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Posts from the "Carroll Gardens" Category

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Eyes on the Street: Bike Contraflow Over the Gowanus

Union Street looking west at Nevins. The contraflow bike lane is separated from eastbound car traffic by a dashed double-yellow line. Photo: Keith Williams

Reader Keith Williams, who blogs at The Weekly Nabe, recently got a few shots of the brand new contraflow bike lane in progress on Union Street. This project will add a sorely needed westbound bike connection across the Gowanus Canal — part of a route that jogs from Degraw, down to Union, then back up to Sackett [PDF].

The contraflow lane on Union is notable for a few reasons.

One, it came out of Council Member Brad Lander’s 2012 participatory budgeting process. In the end it wasn’t paid for with Lander’s discretionary funds (other projects got more votes), but because Lander put out the call for ideas, it got NYC DOT’s attention. So, chalk one up for community-based planning.

Two, I believe this is a first for NYC — a contraflow bike lane separated from opposing traffic with a dashed double-yellow stripe. Other contraflow lanes, like the one on Union Square North, have more separation from traffic, but there’s not always enough room for that. Bike lanes like the new one on Union work in other cities and promise to make the city’s bike design toolkit more flexible.

Adding more contraflow lanes could help fill in some missing links in the bike network. A few years ago, for instance, Brooklyn Community Board 2 member Mike Epstein proposed a short contraflow segment to help bridge gaps in the bike network at the confluence of Flatbush, Third Avenue, and Lafayette Avenue.

You can catch more photos of the Union Street project at the Weekly Nabe.

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You Can’t Catch Speeders If You Don’t Have a Radar Gun

For a while, it seems, City Council Member Steve Levin was the only person in the 76th Precinct with a radar gun -- the local police didn't have one until last week. Photo: Elizabeth Graham/Brooklyn Paper

Here’s how unconcerned the New York Police Department is with deadly traffic violations: For at least a month, and possibly longer, reports DNAinfo, Brooklyn’s 76th Precinct went without a radar gun.

Perhaps due to said lack of a radar gun, the 76th Precinct issued almost no speeding tickets in 2012 until this month: all of five from January through April [PDF]. In that time, over 60 percent of all moving violations the precinct issued were for just two violations, cell phone and seat belt use.

After acquiring a new radar gun, the precinct issued eight speeding tickets on Hicks Street in a single day last week, according to DNAinfo, more than doubling their previous total.

By going without a radar gun, the 76th Precinct couldn’t perform the essential task of keeping its citizens safe. Speed kills. According to the Department of Transportation, a pedestrian struck by a car moving 40 miles per hour has a 70 percent chance of dying. A pedestrian struck by a car driving the city speed limit of 30 miles per hour has an 80 percent chance of survival.

Just one month ago, 5-year-old Timothy Keith was killed by a cab driver in the 76th Precinct, on Hicks Street. Keith, who is deaf, ran into the street. The driver said he couldn’t stop in time, and no charges were filed against him.

It’s a good thing that the public can use radar guns, even when the police don’t. In March, City Council Member Steve Levin clocked 88 percent of drivers on Atlantic Avenue exceeding the speed limit. The westernmost section of Atlantic, near the BQE, is in the 76th precinct.

If it takes a tragedy and community pressure for precincts to even bother to buy a radar gun, much less to make speeding a priority, it speaks volumes to the NYPD’s prioritization of traffic safety. The unwillingness of the police to ticket speeding drivers is as strong an argument one can make for the necessity of using automated cameras – unavailable in NYC until Albany passes the enabling legislation – to catch dangerous speeders.

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Eyes on the Street: NYC’s First Bike Corral Underway on Smith Street

Reader Jeremy Charette sends this shot from the corner of Smith Street and Sackett Street in Brooklyn, where a crew was installing what I believe to be a genuine first for NYC: on-street bike parking.

Eight bike racks are getting bolted into the blacktop in what’s currently a no-standing zone. In addition to the added convenience of the bike parking, anchoring the racks in the pavement will keep the sidewalk uncluttered and prevent illegally idling and/or parked cars from obscuring sightlines at the intersection.

The safety dividend should be significant, Jeremy writes:

Since I moved in seven years ago, I’ve seen countless car accidents at the corner of Smith and Sackett in Brooklyn. Problem is, drivers coming from Sackett Street can’t see around parked cars on the Southeast corner of the intersection, making it a blind corner. Cars tend to roll through the stop sign on Sackett Street, and at least 1 or 2 a year get t-boned by vehicles coming down Smith Street.

This year they finally put up a “no standing” sign for the two spots before the corner, but cars and trucks STILL park there!

I came out this morning to find this! They’ve painted the no parking zone, put up a curb, and are installing bike racks!

In Portland they call this on-street parking set-up a bike corral. NYC DOT has reclaimed curb space for bike parking before, but that always entailed building out the sidewalk, which is pleasant but comes at a considerable expense. This new treatment effectively preserves pedestrian space too, at a much lower cost. (There’s also a hybrid treatment at the Hoyt-Schermerhorn subway station, where DOT added bike parking to an epoxy-and-gravel sidewalk extension.)

It’s great to see bike corrals arrive in NYC.

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Van Driver Kills Carroll Gardens Pedestrian Crossing Columbia Street

Police officers talk to the van driver who killed a pedestrian on Columbia Street this morning. Photo: Georgia Kral/Patch.

A van driver hit and killed a woman in her 50s as she crossed Columbia Street at around 7:40 this morning, according to an article in the Carroll Gardens Patch. The crash took place near the intersection of Columbia and Summit Street.

The driver stayed at the scene, and while police are still investigating the crash, a spokesperson said they don’t believe any criminality was involved.

Area residents told the Patch that the street is particularly dangerous, with drivers speeding through on their way to the BQE or IKEA. While the DOT installed a traffic calming bike lane on Columbia Street further south in Red Hook, it does not extend north to Summit Street.

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Levin Traffic Task Force Gets to Work

A traffic task force spearheaded by Brooklyn Council Member Steve Levin and the Boerum Hill Association convened for the first time Wednesday night. Levin’s district includes several neighborhoods battered by traffic heading to and from the free East River bridges, and local residents have been engaged for years in efforts to make streets safer, eventually yielding improvements like the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project.

The Carroll Gardens Patch reports that a group of about a dozen residents outlined an agenda last night that primarily focuses on improvements in street safety.

The first task is to look into installing red light cameras, leading pedestrian intervals … and pedestrian countdowns on Atlantic Avenue.

The group also voted to look into installing speed cameras in the neighborhood.

In addition, the task force is interested in bringing bike-share to Boerum Hill, as well as 20 mph zones.

“It was a really positive, productive, candid discussion,” says Juan Martinez, general counsel for Transportation Alternatives. “The council member’s constituents have a sophisticated understanding of how to make our streets safer, and it’s great to see that [Levin] is responding to it.”

Martinez points out that Levin is a co-sponsor of Int. 370-A, the Saving Lives Through Better Information Bill, which would require the city to publicize data on traffic collisions online. “Right now, residents know where the dangerous intersections are, they know that street signals need to be re-timed on Atlantic Avenue so drivers don’t behave like it’s a freeway. But without data, residents can’t quantify the problem.” Stepping up traffic enforcement is another item on the task force to-do list.

Co-chair and Levin staffer Hope Reichbach intends task force discussions to serve as the means, not the ends. “It’s frustrating for people because you hear about something and it never seems to go anywhere,” she said Wednesday. “So this forum to me, I want to go over what anyone thinks, what comes to mind to people, and then [move to] the next step.”

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Fixing the Ditch: Planning a Less Awful BQE Trench

BQE_Pic.pngThe BQE trench divides a neighborhood in two, spewing noise and air pollution. Photo: NYCEDC [PDF]

Between 1950 and 1964, Robert Moses gouged a path across two boroughs to build the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. In Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens, the BQE slices through the urban fabric in the form of a below-grade trench, which has given many residents of those neighborhoods hope of covering that section of highway. As more people have moved to the west side of the ditch, the pressure to do something has mounted, but the BQE trench won't get capped any time soon.

Old_Neighborhood.pngBefore the BQE trench was built, the neighborhood had a fully connected street grid. Image: NYCEDC

The damage inflicted by the highway on residents' ears and lungs, however, could still be lessened, and some of the lost street connections can be restored. Right now, locals put up with traffic noise as high as 76 decibels -- at 80, you're subject to long-term hearing loss -- and dangerously elevated levels of asthma-causing particulate pollution. Their neighborhood is effectively split in two. A study sponsored by Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, who secured $300,000 in federal funds, offers a few partial solutions to "fix the ditch."

The project team developing the study held its first community planning session last week, and the Brooklyn Eagle reports that improved bike-ped connections across the highway, noise-reducing walls, and environmental remediation measures are the favored changes. (This is a separate project from the reconstruction of the BQE in downtown Brooklyn, which could have major implications for the local and regional transportation system.)

The NYC Economic Development Corporation is leading the study, in partnership with NYCDOT and a host of consulting firms. The goal for now is to produce a plan that can be shopped around for additional funding. After two more community meetings, the lead planners will put out a conceptual design and engineering report in July. In the fall, they'll issue three alternative plans for the trench. The money isn't in place yet for the redesign itself. 

Neither is funding available for capping the trench, which could create new real estate for public space or private development. Seattle famously decked over part of I-5 to create Freeway Park, and Los Angeles is considering doing something similar where the 101 Freeway divides downtown. Though the Eagle reported that many residents near the BQE trench still hold out hope for such a bold scenario, planners don't expect to have access to the kind of money needed for more than incremental changes.

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Now That’s What I Call a Neckdown!

smith_bergen1.jpg

Since the spring, DOT construction crews have been building out traffic calming improvements all over the neighborhoods near downtown Brooklyn. When the years-in-the-making Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project wraps up, pedestrians will have safer crossings at dozens of intersections. The sidewalk extension at the northwest corner of Smith and Bergen, shown here, is especially impressive. Several hundred square feet of street space now belong to pedestrians instead of cars.

I popped up from my subway ride home yesterday to take some pictures, and in the five minutes I spent there, it was plainly obvious that people feel more comfortable and at ease on the sidewalk with all that extra room. First, to give a sense of the extension's size, check out what this corner used to look like (you can use the green "Smith's Grocery" awning to orient yourself).

smith_before.jpg

After the jump, more traffic-calmed goodness.

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District 39 Candidates: Where Do They Stand on Livable Streets?

candidates_39th.jpgL-r: Brad Lander, Dave Pechefsky, Gary Reilly, Josh Skaller, and Bob Zuckerman.
A crowd of about 75 Brooklynites turned out for the Transportation Alternatives City Council candidate debate last night, despite the muggy mid-August heat and un-air-conditioned PS 321 auditorium. They were treated to a substantive discussion of transportation policy that went deeper than "bike lanes: good or bad."

The race to succeed Bill de Blasio in the 39th District is crowded, with seven candidates participating in the debate (an eighth, Democrat John Heyer, was a no-show). After last night, it's clear that a strong livable streets candidate won't emerge from the Republican primary. GOP candidates Joe Nardiello and George Smith voiced support for bike infrastructure but neither could articulate a coherent strategy for curbing auto use and mitigating traffic. (Nardiello on congestion pricing: "Penalties are not the solution.")

The other five debaters -- Democrats Brad Lander, Gary Reilly, Josh Skaller, and Bob Zuckerman, and Green Party candidate Dave Pechefsky -- generally agreed that the city should reduce driving and foster walking, biking, and transit. How, and to what extent? I'll try to give a sense of their positions and ideas as concisely as possible.

Among this group, Zuckerman seemed the most gun-shy about getting people out of their cars. When asked to identify the district's most pressing transportation need, "I would use the word congestion," he said. His main strategy: Residential parking permits, proposing a borough-wide permit zone for on-street parking, with a $100 annual fee. As a hypothetical revenue-raiser, that's nothing to sneeze at. As a feasible proposition for busting congestion, I'm not so sure.

In general, RPP was a common proposal, while more effective and politically risky strategies to manage parking received fewer mentions. Lander and Reilly both lauded the DOT's PARK Smart pilot in Park Slope -- which charges higher rates for on-street spaces during peak hours -- and suggested ramping it up. Thankfully, no one from the Dem/Green contingent proposed building additional parking structures to ease congestion. (Skaller: "I do agree with the basic notion that if you create parking, more cars will come. So the solution must lie elsewhere.")

Reilly was the only candidate to identify the city's off-street parking requirements as a major cause of traffic and congestion. "We need to eliminate that archaic part of the zoning law that requires car parking," he said. Pechefsky picked up on a different aspect of the city's off-street parking boom. "Riding down Ninth Street is an invitation to get hit by someone driving to Lowe’s," he said, referring to the big box home improvement store that sits right by the Gowanus Canal. "We need another economic development model." 

The most full-throated endorsement of congestion pricing, meanwhile, came from Lander. "I want to encourage people to stick, long-term, with congestion pricing," he said, noting that RPP would not pack the same punch. "I think we need to be in the forefront of advocating for that to happen. If we want enough money to run transit, and cut congestion and the traffic that runs through our neighborhood, we need congestion pricing." Council members can push for that reform, he said, by helping to build the coalitions necessary to sway Albany legislators.

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Tuesday: City Council Candidates for District 39 Debate Livable Streets

In Democrat-dominated New York City, much of the electoral action happens on primary day. This year's primaries are fast approaching: Voters go to the polls on September 15, four weeks from tomorrow. Contests for City Council seats, the Manhattan District Attorney's job, borough presidencies, Public Advocate, and City Comptroller will by and large be decided on that day.

One of the more intriguing races is shaping up in the 39th Council District, which includes parts of Carroll Gardens, Park Slope, Kensington, and Borough Park. This is the seat being vacated by Bill de Blasio -- who opposed congestion pricing last year and came out in favor of bridge tolls late in the game during the MTA funding debate this spring. The district is heavily transit-dependent, mostly car-free [PDF], and situated in prime New York City "bike belt" territory. This election should put a strong, smart voice for progressive transportation policy in City Hall.

If you live in the 39th and care about green transportation and livable streets, you'll want to come out tomorrow night for the candidate debate Transportation Alternatives has put together. TA director Paul White will moderate the event, featuring the seven council candidates, who will discuss their views on "the bike network, congestion pricing, pedestrian safety, the MTA and livable streets issues of all stripes."

The more people attend, the more the candidates will appreciate that these issues matter to their potential constituents. Here are the details:

  • When: Tuesday, August 18, 7:00 - 8:30pm
  • Where: PS 321, 180 7th Avenue (between 1st and 2nd Street)
  • Who: City Council candidates for District 39 (John Heyer, Brad Lander, Joe Nardiello, David Pechefsky, Gary Reilly, Josh Skaller, Bob Zuckerman)
If you don't live in the 39th, Streetsblog will have more on your local race soon. TA has sent out questionnaires to all the candidates for City Council, Borough President, Manhattan DA, and citywide office. Check here during the next few weeks for coverage of their responses.
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Eyes on the Street: Ikea Shuttles Tearing Through Brooklyn ‘Hoods

clinton_street_ikea_bus_jam.jpg
A pair of Ikea buses clog Clinton St. in Cobble Hill.

A tipster sends along a disturbing Red Hook Ikea traffic update.

The residents of Cobble Hill and Carroll Gardens are going nuts about the Ikea buses that have decided against Hicks and gone with Clinton as a route. The buses, every hour on the hour, seem to be trying to beat out Bonneville Salt Flats-type speed records, and [Tuesday] morning, due to construction, there was even an Ikea bus jam.

Streetsblog followed up with Ikea, but the rep we spoke with could only say that the shuttle buses are free, and that they originate from Fourth Avenue at 9th Street and the Court St.-Borough Hall station. Ridership numbers were not available.

Considering the impact on Red Hook and surrounding neighborhoods from its shuttle buses and ocean of on-site parking, it seems the flat-pack retailer could use some assistance in the public relations department. Our tipster wonders if the shuttles might be available for general use, which could be a start.