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No Green: Meeker Bike Lane Delayed; DOT Blames Traffic Light Contractor

11:26 AM EDT on May 12, 2023

DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez watches workers filling in concrete at Meeker Avenue at a press event on April 18. Photo: DOT

Make Meeker Move ... already!

The long-awaited protected bike lanes on Meeker Avenue are years behind schedule as the Department of Transportation struggles to get traffic signals installed, according to agency officials — and the hold-up is stalling a vital safe bike and pedestrian passage under the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway through Williamsburg and Greenpoint.

The upgrades — which promise to improve a mile-long stretch that is now a dangerous sluice between the Kosciuszko Bridge and Metropolitan Avenue — were slated to be done by the end of last year, but the DOT will only be part of the way done by the end of this year.

Not many changes yet along other sections of Meeker. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
Not many changes yet along other sections of Meeker. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

The campaign to fix Meeker dates back to 2015, but only in 2021, DOT unveiled the redesign [PDF], which includes new painted bike lanes and pedestrian paths largely underneath the elevated highway, along with new signals and redone concrete curbs at intersections to cross between the sections that used to be all free parking.

DOT also proposed to convert half of the nearly 700 car storage spots under the expressway into metered parking.

But the agency's signals contractor has had some "capacity issues" holding up the critical revamp, an agency rep recently told Community Board 1's transportation committee.

“The main cause of the delay is that it’s taking a long time to install the changes in signal work," said Zach Wyche at a virtual meeting in late March. "There’s a lot of things breaking, and it’s kind of the same contractor that are building this that are the same contractors that are fixing things, so it’s just very slow.

"Construction is also very messy, too, but I’m going to try to be positive," Wyche added.

The Department's struggle to install infrastructure as basic as traffic signals raised red flags among street safety advocates about whether the city will be able to deliver.

"What’s going to instill faith in this community that DOT isn’t just going to deliver or talk out of its butt essentially and like not actually deliver on anything," said Kevin Costa, a member of the CB1 committee and an activist with Transportation Alternatives. "It’s the definition of false promises."

When DOT revealed the project in May 2021, the construction was supposed to wrap around the end of 2022.

The Meeker Avenue bike lanes are eventually going to connect from the Kosciuszko Bridge to Metropolitan Avenue. Map: DOT
The Meeker Avenue bike lanes are eventually going to connect from the Kosciuszko Bridge to Metropolitan Avenue. Map: DOT

DOT now expects to only implement all the changes between the bridge and Graham Avenue this year, while getting started on some work on the western half to Metropolitan.

At the recent civic meeting, locals laid into the agency for failing to do the vital upgrades on time.

“This was supposed to be done now, and now we’re being told that perhaps it will be 50 percent done a year late," said Greenpoint resident Kevin LaCherra.

The parking meters were up and running right away, but the painted bike lanes and pedestrian spaces that DOT installed so far have remained difficult to use because they're mostly still disconnected.

There is a working signal for cyclists at two intersections, but others either have no signals or signals that are installed, but not yet operational.

"It was dangerous before and it’s more dangerous now, because it’s unclear where people are supposed to be when," said committee member Bronwyn Breitner.

A month after DOT first revealed its proposal, the agency began installing the parking meters, painting the first paths, and redoing the curbs at some intersections, starting near the bridge, but DOT did not add any more paint in 2022 during the first year of the Adams administration.

A visit to the site on Friday showed that there are some patchwork improvements on the eastern half between the bridge and Graham, but that the rest is still largely unchanged.

The DOT is excavating the easternmost block of Meeker Avenue for a bike lane against the BQE. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman
The DOT is excavating the easternmost block of Meeker Avenue for a bike lane against the BQE. Photo: Gersh Kuntzman

Between Morgan Avenue and Sutton Street there was initial excavation for a bike lane that will be up against the side of the BQE, and the next block to Kingsland Avenue is marked off but not yet painted.

At Kingsland there was a bike signal and concrete build outs on both sides of the intersection. A working bike signal is also at N. Henry Street.

There is a green painted bike lane continuing west to Graham Avenue. A plastic-wrapped walk and bike signal is in place at McGuinness Boulevard, but it is not operational.

Further along through Metropolitan Avenue there are no bike lanes yet and combat parked cars occupy the bays beneath the highway.

This year, DOT says it will paint bike paths all the way to the end and do concrete work at Leonard and Lorimer streets, and Union and Metropolitan avenues this year. But officials won't finish all the signals until next year.

In the two years since DOT unveiled its proposal, there have been 539 reported crashes along the stretch of Meeker Avenue in question. Those crashes injured 312 people — nearly one person every two days — and killing two.

Cyclist deaths have surged to their highest in almost a decade this year, with 13 people on bikes killed in crashes so far in 2023.

DOT has been suffering an exodus of staff under the Adams Administration, and, indeed, the agency has a long list of job offerings on its website.

An agency spokesman put a positive spin on the delays.

"The Meeker Avenue Street Improvement Project is substantial in both length and detail," Scott Gastel said in a statement. "We expect to complete the first phase this year, and to also make significant progress on the second phase for it to be ready next year."

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