just as well argue that lanes along the right side of the street are unsafe because right-turning cars must cross them.

    The Pennsylvania Avenue bike lane works very well for riders of all levels of skill and confidence. And such a design would be tremendous on Atlantic Avenue. Pushing farther into Woodhaven, we could imagine a two-way bike lane cut right into the middle of this gigantic concrete island, which would leave concrete strips for protection along either side of the lanes.


    The the blog to which you linked makes a good point about two-way lanes sometimes being too narrow. However, that is not the case on Pennsylvania Avenue. (And the selection of Queens Boulevard as an illustration is not entirely honest, as the two-way portion of that bike lane goes only for a few hundred feet of a four-mile run, between Eliot Avenue and Woodhaven Boulevard.)

    Generally speaking, bike lanes should be one way in the direction of car traffic. But successful two-way bike lanes exist in several places, such as at the Queens approach to the Queensboro Bridge on Queens Plaza, and on Flushing Avenue leading around up to Kent Avenue going to Williamsburg. Also, the short two-way stretches on Clinton Street in Manhattan just south of Delancey Street and on Plaza Street East, just north of Grand Army Plaza in Brooklyn serve a useful function, even if they are, strictly speaking, a bit too thin.

    Centre-running two-way bike lanes are most appropriate for major streets that are useful for long-distance travel. Atlantic Avenue fits this description, as does Northern Boulevard.

  • By teleporting from the end of the crosswalk to the front door or bike rack, I assume? ?

    Right-turning cars don’t need to look for cars coming in the other direction though. Plus, two bike lanes against the curb at an intersection would allow for right in reds for bikes; impossible with center-running.

    I’ll believe that Pennsylvania Avenue bike lane works very well for riders of all levels of skill and confidence — let alone ages and especially abilities — when I see these riders there in masses for all types of trips. Granted, I don’t know what the cycle network is over there. Either way, how safe it actually is doesn’t matter as much as how safe it *feels* when it comes to getting people to ride — and I doubt everyone feels safe moving sandwiched in between vehicles with only paint as protection. And it’s only 10 feet wide; not wide enough.


    I don’t dispute the two-way bike lanes you mention. Queens Plaza and Clinton Street follow a direct desire line to the bridge in a coherent manner, while two-way bike lanes against an uninterrupted edge make sense (despite losing access to buildings on the other side) — that blog post emphasizes that.

    You won’t find center-running bike lanes for long-distance travel in areas that have been doing cycling infrastructure for decades. Surely there’s a reason for that.

  • This bit about “how do I get to a building?” is bizarre. No, you would not teleport. You would instead simply walk the (at most) half a block to the building in question — just as you do currently when you mount any sidewalk at a corner curb cut.

    The bike lane on Pennsylvania Avenue certainly feels safe; this I can tell you from first-hand experience. And I am clearly not the only one with that perception, as I saw elderly people riding on it, and also children accompanied by adults. It is a comfortable zone that is entirely appropriate for family riding.

    I should mention that I didn’t know that the Pennsylvania Avenue lane was there before I saw it for the first time. My reaction was astonishment, and the thought that we should really have this back home. And I have thought of another place where the centre placement would be good: the lanes on either side of 34th Avenue would be better hugging the central median than in the door zone.

  • You assume that people actually dismount and walk their bike. Of course, when you take disabled cyclists into account, or even large and heavy bikes like cargo bikes, this is an ableist suggestion.

    Good design anticipates this instead of forcing people to conform to what they’re not going to do. Mess this up, even the little things, and either you’ll see rule-breaking that introduces preventable conflicts, or people simply won’t make those trips by bicycle.

    So far, you’ve been making a case for center-running bike lanes based solely on anecdotes. I refuse to assume that what you felt is how every cyclist feels. You might think walking a bike half a block is easy, but it’s inconvenient at best and ableist at worst, and shouldn’t be what people have to deal with just because a select few wanted to ride towards the center. You might feel safe on an unprotected strip in the middle of a highway-like road and assume the same of everyone just because you see a few families and elderly riding, but this doesn’t prove how safe those already riding feel and many more would ride if it was even safer and more accessible. You certainly don’t want an accident here, like getting a flat or losing control. It’s an unforgiving environment.

    As I said before, you won’t find center-running bike lanes for long-distance travel in areas that have been doing cycling infrastructure for decades; surely there’s a reason for that.

    As for 34th Avenue, you can shift where cars are parked. It’s time we stop squeezing cycling into the car system already.

  • My point about accessing buildings in the middle of a block is that the conditions with a centre-running bike lane would be no different than the conditions that we have now. We are expected to walk our bikes now. (Though I am sure that there is an exception for bicyclists with disabilities. So I must ruin your attempt at a “gotcha” moment.)

    Centre-running bike lanes make intuitive sense; and experience confirms the desirability of this arrangement. It is sad to find bicyclists who will complain about this, but I am reminded of the Aesop fable involving the man, the boy, and the donkey, a parable that teaches that there is absolutely nothing in the world that someone will not find a way to complain about.

    Part of the resistance is no doubt due to unfamiliarity. We are so used to being consigned to the street’s margins that some cyclists evidently cannot wrap their minds around being given the favoured position.

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