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City Backs Away from Most Aggressive Plan on the Proposed Underhill ‘Bike Boulevard’

1:37 PM EDT on June 1, 2023

Cars are cars, all over the world. And especially on narrow Underhill Avenue. File art

It's a contra-diction.

The Department of Transportation quietly caved to car owners when it tweaked a plan to dramatically limit northbound traffic on a narrow Brooklyn avenue slated to get the agency's "bike boulevard" treatment, Streetsblog has learned.

Underhill Avenue, currently a two-way roadway in the Prospect Heights section, was originally slated to get a one-way southbound section between Lincoln Place and Eastern Parkway to prevent car drivers from exiting busy Eastern Parkway onto the residential side street, plus a northbound one-way segment between Lincoln and St. Johns places to prevent drivers from using Underhill as a cut-through.

But those two contra-flow one-way segments (left in photo below from a DOT proposal in 2022) are now proposed to be normal two-way segments (right in photo below from the new proposal).

Before, north- and south-bound cars met with "Do not enter" signs near the southern terminus of Underhill Avenue. But a new proposal changes that. Graphics: DOT
Before, north- and south-bound cars met with "Do not enter" signs near the southern terminus of Underhill Avenue (left). But a new proposal restores the roadway to the current normal two-way (right). Graphics: DOT

The Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, the local group that runs the popular Vanderbilt open street on weekends and has been championing the DOT's larger open streets efforts in the area, was disappointed at the change.

"DOT changed the blocks between St. Johns Place and Eastern Parkway from one-way to two-way in response to input received during community engagement," said Gib Veconi. "While PHNDC supported the previous one-way configuration, we’re willing to begin with the proposed plan to see if the reduction in through traffic is sufficient, and revisit making those blocks one-way if need be."

Veconi declined to characterize neighbors who offered the "community engagement" to restore the roadway to drivers. First, he reiterated his group's support for the one-way blocks, then added, "I expect DOT has received other comments from community members" (Here's is a map of the area.)

The DOT did indeed tell Streetsblog that it changed the plan based on community feedback and traffic studies. According to an agency spokesperson, the one-way street segments would cause car drivers to divert to other local streets, especially during the afternoon rush hour and on Friday nights, when all of two-way Vanderbilt between Atlantic Avenue and Park Place is closed to car drivers.

“We are committed to calming traffic and supporting pedestrians and cyclists on Underhill Avenue with a bold design that greatly reduces unnecessary vehicle volumes," said agency spokeswoman Mona Bruno. "We look forward to implementing this project this year as part of our continued efforts to enhance safety and public spaces across Prospect Heights, including Grand Army Plaza and Vanderbilt Avenue.”

The plan still includes many safety elements, including curb extensions, a new all-way stop sign at Lincoln Place, and new bike infrastructure including parking between Eastern Parkway and St Johns Place. The entire corridor is also being reimagined as a "bike boulevard" that gives priority to cyclists and pedestrians. The creation of a car-free plaza on the block of Underhill between Atlantic Avenue and Pacific Street has already reduced southbound traffic on Underhill.

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