In an overwhelming 31-2 vote (with three abstentions), Brooklyn Community Board 7 passed a motion last night in favor of re-engineering Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park for greater safety. The NYC DOT project [PDF] will add a substantial amount of pedestrian space at intersections from 65th Street to 15th Street, widening medians and narrowing crossing distances on the 88-foot wide street.
This stretch of Fourth Avenue, currently three moving lanes in each direction plus turn bays, is one of the deadliest streets in Brooklyn, with seven pedestrians killed in traffic between 2006 and 2011. Some of the current medians are less than two feet wide. Under the plan, the narrowest medians would at least triple in width, and wider ones would expand too. The pedestrian space will be reclaimed by converting 17-foot wide combined parking and travel lanes on each side of the street into 13-foot wide parking lanes, though three travel lanes will be maintained northbound during the morning rush, from 38th Street to 17th Street. The changes would be implemented with low-cost materials — epoxy, gravel, planters, flexible posts — and DOT can complete them by this fall.
At a hearing hosted by CB 7′s Fourth Avenue Working Group on Monday, neighborhood advocates said the changes were a long time coming.
Elizabeth Yeampierre, executive director of the environmental justice non-profit UPROSE, said she could remember discussing traffic calming and greener infrastructure for Fourth Avenue with CB 7 district manager Jeremy Laufer 15 years ago. “This is not new,” she said, urging the board to vote for the plan. “We’ve been talking about these things for a long time in Sunset Park. If we miss the opportunity, we might not get these improvements.”
Lined with schools, subway stations, churches, and stores, Fourth Avenue is full of destinations for this bustling neighborhood of predominantly car-free households. DOT has been working intensively with neighborhood groups and local schools to develop the Fourth Avenue plan. A workshop in February brought together English-, Spanish-, Cantonese-, and Mandarin-speakers to gather ideas about what needs to change on the avenue.
“Almost everyone who goes to school on Fourth Avenue walks there,” said project manager Jesse Mintz-Roth. ”The narrowness of the medians came out over and over in the workshops.”
Last week, three children were struck by a turning driver at Fourth Avenue and 44th Street, one of whom was injured. The crash was fresh in the minds of several participants at Monday’s hearing, including Yesenia Malave-Lee, PTA president at P.S. 503, who said the threat of traffic violence looms over every parent walking their kids to school on Fourth Avenue. “I’m all for the changes being made here,” she said.