Bed Stuy CB Chair: Street Safety “Not an Issue in Our Community”

Earlier this month, Brooklyn Community Board 3 voted against a 20 mph Slow Zone in Clinton Hill and Bedford-Stuyvesant. In a recent interview, CB 3 Chair Tremaine Wright told Streetsblog that the board voted against it in part because dangerous driving is not an issue in the neighborhood, and Slow Zone supporters did not demonstrate that the plan would address a real problem.

Brooklyn CB 3 Chair Tremaine Wright. Photo: Amsterdam News

Brooklyn CB 3 Chair Tremaine Wright. Photo: Amsterdam News

The 0.2-square mile area proposed for a Slow Zone averages 62.4 traffic injuries annually, according to DOT, with six severe injuries or fatalities per road mile [PDF]. A quick look at NYC Crashmapper shows dozens of pedestrians and cyclists injured in the area over the past couple of years.

I asked Wright if reckless driving is a problem in the neighborhood. “Not on the blocks in this proposed area,” she said. “And that’s why it’s key that they must be able to articulate the rationale for doing it.”

I followed up with a question about other parts of the neighborhood, including Atlantic Avenue, which runs along the southern border of the CB 3 district. The Tri-State Transportation Campaign ranks Atlantic as the third most-dangerous road in Brooklyn for pedestrians, and Brooklyn voters polled by Transportation Alternatives overwhelmingly identified it as the worst street for pedestrians in the borough. In 2012, at least two pedestrians were killed on Atlantic Avenue in Bed Stuy, including Maria Tripp, who was run over while crossing at Ralph Avenue, and William Boney, 49, struck while crossing at Troy Avenue.

“I don’t think we’ve had a lot of accidents along Atlantic,” Wright said. “There’s a place for pedestrians to stop and pause midway. We don’t get a lot of reports of dangerous activity there.”

“If we’re having fatalities related to traffic incidents, that would be reported to us by our police department, probably. We’re not getting a lot of that,” Wright said. (Last year, the 79th and 81st precincts, which cover the same area as CB 3, issued only 36 and 40 citations, respectively, for failure to yield to pedestrians.)

Wright said many streets in Bed Stuy have already received speed humps or other traffic calming measures, which she claimed diminishes the case for the Slow Zone. “Why is this the area that needs traffic calming, considering all of the traffic calming that has already occurred?” Wright asked. “It sounds like it’s just being dropped in.”

Wright’s comments came after she participated in a panel last Friday on the role community boards play in city planning. During the forum, Wright said that bike lanes, road diets, and plazas “are happening to us” and that community boards need a bigger role in the planning process.

Some community boards have actively worked with city agencies to develop blueprints for bike lanes and pedestrian upgrades. I asked Wright if CB 3 is looking to plan in advance for these types of traffic safety improvements. “We could do proactive stuff, but community boards are volunteer. We’re not going to be able to come up with a plan for everything. We pick and choose,” she said, adding that CB 3 members and meeting attendees are most interested in land use and zoning, not street safety. ”That is not an issue in our community, by and large,” Wright said.

“In other places, I guess Transportation Alternatives comes and makes big showings and joins committees,” she said. “They don’t in Community Board 3.”

Wright, who owns Common Grounds coffee shop and unsuccessfully ran for City Council in 2009, was not supportive of plazas, saying they “would get a lot of pushback” in Bed Stuy. “I don’t think anybody wants to see their small avenues get cut up any more to have a sitting area. We’ve got playgrounds and parks.” She insisted that Marcy Plaza, the reclaimed public space that opened in the neighborhood last summer to big fanfare, was a sidewalk extension, not a plaza.

Although Wright is car-free, she said safe streets advocates, including those supporting the Slow Zone, are too negative. “People are very much concerned, regarding transportation, with this very anti-car language and movement,” she said. “It’s very anti-car, versus pro-safety.”

DOT’s website describes Slow Zones as “a community-based program that reduces the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph and adds safety measures… Slow Zones also seek to enhance quality of life by reducing cut-through traffic and traffic noise in residential neighborhoods.”

The Brooklyn Waldorf School Parent Council requested the Bed Stuy Slow Zone from DOT. Originally, the parents group was looking for traffic calming in an area bounded by Fulton, Washington, Gates and Classon Avenues, but the area was later extended north to Lafayette Avenue and east to Bedford Avenue, to make it approximately the same size as other Slow Zone projects.

Wright said this enlarged proposal came as a surprise to the community board and some of the groups that had signed letters of support. “They said, ‘That’s not what we approved,’ and they retracted their letter of support,” Wright said, referring the Classon-FulGate Block Association. She said the DOT staffer at this month’s meeting did not have answers to questions community board members were asking.

“It’s not enough to say, ‘We’re going to slow it down,’” Wright said. ”We’re asking the people who are promoting or proposing this thing — whatever this thing is — to articulate to us, what need are you addressing, and how is it going to impact the community as a whole?”

The Slow Zone area is split in half by Classon Avenue, the dividing line between Community Board 2, which voted to support the project, and CB 3, which voted against it earlier this month.

The process with CB 3 isn’t over. “DOT continues to work with Community Board 3 on this Slow Zone proposal,” an agency spokesperson said, “And plans to return at a meeting in the coming months.”

“DOT can come back as many times as they like,” Wright said.