At Long Last, City Unveils Schermerhorn Street Redesign 

The cover of the DOT presentation shows pretty clearly what's wrong with Schermerhorn Street. Photo: DOT
The cover of the DOT presentation shows pretty clearly what's wrong with Schermerhorn Street. Photo: DOT

A new two-way protected bike lane and pedestrian improvements are coming to sclerotic Schermerhorn Street in Downtown Brooklyn, the city revealed last week, as part of a full redesign of a notoriously lawless and dangerous roadway that is nonetheless a crucial link in the city’s disconnected bike network.

Department of Transportation bigwigs last Thursday filled in some of the details of the scheme during Brooklyn Community Board 2’s Transportation and Public Safety Committee meeting — though the agency is not seeking approval from the board. The current 50-foot-wide, two-way portion of the street between Boerum Place and Third Avenue will be transformed into a one-way eastbound roadway with a two-way bike lane — an effort to help the estimated 1,200 daily cyclists while also reining in placard-abusing cops parking in bike lanes, double-parked trucks unloading, and taxi drivers idling as they await customers from multiple city facilities.

Since January, 2015, there have been 555 reported crashes on Schermerhorn Street — which comprises just 0.9 miles between Clinton Street and Flatbush Avenue — injuring 124 people, including 30 cyclists and 38 pedestrians, and killing one pedestrian, according to Crash Mapper. At least four people have been killed or severely injured since 2015, DOT says. That excessive road violence has earned Schermerhorn its ignoble designation as a DOT “Vision Zero Priority Area.”

“Injuries growing year after year — an alarming trend we want to bring down,” said Ben Schwed, a DOT project manager during the virtual meeting.

DOT also acknowledges that the roadway has a “history of community requests for safety improvements.”

The problems on the corridor — a crucial link for cyclists to and from the Manhattan and Brooklyn Bridges and further east into Brooklyn — are primarily self-inflicted. According to a 2021 survey of local businesses, 70 percent said that vehicles typically double-park to make local deliveries. As part of the redesign, DOT says it will install loading zones, but is still assessing how many and where.

The full proposal includes:

  • Schermerhorn itself would become one way, eastbound, between Smith Street and Third Avenue. Westbound trucks will be diverted to Atlantic Avenue.

    The proposal for Schermerhorn, looking eastbound. Graphic: DOT
    The proposal for Schermerhorn, looking eastbound. Graphic: DOT
  • The roadway would get a two-way protected bike lane on the south side of the roadway between Boerum Place and Third Avenue.
  • The remaining painted bicycle lane between Boerum Place and Clinton Street would move to the south side of the street.
  • There will be additional pedestrian improvements, like Qwick Curbs and pedestrian refuge space to shorten crossing distances at Boerum Place, Hoyt, Bond, ad Nevins Streets, and Third Avenue.

In addition to overall traffic calming, converting Schermerhorn Street into a one-way thoroughfare, a design similar to what was implemented on Shore Parkway in southern Brooklyn, will also help improve vehicle predictability and eliminate the possibility of head-on conditions created by a congested two-way street; it removes the possibility of left turns off of Schermerhorn Street between Smith Street and Third Avenue, which in turn eliminates the largest source of pedestrian injuries, according to DOT; and it allows for the installation of Leading Pedestrian Intervals for pedestrians and cyclists.

The DOT’s proposal has notable absences: It does not address Hoyt Street between Livingston and Schermerhorn streets, a narrow roadway and key cycling route that is nonetheless filled with illegally parked cars every day, many of them bearing NYPD placards:

Placard abuse makes Hoyt Street impassable for cyclists. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Placard abuse makes Hoyt Street impassable for cyclists. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

It also does not address the roadway’s name. Schermerhorn Street is named after an 18th-century family whose wealth was generated by the slave trade.

Some locals fear that the changes on Schermerhorn Street will only exacerbate traffic elsewhere, like on Third and Atlantic avenues, and on Hoyt Street.

“I’m from Atlantic Avenue, you can’t put anymore traffic here,” said Sandy Balboza, a public member of the committee, during the meeting. “DOT comes all the time, you talk about one area without having any kind of comprehensive planning you’re diverting trucks onto Atlantic, we don’t have any room so it’s just gonna back up from the other blocks.”

Reps for DOT said during the meeting that there would be no “significant impacts” to the adjacent streets.

DOT says part of the Schermerhorn Street redesign will include loading zones. Photo: Julianne Cuba
DOT says part of the Schermerhorn Street redesign will include loading zones. Photo: Julianne Cuba

The redesign has been a long time coming. Ever since former Brooklyn Council Member Steve Levin entered office in 2010, he and advocates have been trying to fix Schermerhorn Street, where officers from the 84th Precinct and Transit Bureau 30 stash their private cars, in the bike lane and on the sidewalk.

And in January, 2020, Levin told Streetsblog that he was “committed to fixing” Schermerhorn Street by the time he left office. Part of his proposed solution was to actually give the NYPD parking — he said the city should give cops at least a dozen existing non-dangerous parking spots to finally get police assigned to Transit Bureau 30 to stop parking their private cars in the Schermerhorn Street bike lane.

But the roadway continues to be a mess, not only because of placard abusers from the NYPD (who harassed a cyclist after he reported the cops for illegally parking there). Trucks frequently double park in the bike lane at a supermarket at the corner of Hoyt Street. And taxis frequently double park and idle as they await or drop off passengers at multiple agencies, including a city Human Resources Administration office and offices of the state Labor Department and Unemployment Insurance.

Cars and trucks block the bike lane. Photo: Julianne Cuba
Cars and trucks block the bike lane. Photo: Julianne Cuba

Still, some members of the committee and the public were not impressed by the safety plan, even interrupting the meeting several times. “Who cares?” someone yelled out, though it’s not clear what exactly they were referring to. That person was ejected from the meeting.

And Fort Greener Lucy Koteen, who once famously argued that the famous late rapper, Notorious B.I.G., was too fat to be honored with a block named after him, said during the meeting that the city’s often trash-filled streets are far too pretty to be sullied with pedestrian-calming and safe infrastructure, like Qwick Kurbs, which is a raised platform-like structure meant to prevent cars from driving over it, and into designated pedestrian-and-cyclist space.

Example of Qwick Crub on Crescent Street. File photo
Example of Qwick Crub on Crescent Street. File photo

“Please reconsider all those Qwick Kurbs and all that nonsense, it makes the street so ugly,” said Koteen.

The design does not need a vote from the community board, which plays only an advisory role, said DOT Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Keith Bray — employing a strategy that advocates have long been seeking in order to prevent civic panels from being able to stymie life-saving safety projects .

“DOT needs to stop asking for these votes, seek input & be empowered to sort the useful from the nonsense (obviously),” Bike New York’s Jon Orcutt said in a Tweet back in 2018 (below).

The area’s local pol, Council Member Lincoln Restler told Streetsblog last week that he’s excited about the redesign because “getting this has been a top priority across the district.”

“Getting Schermerhorn fixed by the end of our first year in office has been one of my top priorities,” he said. “These improvements are a necessary response by NYC DOT to conditions that have caused 150+ crashes where 4 people have been seriously injured or killed in recent years.”

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