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Sunset Park Safety Improvements Delayed Until at Least October After DOT Settles Lawsuit

A double parked minivan in front of a double parked car on Eighth Avenue in Sunset Park. Photo: Dave Colon

The Department of Transportation has cleared a legal hurdle in Sunset Park, but will need to focus on the finish line if it's going to fix a dangerous pair of blocks in the neighborhood.

On Thursday, the DOT settled a lawsuit seeking to stop an effort to calm a pair of chaotic avenues in Sunset Park. As part of the settlement, the agency agreed to delay any construction on the project until at least October, a timeline that will give community boards a chance to weigh in on the desperately needed safety engineering.

Although the DOT had given a presentation Community Board 10's Traffic and Transportation Committee in November 2020 on a proposal to turn Seventh and Eighth Avenues in Sunset Park into one-way streets with protected bike lanes, and invited community board representatives to a Community Advisory Board on the project, Assembly Member Peter Abbate and other project opponents argued that the DOT's reliance on CABs was an attempt to get around a legally mandated 90-day notice for street-safety projects.

Rather than argue around the legality of CABs, the city and Community Boards 7, 10 and 12 agreed to view a July email informing all three of the boards of the project as the start of the 90-day notice.

"The petitioners acknowledge that they have now been advised by Community Boards 7, 10 and 12,( referred to as "Community Board" or collectively as the "Community Boards") each of Brooklyn, that said Community Boards have each received email notices pursuant to §19-101.2 and §l9-187 on July 9, 2021," the settlement reads.

Under the terms of the settlement, the DOT agreed to hold meetings allowing Community Boards 7, 10 and 12 to weigh in on the street redesign, and to hold off on any construction on the project until at least October 9, or 90 days after the community board's acknowledgement of the DOT email on the proposed changes.

A spokesperson for the DOT did not say whether construction would begin once the 90-day period ends.

"We are happy to present to all three community boards," said agency spokesperson Brian Zumhagen. "This is an important project and we are excited to work with the community and respond to feedback."

The proposed street improvements on Seventh and Eighth Avenues are the DOT's attempt to address dangerous street conditions in the heart of Brooklyn's Chinatown. Both blocks are two-way streets at the moment, which has made them unsafe for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. According to data that the DOT put together, there were 17 severe injuries to pedestrians and 15 severe injuries to motorists on Eighth Avenue from 2014 through 2018, but that focus on severe crashes only tells part of the story .

The city’s own data visualized by CrashMapper shows that in the zone slated for redesign, 30 cyclists, 72 pedestrians and 61 motorists have been injured (and two pedestrians killed) in 732 crashes since January 2019.

The proposed traffic improvements would turn Seventh Avenue between 39th and 65th Streets into a southbound, one-way street with a protected bike lane running in the same direction. On the same stretch of Eighth Avenue, the block would become a northbound street with a protected bike lane running the same way. The also DOT proposed adding an expanded sidewalk on Eighth between 51st Street and 60th Street in order to deal with a crush of pedestrians there: 5,000 an hour passed by one intersection the DOT studied. Accomplishing the street redesign would take away 10 percent of the parking spots on the two blocks, in a neighborhood where two-thirds of households don't own a car.

As for whether the settlement dooms the project for this year, the terms of the agreement leave the DOT a chance to finish it if the agency is willing to hustle after the 90-day outreach window.

"If they really gear up they should be able to get the project in before it's too cold to paint," said Bike New York Director of Advocacy Jon Orcutt. "Often that lasts well into November."

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