Skip to content

Posts from the "Cobble Hill" Category

5 Comments

Imagining a New Atlantic Avenue for de Blasio’s New York

atlantic_parking

With the dangerous, highway-like conditions on Atlantic Avenue, much of the surrounding area is under-developed. A chain link fence surrounds this parking lot near Franklin Avenue.

Atlantic Avenue is one of New York’s most prominent streets, and in most respects, it is completely broken.

Stretching more than ten miles, Atlantic cuts through several neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens while functioning mainly as an urban highway for private motorists and truckers making their way east, toward the Van Wyck and Long Island, or west, to the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

It is plagued with constant, speeding traffic. The avenue’s wide, highway-like conditions induce drivers to floor it, and as a result Atlantic is one of the most dangerous streets in New York City. When Council Member Steve Levin took a speed gun out to Atlantic, he found 88 percent of drivers were going more than 10 miles per hour over the limit. From 2008 to 2012, 25 people were killed on the 7.6-mile stretch of Atlantic between Furman Street in Brooklyn Heights and 76th Street in Woodhaven.

When the city announced that Atlantic would become the first street in the “arterial slow zone” program, with a 25 mph speed limit and re-timed traffic signals, it was welcome news. Atlantic is the kind of monster that has to be tamed if the de Blasio administration is going to achieve its Vision Zero street safety goals, and the new speed limit is a good first step.

In the long-run, though, Atlantic Avenue and the many other city streets like it will need much more comprehensive changes to not only eliminate traffic deaths, but also accommodate the economic growth and housing construction goals that City Hall is after.

Today, much of Atlantic Avenue is an eyesore, especially along the stretch east of Flatbush Avenue. It’s basically an unsightly speedway, and land values along the eastern portion of Atlantic have historically been depressed. Empty lots sit beside carwashes and parking lots. Grassy weeds poke up through a decrepit median. Some portions fall under the shadow of elevated train tracks — the Atlantic Branch of the Long Island Rail Road, which otherwise runs below ground.

Does it have to be this way? Can’t we imagine an Atlantic Avenue that is an asset to the neighborhoods which surround it, rather than a challenge to work around?

Read more…

15 Comments

Local BID and CB 2 Ask DOT for More Safety Upgrades on Atlantic Avenue

If DOT follows through on local requests, Atlantic Avenue, here at Hoyt Street, could get some pedestrian safety upgrades. Photo: Google Maps

If DOT follows through on local requests, Atlantic Avenue, here at Hoyt Street, could get some pedestrian safety upgrades. Photo: Google Maps

Last week, Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn became the city’s first “arterial slow zone” with a 25 mph speed limit. Now, a business improvement district on the avenue’s western end is asking for pedestrian safety upgrades, and Community Board 2′s transportation committee has signed on.

“Pedestrian improvements are customer improvements,” said Atlantic Avenue BID Executive Director Josef Szende. “[Shoppers] on Atlantic Avenue are all pedestrians, at least at some point in their journey.”

The BID is asking DOT to study the following safety improvements [PDF]:

  • Leading pedestrian intervals at all eleven intersections within the BID area. (LPIs have already been installed at Clinton, Third and Fourth Avenues.)
  • Bus bulb-outs at corners to speed loading time for bus riders and shorten crossing distances for pedestrians.
  • Shared-lane markings for cyclists along Atlantic Avenue.

Community board staff refused to talk about Tuesday’s unanimous vote supporting the BID’s request, but a board member characterized the committee’s discussion as involving very little debate. Szende said the committee was skeptical of the need for shared-lane markings, since there are parallel bike lanes on Dean, Bergen and Schermerhorn Streets, but did not ask the BID to remove sharrows from its letter to DOT.

The committee did request that the BID also ask DOT about improvements to Times Plaza, the triangle between Fourth, Atlantic, and Flatbush Avenues. ”It’s kind of a drab triangle right now. It’s just asphalt. There’s no lighting, there’s no wayfinding,” Szende said. ”We’re asking DOT to take an honest look at these things, to consider them, and come back to us with whatever they think is feasible.”

Read more…

7 Comments

Brooklyn CB 2 Committee Supports PARK Smart for Atlantic, Court, and Smith

On-street parking reform for Atlantic Avenue, Court Street, and Smith Street in Brooklyn moved ahead last night with a 6-0-1 vote from Community Board 2′s transportation committee in favor of a new DOT PARK Smart zone. The proposal [PDF], prompted by a request from the owner of Sahadi’s, aims to curb traffic and increase on-street parking availability for retail shoppers by allowing meter rates to rise after the first 30 minutes.

DOT aims to curb traffic and increase parking turnover by discouraging drivers from parking on commercial streets for hours at a time. Blue lines indicate streets that will receive the PARK Smart reforms; orange lines show streets included in the study that will not be seeing any parking meter changes.

Presently, Atlantic Avenue west of Fourth Avenue and Court and Smith Streets between Atlantic Avenue and Sackett Street includes a mix of one- and two-hour limits, with rates at $1 per hour. Today, with limited enforcement of time limits, it’s common for some motorists to park all day on busy commercial streets — even as nearby garages sit mostly-empty — while retail customers circle for available spots.

“People are staying all day on both sides of Atlantic,” said DOT PARK Smart manager Manzell Blakeley. ”People are really staying for four or five hours.”

The PARK Smart proposal would discourage long-term parking with a pricing structure that ramps up charges for longer stays. The area would receive a uniform two-hour limit, and rates would remain at 50 cents for the first half-hour. But the second half-hour would cost $1, the third would also cost $1, and the fourth would cost $1.50. A driver looking to skirt the rules and keep paying the low rate for long stays would have to feed the meter every 30 minutes.

Charlie Sahadi, who owns Sahadi’s food store on Atlantic Avenue, said that it can be difficult to know how customers get to the store, though he often hears complaints from customers who have to circle for parking. He mentioned the problem to State Senator Daniel Squadron, who connected him with DOT’s PARK Smart staff.

“If you’re in the retail business, you depend on customers coming in and buying stuff,” Sahadi said. “My aim is to get more foot traffic on the street.”

Sahadi thinks DOT’s progressive rate structure will make it easier for his customers find parking, and is glad that it can be tweaked in the future. “One of the beauties of PARK Smart is, it’s flexible,” he said. “It’s worth a shot.”

To come up with the new policy, DOT interviewed over 100 business owners and held an open house to get feedback. The agency also used time-lapse photos of the area’s streets — a new data-collection method for PARK Smart — to determine parking occupancy and duration rates.

Read more…

30 Comments

Eyes on the Street: A New Bike Corral and a Safer Intersection in Cobble Hill

A new bike corral was installed yesterday on Court Street in Brooklyn. Photo: Josef Szende/Atlantic Avenue BID

Yesterday, DOT crews installed a bike corral on Court Street near the intersection with Pacific Street, in a “no standing” zone that was often ignored. Like other bike corrals the city has recently installed, this one will improve safety for pedestrians by keeping the corner visible to turning drivers. It’s also going to improve customer access to nearby retailers, including the Trader Joe’s across Court Street.

The planting was done by Atlantic Avenue gardening shop Dig and was paid for by the Cobble Hill Association (the corral is one of several street safety improvements the CHA has called for). The Atlantic Avenue Business Improvement District will maintain the bike corral. Community Board 2′s transportation committee voted unanimously in support of the project in June.

The Cobble Hill Association advocated for the bike corral to help improve sightlines at the corner of Court and Pacific. Photo: Josef Szende/Atlantic Avenue BID

3 Comments

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.

3 Comments

Timothy Keith Killed by Cab Driver in Brooklyn, No Charges Filed

Timothy Keith

Timothy Keith, the 5-year-old boy who was hit by a cab driver in Brooklyn earlier this month, died days later from his injuries.

Timothy was walking with his parents on Hicks Street in Cobble Hill on the afternoon of April 14 when, according to NYPD, he ran into the street and was struck by a cab driver.

The driver told police he “couldn’t stop in time.” He was not charged.

It was reported on April 16 that Timothy was brain dead. He died the next day, according to a web site set up to accept donations to help the Keiths pay for funeral and travel expenses.

Timothy and his parents were in from DC, on their first family trip to the city.

This fatal crash occurred in the 76th Precinct. To voice your concerns about neighborhood traffic safety directly to Captain Jeffrey Schiff, the commanding officer, head to the next precinct community council meeting. The 76th Precinct council meetings happen at at 7:30 p.m. on the first Tuesday of each month at the precinct, 191 Union Street. Call 718-834-3207 for information.

StreetFilms 19 Comments

Making Streets Safer With On-Street Bike Parking

The corner of Smith Street and Sackett Street in Brooklyn had a problem. Drivers approaching the intersection from Sackett couldn’t get a clear view of Smith because of the parked cars blocking their line of sight. Crashes kept happening and local residents started pushing for safety improvements. After experimenting with a few options, NYC DOT arrived at this innovative response: New York’s first on-street bike parking facility.

By installing eight bike racks, DOT created a “daylighting” effect, improving visibility at the intersection. The bike parking is much less intrusive than parked cars and helps everyone at the intersection see everyone else. Oh yeah, and now there are a dozen new places to park bikes without taking away any space from Smith Street’s busy sidewalks.

For another look at on-street bike parking, check out Streetfilms’ 2008 tour of Portland, Oregon’s bike corrals.

22 Comments

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.

Read more...
4 Comments

The District 33 Transpo Debate: Can They Top Yassky on Livable Streets?

33_candidates.jpgL-r: City Council candidates Ken Baer, Doug Biviano, Ken Diamondstone, Jo Anne Simon, Evan Thies.
The most telling answers at Transportation Alternatives' District 33 City Council candidates forum came after an audience member asked point blank for the debaters' stance on congestion pricing. "I can’t support a candidate who’ll support congestion pricing," said the questioner, Dave Reina. "I think it's punitive, and there are more creative solutions out there. Who’ll stand up against it?"

It was an opportunity for the candidates to show how well they understand the most critical transportation problems facing New York City by rebutting Reina with a well-reasoned argument. Traffic generated by the free price on Brooklyn's three East River bridges overruns the 33rd District, which includes parts of Greenpoint, Williamsburg, Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill and Park Slope. Congestion pricing, supported by outgoing rep David Yassky, should be as much a no-brainer here as it is in Lower Manhattan.

Only one candidate, Doug Biviano, a former campaign staffer for Kucinich 2008, came close to giving Reina what he asked for. "I'm not against congestion pricing," he said, "but I think we have to be careful about unintended consequences. Do we want to hit people with that toll? In this climate, I don’t think we want to. That would kill contractors."

Biviano was followed by Evan Thies, who played an active role in last year's campaign to pass congestion pricing as a consultant for Environment Defense and the Pratt Center. "I do absolutely support congestion pricing," he said to some applause. "Neighborhoods like this are disproportionately affected by the traffic that’s created by the lack of congestion pricing. Contractors in the outer boroughs supported congestion pricing, because instead of spending time in traffic, they’d be spending more time working for clients." Thies later named congestion pricing his top transportation priority and noted that the next City Council will need to take it up again in 2010 to fund the MTA Capital Plan.

Jo Anne Simon, an attorney who serves as Democratic district leader in the 52nd Assembly District, gave another strong statement in support of pricing. "The gratuitous traffic that comes over the bridges is just that, gratuitous," she said. "We’re a doormat. It’s costing us in infrastructure; it’s costing us in health. The challenge for us as policy makers is to convince people in the outer boroughs that congestion pricing benefits them too. It’s not just for Manhattan."

Ken Diamondstone and Ken Baer, the other two candidates at the forum, also endorsed congestion pricing. Baer took the more enthusiastic stance, noting that pricing revenues can help plug the MTA Capital Plan's $10 billion hole. Diamondstone said he "believes strongly" in the policy but thinks exceptions must be made for people with disabilities and, in a novel carve-out suggestion, musicians.

By this point in the debate, candidate Isaac Abraham was long gone.

Read more...
No Comments

Legacy of Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Advocates Continues

A bit more background on the generous neckdown at Smith and Bergen spotlighted earlier today: This pedestrian amenity never would have been built without the long-term organizing for the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project. Street protests and advocacy campaigns stretching back more than a dozen years are bearing fruit now.

And advocates are still on their game, pushing for more. This slideshow comes from Dave "Paco" Abraham, a volunteer with Transportation Alternatives' Brooklyn Committee who's had his eye on the corner of Smith and Bergen in particular. "I always thought that intersection needed something," he said. Thousands of commuters pass through the subway entrances on these corners every day. You've got students walking to schools on Bergen and customers heading to the restaurant row on Smith. They're all contending with traffic that tends to accelerate on the excessively wide Bergen as drivers try to make the light at Court Street.

When Abraham heard the city was moving on a big slate of downtown Brooklyn traffic calming measures, he drew up a letter urging the maximum possible sidewalk extension and the addition of bike parking at the northwest corner of the intersection. He met with more than a dozen merchants in the immediate vicinity and asked them to sign on. "I don’t think there was a place I went to that said no," he says. "It was tremendous." He also garnered support from local civic groups and the two nearest schools -- the Brooklyn Heights Montessori School and the Mary McDowell Learning Center.

It's hard to say precisely what effect Abraham's campaign had on the final outcome at this intersection. But there's a lot more sidewalk real estate here than at your typical curb extension, and, at the very least, DOT knew there was widespread local support for something ambitious, thanks to his organizing. DOT is considering the addition of bike parking, a spokesman told Streetsblog earlier this week.

If you're interested in putting together a similar campaign for a specific intersection, Abraham has a whole tutorial about building momentum for a "bike parking swap" posted on the Livable Streets Community site.