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Entitled Drivers Seek to Undermine Bus Lanes, Safety on Church Avenue

12:28 PM EDT on August 1, 2019

A DOT presenter desribes plans for traffic calming on Church Avenue in Kensington, Brooklyn, at Congregation Beth Shalom v’Emeth Reform Temple. Rowdy audience members disrupted the presentation. Photo: Cal ista DeJesus

A public forum this week to introduce a plan for safety improvements and dedicated bus lanes on Church Avenue in Kensington/Flatbush dissolved into a shouting match as NIMBY residents of Community Board 14 heckled Department of Transportation presenters.

Council Member Mathieu Eugene. Just. So. Bad.
Council Member Mathieu Eugene. Just. So. Bad.
Council Member Mathieu Eugene. Just. So. Bad.

Church Avenue has been in the news recently because of crashes that killed two pedestrians, and it’s known to be one of the deadliest roads in Brooklyn. But car-loving residents — many of them members of Congregation Beth Shalom v'Emeth Reform Temple, where the event was held Tuesday night — nonetheless lambasted Brooklyn DOT Commissioner Keith Bray for the sin of trying to save lives on the chaotic corridor. 

The rub, as usual, was parking, as residents and synagogue goers demanded free car storage on the public right-of-way for their private vehicles — even if that clogged the road and reduced visibility so much that it leads to traffic deaths, as the DOT representatives explained.

“Is this a done deal?” an angry resident shouted to loud applause and chanting — one of many expostulations from the crowd during the meeting. 

Bray replied firmly that he would take residents concerns under advisement, but that DOT is “moving forward with the improvements on Church Avenue, yes we are." 

Bray’s firmness did not please local Council Member Matthieu Eugene, who called for the meeting even though he initially supported the DOT plan. Now, reading the crowd Eugene said he would bring up the matter with the City Council and DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. 

“I am going to challenge this situation," he said.

The scene at a fatal collision at Church Avenue and Ocean Parkway. Photo: Sam Polcer/Twitter
The scene at a fatal collision at Church Avenue and Ocean Parkway. Photo: Sam Polcer/Twitter
The scene at a fatal collision at Church Avenue and Ocean Parkway. Photo: Sam Polcer/Twitter

It was not clear, however, what Eugene could do to stall the plan, which DOT will begin implementing in the late summer through the fall of this year.

For all the displeasure, DOT plans are hardly revolutionary and have been put in place elsewhere in Brooklyn. The department will turn curbside parking on Church Avenue between Ocean Parkway and 16th Avenue into dedicated bus lanes between 7 a.m. and 7 p.m. from Monday through Saturday, in order to speed the B35 bus, which travels along the route. The commercial stretch from Flatbush Avenue to 16th Street also would lose some metered parking in order to create loading zones for businesses, but metered parking would be added on side streets. Current two-hour metered parking would be converted to one hour on some blocks. 

The changes would enable faster deliveries to businesses and prevent double parking, which impedes bus service on Church Avenue and creates dangers as other traffic tries to adjust. 

Even so, the part-time loss of 113 parking spaces was too much for the NIMBYs, who repeatedly interrupted the DOT presenters with complaints and loud booing. The hecklers did not seem to care that DOT had reached out and surveyed the community about the plan; its data showed that the changes would benefit most users of the corridor.

According to DOT, the B35 is the third-busiest bus route in Brooklyn, with some 30,000 rides a day, yet bus speeds at peak times average only 4.25 miles an hour. Meanwhile, bus riders make up 72 percent of travelers on Church Avenue during peak morning hours, and only 7 percent of shoppers reach the street using their personal cars. But 72 percent of illegally parked cars on the avenue are personal cars, and 73 percent of drivers parking illegally do not attempt to find a legal metered space. 

Many audience members complained that the removal of parking spaces would affect their ability to attend worship services on Saturdays and holidays at Beth Shalom v'Emeth. Indeed, the temple’s rabbi, Heidi Hoover, who hosted the meeting, criticized DOT for not including congregation members in its data questionnaire.

Bray responded, however, that DOT had taken into account congregation concerns conveyed to the department by letter. A few audience members nonetheless accused DOT of discriminating against the congregation. There were calls for religious exemptions for metered parking. 

"So are our concerns going to be factored in?” shouted one woman. “What are you going to do with what we are telling you this evening or is this just an futility?"

In the face of outrage from the entitled car drivers, one resident was brave enough to support the DOT plan.

"I do not own a car and I think that too much public space is allocated to parking," said resident Warren Dobney. "I thought it was actually unfortunate the way that this event proceeded, where the noisiest voices were pro parking. ... Their presentation showed clearly that most people commuting through this area are bus riders. I think that speaks for itself. I felt like the mood of the meeting did not reflect the needs of the community."

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