EYES ON THE STREET: City Destroys Brooklyn Greenway During Unrelated Construction Project

The blocked bike lane. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk
The blocked bike lane. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk

“It’s unfortunate, but this kind of thing happens all the time,” the cyclist said.

A segment of the Brooklyn Greenway in Red Hook is now out of commission because of an unrelated construction project happening on top of it — and the detour provided for bikers creates much more danger than it eliminates.

The problem starts at the corner of Van Brunt Street and Hamilton Avenue in Red Hook. Instead of safe passage on their own Greenway, cyclists are blocked by construction equipment and then instructed to move onto narrow Van Brunt Street, where they are put in the middle of a busy two-way road. (Some will opt to bike the wrong way down Summit Street to continue the normal path of the greenway — this is ill-advised.)

Here’s what the main dangerous intersection looks like (Van Brunt Street is in the foreground; the greenway is behind the white truck and is supposed to continue onto Summit Street, which is currently where the construction material and many Tesla vehicles are).

Cyclists are now forced to enter the intersection from the curb cut directly in front of the white truck where the properly protected lane now ends. Next, cyclists must ride through the pictured intersection, where cars are able to enter from four different sides, and continue out the left side, onto the “shared road.”

The intersection of Van Brunt and Hamilton streets in Red Hook. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk
The intersection of Van Brunt and Hamilton streets in Red Hook. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk

Workers for the Department of Design and Construction have been on the site since mid-winter, said Terri Carta of the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative, and (as many city construction projects are) the work has been delayed and extended multiple times. (The city now says that the work will be done by the end of July.)

Under city law, DDC is required to provide and indicate a safe alternative route for bikers, but the agency has not, merely posting  detour signs reading “Share the Road” and “Cyclists Use Road” that direct bikers into the middle of a busy intersection and then onto the narrow two-way Van Brunt Street.

Council member and street safety advocate Carlina Rivera passed legislation in 2019 requiring construction companies and city agencies to provide a safe alternative route for cyclists if a construction zone is blocking a bike lane. In a statement to Streetsblog, a rep from her office said that the DOT has the power to exempt projects from this rule in “extraordinary circumstances,” but there should certainly be an explanation “why this project cannot accommodate a sufficient protected detour.”

When asked about the situation, a DOT representative said that the detour route was planned using factors like “low volume streets with low speeds” and “business operations and logistics.” The department could have made the area around the Tesla dealership on the corner a no-parking zone, however.

Let’s take a look at the perspective of a biker coming into the intersection from both sides:

Southbound

On Protected Greenway Towards Hamilton Street

Photo: Henry Beers Shenk
Photo: Henry Beers Shenk

Here is the view moving south on the greenway before the construction site. Typically, southbound cyclists would stay on the greenway by turning right on Summit Street (where the Tesla dealership is — more on that later) and then continuing southbound on Imlay Street (which is also blocked for construction).

Thanks to cars coming out of one-way Summit Street and out of the Red Hook shipping terminal (both on the right), a biker heading down the once-protected, peaceful Greenway towards Red Hook is suddenly faced with danger, an unclear path, and cars coming from every direction.

Entering the Intersection at Hamilton and Van Brunt

Entering the intersection at Hamilton and Van Brunt streets. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk
Entering the intersection at Hamilton and Van Brunt streets. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk

As cyclists approach the curb, they have to fear traffic coming at them from all four directions. They ride on the right side next to the crosswalk, looking to merge onto Van Brunt when traffic allows.

The Tesla building makes things even more difficult for non-drivers because workers there use Van Brunt and Summit streets as a car storage area and often block the sidewalk in front of their service ramps.

Merging Onto Van Brunt ‘Shared Road’

Merging onto Van Brunt. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk
Merging onto Van Brunt. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk

This is the view as cyclists attempt to merge on Van Brunt. The large car on the left is turning towards the biker, a good example of the many different directions cars are going here. The busy road often also has trucks and construction vehicles traveling down it, making passage more difficult yet again for cyclists. A faded biker painted on the street leads the way, and after a block or two the biker is able to turn right and then left onto Imlay Street to re-enter the Greenway.

Northbound

On Van Brunt ‘Shared Road’

Van Brunt Detour from Bike
View of Van Brunt from a bike going north towards Hamilton. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk

The street is barely wide enough to accommodate one lane of cars going in either direction, so it’s an operation to get a biker down the street when it’s busy. A cyclist heading from this direction is likely to be very cramped in between parked cars and moving ones, and depending on the busy-ness of the street, may have to dismount and walk through the extra narrow spaces.

Approaching the intersection

Northbound on Van Brunt towards Greenway
Northbound on Van Brunt towards Greenway. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk

As the northbound cyclists head into the intersection, they have to navigate two crossing lanes of traffic to get to the Greenway, back center. On the left, the construction zone is covering up the Greenway.

Crossing onto the protected greenway

Looking North towards the intact part of the Greenway.
Looking north towards the intact part of the Greenway. Photo: Henry Beers Shenk

After successfully crossing, bikers have to either go up the curb or enter via the small pedestrian ramp in the center. Those traveling with fragile cargo are forced to go to the ramp, even though it might bring them dangerously close to passing cars on Van Brunt.

One delivery cyclist, who declined to give his name, said he recently encountered that danger.

“It’s so cramped that I hit a lady’s mirror,” he said, describing a recent visit to the area as he delivered flowers. Fortunately in this case, the only casualties were a mirror and some petunias.

Behind the ramp, an orange cone marks the ruins of a pedestrian signal, another testament to DOT’s slowness and lack of attention in the area.

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