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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.

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Brooklyn CB 3 Votes Against Saving Lives in Bed-Stuy and Clinton Hill

Heat map of crashes within the proposed Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy Slow Zone from August 2011 through December 2013. Click to enlarge. Image: ##http://nyc.crashmapper.com/11/8/13/12/standard/collisions/2/17/40.685/-73.960##NYC Crashmapper##

Heat map of crashes within the proposed Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy Slow Zone from August 2011 through December 2013. Click to enlarge. Image: NYC Crashmapper

On Monday, Brooklyn Community Board 3 voted against a Slow Zone in a crash-prone area that encompasses parts of Bedford-Stuyvesant and Clinton Hill. Opponents said slowing down drivers would cause gridlock, and the board doubted that slower speeds would reduce crashes, according to DNAinfo.

The proposed zone is bordered by Washington Avenue, Lafayette Avenue, Bedford Avenue, and Fulton Street. DOT data show the .2-square mile area has an average of 62.4 traffic injuries a year, and six severe injuries or fatalities per road mile. There are four schools inside the zone and eight pre-K or daycare centers. Scores of pedestrians and cyclists were injured by motorists within the proposed zone area between August 2011 and December 2013, according to NYPD data mined by NYC Crashmapper.

DOT only proposes Slow Zones where residents apply for them. DNAinfo reported that 14 local groups and officials endorsed the Clinton Hill/Bed-Stuy zone, which is one of five slated to be installed this year. The Community Board 2 transportation committee voted in favor of the Slow Zone last month, with a vote by the full board expected Wednesday.

After a 45-minute presentation from DOT, CB 3 members voted 27-4 against writing a letter of support.

[T]he department struggled on Monday to make its case for the plan with a presentation critics called confusing. They said it lacked specific details on how the plan would lead to a decrease in accidents.

“Was there a traffic study done?” asked board secretary Kimberly Hill. “Your presentation lacks the data necessary for us to feel comfortable and confident.”

“Classon Avenue is a traffic jam during the morning hours, and they blow their horns and blow their horns,” said Demetrice Mills, president of the Classon-FulGate Block Association, which rescinded its support for the zone. ”Making the speed limit even slower will make things even worse.”

First, if people are honking, they’re already going slower than 20 miles per hour. A 20 mph zone won’t make gridlock worse, but it will slow drivers on streets where they are currently able to drive at unsafe speeds.

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With Debut of B44 SBS, Major Brooklyn Bus Route Poised to Draw More Riders

B44 SBS upgrades existing limited-stop service with bus lanes and other improvements. Photo: Stephen Miller

B44 SBS upgrades existing limited-stop service with bus lanes, off-board fare collection, and other improvements. Photo: Stephen Miller

After years of planning, B44 Select Bus Service launched yesterday on the Nostrand Avenue corridor.  Mayor Michael Bloomberg, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast marked the occasion this afternoon at a newly-expanded bus stop at Church and Nostrand.

The B44, which serves nearly 40,000 riders each weekday along a 9.3-mile route between the Williamsburg Bridge and Sheepshead Bay, is the sixth SBS line in the city. The upgrade to B44 limited-stop service adds off-board fare collection, curb extensions at bus stops, priority for buses at stop lights (starting next year), and camera-enforced bus lanes. Funded largely by a $28 million federal grant [PDF], B44 SBS is projected to improve travel times by as much as 20 percent.

MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo: Stephen Miller

MTA Chairman and CEO Tom Prendergast, Mayor Michael Bloomberg, and DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. Photo: Stephen Miller

At today’s presser, Bloomberg stressed the need for data-driven transportation policy. “Everybody has a view whether the traffic is better or worse,” he said. “That’s not a way to measure whether traffic is faster or slower.”

Referring to the other five SBS routes, he said, “These things, it turns out, actually do save time. Buses work better and traffic is better. We’re not just trying to guess.”

DOT released a report [PDF] today compiling data from SBS projects on Fordham Road, Webster Avenue, Hylan Boulevard34th Street, and First and Second Avenues. Since 2008, the city has installed 38 miles of SBS lanes. Bus speeds have increased as much as 23 percent while all SBS routes combined have gained 20,000 daily riders after launching.

SBS stops along Nostrand and Rogers Avenues include WalkNYC wayfinding signs featuring area maps and real-time bus arrival information. (Since Bus Time is not scheduled to launch in Brooklyn and Queens until the first half of next year, the signs do not currently show real-time data.) MTA staff assigned to SBS stops during the launch phase were out today showing riders how to pay their fare before boarding the bus.

Local merchants are hoping the speedier buses will draw more customers from the 300,000 people who live within a quarter-mile of the route. Lindiwe Kamau owns a ceramics shop and serves as president of the Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association, which represents retailers between Linden Boulevard and Eastern Parkway. ”We have a lot of merchants who come from out of the area, and they drive, so [parking's] been their main concern,” she told Streetsblog. “We’re trying to support them and turn the situation into a plus.” The association is launching a discount program for riders who show their SBS receipts. So far, 21 businesses have signed up, and Kamau is aiming to involve more retailers before Small Business Saturday on November 30.

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Select Bus Service Comes to Brooklyn

Photo: Ben Fried

Boarding at Nostrand and Flushing on the first day of B44 SBS service. Photo: Ben Fried

Yesterday was the first day of service for Brooklyn’s first Select Bus Service route, upgrading the B44 Limited with a dedicated bus lane, off-board fare collection, bus bulbs, and fewer stops. It’s the sixth SBS route to enter service, following two in the Bronx, two in Manhattan, and one in Staten Island.

In addition to improving transit speeds, these measures should help reduce bus bunching on what has been one of the most unreliable routes in the city — in 2009 the B44 took home the Straphangers Campaign Schleppie Award for NYC’s least reliable bus route.

At noon, Mayor Bloomberg and Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan will announce the launch of the new service, and we’ll have a report from the presser later today. Just a note for now about how the coverage of this bus upgrade is playing out: Whenever a new SBS route launches, it takes some time for people to acclimate, and the first stories tend to zero in on how riders have trouble adjusting to the payment system or the elimination of stops. It’s not until several months later, maybe a year, that the performance metrics come in, showing better bus speeds and increased ridership.

The changes to the B44 are more significant than other SBS projects because northbound service is switching from New York Avenue to Rogers and Bedford Avenues, which are wider, one-way streets that can more readily accommodate transit lanes and bus bulbs. (The local B44 northbound will remain on New York, where it provides direct access to Kings County Hospital.) So there’s certainly going to be an adjustment period.

Yesterday afternoon I spoke to two women, Gem and Meg (they swore those were their real names and the palindrome was a coincidence), who were getting off a northbound B44 SBS bus at Fulton Street. They were returning from a trip to visit family at Nostrand and Flatbush, about three and a half miles away. Most passengers were confused about how to pay fares, they said, but the trip was still about 10 minutes faster than it used to be.

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Bed-Stuy Cuts the Ribbon on Marcy Plaza, Celebrating Reclaimed Space

Officials and community leaders post in front of "Mathematical Star," by artist Ellen Harvey, in the newly-dedicated Marcy Plaza. Photo: Stephen Miller

More than 100 people joined local leaders and city agency chiefs this morning to cut the red ribbon for Marcy Plaza, a new pedestrian space carved from what used to be an extra-wide stretch of asphalt next to a one-story Burger King in Bedford Stuyvesant.

The plaza, part of a larger $20 million streetscape upgrade stretching from Bedford Avenue to Troy Avenue, sits across Fulton Street from Restoration Hall and Restoration Plaza, which received its own facelift recently. In addition to these projects, crews nearby were busy installing bus bulbs for Select Bus Service on Nostrand and Bedford Avenues this morning.

In addition to seating and trees, the plaza features a circular sidewalk mosaic near MacDonough Street, created by artist Ellen Harvey. It includes patterns inspired by architectural features of historically significant buildings and parks throughout the neighborhood selected in consultation with Community Board 3.

“Our streets are public spaces in their own right,” said DOT assistant commissioner Andy Wiley-Schwartz. “We are standing in what was the middle of the road a year ago.” Wiley-Schwartz referenced the project’s planning history, which dates to the 2002 Fulton FIRST planning initiative, followed by an application to DOT’s plaza program in 2008. “Most of you know these plazas don’t happen by accident or just by government action; they are a product of a community’s effort and interest,” Wiley-Schwartz said.

Marcy Plaza was carved out of an extra-wide section of Marcy Avenue between Fulton and MacDonough Streets. Left: Bing Maps; Right: M. Paul Friedberg and Partners

The plaza is already being used as a staging ground for events hosted by the Bedford Stuyvesant Restoration Corporation, including cooking demonstrations, farmers markets, theater, and neighborhood bike rides.

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City Receives Federal Funding for Full Nostrand Avenue Select Bus Route

The SBS stop coming to the corner of Nostrand Avenue and Empire Boulevard. Image: NYC DOT

The first Select Bus Service route in Brooklyn is on track to start speeding bus trips next year, after Transportation Secretary Ray LaHood and NYC Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announced yesterday afternoon that the project has secured a $28 million federal grant.

The B44 route on Nostrand, Rogers, and Bedford Avenues, which runs between Sheepshead Bay and Williamsburg, is one of NYC’s most used but least reliable bus lines. Plagued by bus bunching, the B44 took home the Straphangers Campaign’s “Schleppie Award” in 2009 and consistently ranks as Brooklyn’s most unreliable route. After it’s converted to Select Bus Service, the B44 will feature off-board fare collection, dedicated bus lanes along most of the corridor, and 12 bus bulbs to improve speeds and cut down on the amount of time buses spend standing still.

The B44 links Brooklyn residents to Medgar Evers College, Brooklyn College, Kings County Hospital, and SUNY Downstate Hospital, as well as several subway lines. Weekday ridership currently stands at about 44,000 passengers. Not only will they see faster, more reliable service, but the improvements should attract more riders. Following SBS upgrades in Manhattan and the Bronx, more passengers started riding those routes, cutting against a citywide trend of declining bus ridership.

“I think everyone who saw Sandy from near or afar recognized the critical role buses played once the subway system went down, underscoring the value of these types of investments in our transportation infrastructure,” Sadik-Khan said in a press statement. “SBS continues to bring enhanced service to densely populated areas in need of transportation enhancements.”

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William Boney Killed in Brooklyn, Driver Charged With Manslaughter

The motorist accused of fatally striking a Brooklyn pedestrian while driving drunk this weekend will be charged with manslaughter, Streetsblog has learned.

At around 12:34 a.m. Sunday, William Boney, 49, was crossing Atlantic Avenue at Troy Avenue in Bedford-Stuyvesant when he was struck by a Lincoln Navigator driven by Carmelo Galloway, 39, according to reports. Boney was declared dead on arrival at Kings County Hospital.

One person who saw the crash said Galloway was accelerating through the intersection to beat the light. Police said he continued driving until stopped by witnesses. From the Daily News:

“The man just came out of this lounge and was crossing the street and the car ran a red light,” said the eyewitness, Donna Roseboro, 48. “He picked up speed. He was trying to make the light and he hit him as the man crossed the street.”

Roseboro said she ran over to try to help the victim, whose contorted body lay in Atlantic Ave., but it was too late.

“His body was all twisted up. He was just laying there,” she said. “He had his eyes open but he wasn’t moving. He did that last gasp for breath and he was gone.”

Initial coverage indicated that Galloway was charged only with DWI. A charge of second degree vehicular manslaughter is forthcoming, according to the office of Brooklyn District Attorney Charles Hynes.

William Boney was the 49th pedestrian or cyclist known killed in New York City traffic this year.

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Private Sanitation Truck Kills Pedestrian in Brooklyn

A private sanitation truck hit and killed a pedestrian at the corner of Myrtle Avenue and Broadway at 7:12 this morning. Image: Google Street View.

The driver of a private sanitation truck hit and killed a pedestrian at the intersection of Broadway and Myrtle Avenue this morning, according to the NYPD. The driver hit the pedestrian, a man in his 60s crossing Myrtle, at 7:12 a.m and the victim was pronounced dead at the scene.

The police, as usual, do not suspect any criminality on the driver’s part.

As Charles Komanoff wrote last summer, this is one in a series of traffic deaths caused by garbage trucks, which seem to be disproportionately dangerous to pedestrians and cyclists.

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Department of Health Takes a Snapshot of Bed-Stuy Cyclists

bed_stuy_graphic.jpgImage: NYC Department of Health
The city's Department of Health has made encouraging physical activity, which can help prevent obesity, diabetes, heart disease, and other ailments, a top priority. As part of promoting healthy lifestyles, the Department's Brooklyn District Public Health Office spent last summer studying cyclist behavior in Bedford-Stuyvesant to learn who in that neighborhood travels by bike, and how, so as to better be able to promote cycling in the broader North and Central Brooklyn area. The recently released results [PDF] provide a rare neighborhood-scale look at who cycles, how they ride, and what they think of biking conditions. 

DOH studied cyclists on four blocks with bike lanes. Two, DeKalb Avenue where it crosses Throop and Bedford Avenue where it crosses Fulton Street, had buffered lanes. The others, Tompkins at Putnam and Franklin at Myrtle, had unbuffered painted lanes. The researchers gathered most of their data on cyclist behavior using video cameras, and also conducted more than 300 surveys. 

BedStuyBikers.pngImage: NYC Department of Health

During the 10 recorded hours at each intersection, spread across the week, over 2,400 cyclists rode through the study areas: more than one per minute at each crossing. Most cyclists -- 89 percent -- rode in the bike lane, and those riders were obstructed by an illegally parked or idling car fully 10 percent of the time captured on camera. 

Demographically, 80 percent of the cyclists were men, with 40 percent identifying as black, 39 percent as white, 15 percent as Hispanic, and two percent as Asian. They tended to be regular commuters, with 65 percent reporting biking for half an hour or more at least five days in the previous week, and most lived in the area.

The survey also underscored the need for further bike safety improvements across the city. Of the cyclists surveyed, 27 percent had been involved in a crash in the last three years alone and a full 74 percent had felt unsafe on their bike. 

One reason that DOH survey is particularly important is the lack of decent data about biking behavior outside Manhattan. DOT's screenline count tracks only the crossings into the Manhattan CBD while a Department of City Planning study from last year looked at Manhattan bike lanes between 2001 and 2008. Census data covers the entire city, but is believed to undercount cycling by ignoring non-commute trips. These Bed-Stuy numbers may only be a one-year snapshot of a single neighborhood, but it's all part of painting a fuller picture of New York City cyclists. 

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Feds Green Light Funding for Better Nostrand Avenue Bus Service

potential_nostrand_sbs.jpgA potential configuration for the Nostrand Avenue SBS Route. Image: NYCDOT.

As Elana reported earlier today, the Obama Administration's 2011 budget includes $28 million for the Nostrand Avenue Select Bus Service project. The announcement should help build momentum for a high-priority transit project set to launch in 2012.

Nostrand Avenue SBS would ply the B44 corridor in Brooklyn, a route where ridership is already high, demand is higher, and bus service is currently the most unreliable in the city. Select Bus Service already operates along Fordham Road in the Bronx, and the MTA and DOT recently released their design for First and Second Avenue SBS in Manhattan

The FTA's announcement should help turn this project into reality. "That funding helps assure everybody that the project is going to move forward in these difficult times," said Joan Byron of the Pratt Center for Community Development, which has been a major advocate for bus rapid transit in New York.  Byron highlighted the fact that the design for the route is still very much an open question and that secure funding will make the public outreach process more effective.

In the past, SBS projects -- including the Nostrand Avenue route -- have encountered resistance from those afraid of changing the status quo on the street. The promise of federal dollars could help shift that dynamic. "It's a strong incentive for local officials to get behind the project," said Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign. "We're living in a time where money for all services, including transit, is scarce. Elected officials along the corridor should not look a gift horse in the mouth."

Slevin noted that riders on the Fordham Road SBS route, where ridership has risen 30 percent, have rated the new service highly. "Advocates love it, riders love it, and the federal government is showing it values these types of projects, too."