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Prospect Heights

Frustrated Residents Finish Mayor Adams’s Stalled Underhill Ave. Bike Boulevard

Dave Colon|

A spot on Underhill Avenue without traffic diverters now has a pair of dirt-filled planters, thanks to…someone.

They've taken traffic safety into their own hands.

Rogue Prospect Heights residents, presumably sick of looking at the unfinished bike boulevard project on Underhill Avenue, placed a pair of mid-block planters where the DOT had painted a spot for traffic diverters but never installed them.

Sometime last week, residents of the neighborhood said that they noticed DOT-style planters full of dirt in the street, fulfilling their destiny as traffic diverters that prevent people from driving fast in a straight line.

"It looks like a day or two in Adams time has finally passed," said Matt Horan, who lives around the corner from Underhill Avenue, joking about a recent mayoral chronological gaffe. "The planters are helping provide much needed traffic calming."

This is what an incomplete bike boulevard looks like. File photo: Gersh Kuntzman

On Underhill Avenue between Park and Sterling places, the DOT had painted street lines with a rounded area halfway up the block where traffic diverters in the form of boulders or planters were supposed to be installed. The same treatment was finished between Pacific and Bergen streets and between Sterling and St Johns places.

The lack of planters on the stretch between Park and Sterling was one of the most glaring examples of the work that was left unfinished after Mayor Adams ordered the DOT to pause the street project in late September. Other missing pieces of the project include paint on the areas that are protected bike lanes, signage or any other explanations that the bike lanes are contraflow bike lanes (meaning they go against the flow of traffic in the auto lane) and any possible signage explaining that the new layout is a bike boulevard.

Adams suggested that the project suffered from a lack of public outreach, despite the two years of planning and outreach that included in-person surveys, community board meetings and online surveys. That outreach work showed overwhelming support for the bike boulevard project. Since pausing the work on the bike boulevard, Adams had his Community Affairs Unit do door-to-door polling and another online surveys, but hasn't released the results from that new round of outreach.

Meanwhile, supporters of the bike boulevard got 3,000 signatures on a petition demanding that the mayor to finish the job — and 54 percent of the signers live in Prospect Heights and Crown Heights.

It appears that the some of those residents were the ones who decided to finish the job. According to a neighborhood resident, the planters had been sitting on the sidewalk, empty, for some time before people put them to work diverting traffic.

"As far as we know, this action was taken independently of DOT or any government agency, presumably by individuals who — like countless others in the neighborhood — want to see the project completed and enjoy the safety benefits and traffic calming the diverters provide," said Alex Morano, a spokesperson for the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, which supports the bike boulevard and the nearby Vanderbilt open street.

In addition to being popular, the safety-focused changes on the street have gotten results. Since Underhill Avenue became an open street in 2020 and then a partial bike boulevard, the number of crashes has plummeted from almost 40 per year in 2018 to no more than five any year from 2020 to 2023.

Driving home the need for the safety project that narrowed the street and added diverters, there was a gnarly speed-aided crash over the weekend, when the driver of a BMW crashed into a Dumpster on Underhill between Prospect and Park places, the first crash on the block all year.

The aftermath of a crash on Underhill Avenue on Sunday night.via Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council

The car involved in the crash had Pennsylvania license plates, but also had managed to rack up 24 speed camera violations since 2021. The driver of the BMW got 15 of those tickets between August 2022 and August 2023, which made the driver subject to the Dangerous Vehicle Abatement Program — but no one associated with that license plate was ever ordered by DOT to take the DVAP safety course, according to a list of course participants obtained by Streetsblog under the Freedom of Information Act.

Underhill residents taking matters into their own hands also brings to mind the rebellious spirit of cycling advocates in 2009, who painted a section of the Bedford Avenue bike lane back onto the street in Williamsburg after then-Mayor Bloomberg installed the bike lane in 2007 and then removed the piece of it two years later.

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