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Lander and Levin to DOT: A Safer Fourth Avenue Can’t Wait

The left-turn bans opposed by CB 6 protect pedestrians from turning drivers and widen medians while reducing crossing distances. Image: NYC DOT

City Council members Brad Lander and Steve Levin are urging NYC DOT to move forward with safety improvements for Fourth Avenue in Park Slope despite a vote against the proposal by Brooklyn Community Board 6.

The Daily News reported today that in response to the CB 6 vote, DOT might take out some of the left-turn bans in its proposal. The turn bans reduce conflicts between motorists and pedestrians, and free up space for wider medians and shorter crossings. Lander and Levin endorse them. In their joint letter to Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, the council members say they “look forward to seeing any modifications you propose in the very near future” but that they disagree with the CB 6 vote against the plan and want to see it implemented this summer.

Here’s the meat of the letter:

DOT conducted extensive community outreach to gather input and share ideas for improving safety on 4th Avenue. We were pleased to have taken part in the 4th Avenue Task Force, convened by Brooklyn Borough President Marty Markowitz, and the subsequent public planning process organized by DOT with the support of the Park Slope Civic Council’s Forth on Fourth Committee and the Brooklyn Chamber of Commerce. DOT conducted a well-attended public traffic safety workshop for community members on February 13 to gather input, utilized an innovative online input map (nyc.gov/4thAve), held an open house on April 9 to display the proposal, met with principals from 6 schools along the corridor, and made presentations to the CB2 and CB6 transportation committees during May to gather feedback.

After having participated in the planning process and having heard from numerous residents and other stakeholders in our districts and along the corridor, we support your proposal. The Corridor Safety Improvements you propose – similar to improvements implemented on 4th Avenue in Sunset Park from 15th Street to 65th Street last year – will narrow traffic from three lanes to two lanes in both directions south of Union Street, and southbound north of Union Street (leaving three northbound lanes from Union Street north toward Flatbush). This will calm traffic, allow for longer turn bays (a major improvement for drivers), and allow the medians to be significantly widened (a major improvement for pedestrians). Because left turn bans have worked further south on 4th Avenue—to reduce safety risks for pedestrians and drivers alike—your proposal will ban selected left turns along the corridor in pedestrian-heavy locations near subways and schools, and where opposing left turns have contributed to a large number of crashes.

We are aware that on June 12, 2013, Brooklyn Community Board 6 (CB6) resolved by a vote of 18 to 9, with 5 abstentions, to disapprove DOT’s proposed redesign of 4th Avenue. During our terms in elected office, there have been very few instances in which our position on an issue differs with that of a local Community Board, and doing so is not a decision we take lightly. However, given the severity of the safety risks along 4th Avenue, we respectfully but strongly disagree with CB6’s rejection of the proposal.

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On Fourth Avenue, Brooklyn CB 6 Prioritizes Left Turns Over People’s Lives

Community Board 6 rejected a plan for wider pedestrian medians on one of Brooklyn's most dangerous streets because the design calls for restricting left turns.

Brooklyn Community Board 6 tossed aside years of community activism and months of public meetings about safety improvements on Fourth Avenue Wednesday night, voting against a DOT proposal to calm traffic and expand pedestrian space on one of the borough’s deadliest streets. The board not only rejected a resolution in support of the plan but also passed a resolution expressing its disapproval.

Between 2007 and 2011, 52 people were severely injured on the 1.4 mile stretch of Fourth Avenue in Park Slope, and a senior citizen was killed in 2008, according to DOT. In addition to all the foot traffic generated by the subway lines that run beneath the street, the wave of residential development following a 2003 rezoning means more people than ever are walking on Fourth Avenue. There are seven schools along this stretch, including one, PS 118, set to open this year on Fourth Avenue at 8th Street. The safety improvements that CB 6 rejected would have narrowed traffic lanes and expanded pedestrian space, similar to improvements implemented on 50 blocks of Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park last year.

Community Board 6 chair Daniel Kummer. Photo: Park Slope Patch

In introducing the proposal to the full board, transportation committee chair Tom Miskel spoke against the safety plan, before the board, chaired by Daniel Kummer, failed to pass a resolution supporting the proposal, 10-18 with four abstentions. After that vote, James Bernard, appointed to CB 6 by Council Member Stephen Levin, decided to go one step further and put forward another resolution expressing the board’s rejection of the safety plan. His resolution passed 18-9, with five abstentions.

CB 6′s full board is an outlier along Fourth Avenue. CB 2, which includes a few of Fourth Avenue’s northernmost blocks, unanimously voted, 27-0, to support the plan on Wednesday. CB 7 approved the Sunset Park section last year in a 31-2 vote. In Bay Ridge, CB 10′s transportation committee voted on Monday to support Fourth Avenue traffic calming; the plan goes before CB 10′s full board on Monday.

In a letter to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan [PDF], Kummer acknowledged the extensive planning process, culminating in a plan that received the support of his board’s transportation committee last month in a 14-1 vote, but said the board voted against the proposal after some residents and board members objected to key components of the safety plan. Those components include the wider pedestrian medians, which would reclaim street space for walking by implementing left turn restrictions and reducing travel lanes from three to two in each direction.

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A Refresher on How PPW Bike Lane Opponents Cherrypick Their Numbers

PPW bike lane opponents cherry-picked their own data-set to make the case that this redesign is less safe than the old three-lane speedway. Photo: hildagirl70/Flickr

While parents and kids were out celebrating three years of safe, all-ages cycling at the Prospect Park West Family Bike Ride last week, the remnants of NBBL were apparently scouring their Rolodex for media contacts who still take them seriously.

A short item from Post columnist David Seifman notes that unidentified “critics” of the PPW redesign “insist that all of the DOT’s numbers are misleading.” That’s what Norman Steisel, Louise Hainline, and assorted other friends and acquaintances of former DOT commissioner Iris Weinshall said when they sued the city to remove the PPW bike lane. In fact, DOT’s crash numbers for PPW — which show a small reduction in pedestrian injuries and a small uptick in total motor vehicle crashes involving injury in the two years after the redesign, according to Seifman — are collected using the same methods the agency has always used to measure the impact of traffic-calming projects. It was NBBL and their lawyer, Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden, who cherrypicked numbers and fabricated a bogus methodology to suit their needs.

As Streetsblog reported back in 2011:

For example, when NBBL and Walden alleged that DOT counted crashes that didn’t happen on Prospect Park West, the city explains, they failed to understand how NYPD records traffic crashes at intersections. In those cases, police record one street as the “on” street and the other street as the cross street. Because most crashes occur at intersections, it is standard DOT practice to count a crash as occurring on a given street if it is listed as a “cross street” in the police report. NYPD may, for instance, record a crash that happened at the intersection of PPW and Third Street as happening “on” Third Street, with PPW as the cross street. When studying safety on the PPW corridor, DOT counts such a crash as happening on PPW, while NBBL would have disregarded such a crash, en route to compiling a dataset that doesn’t adhere to the methodology employed by DOT all over the city.

Meanwhile, with speeding down drastically compared to the old three-lane highway set-up, people feel safe using PPW in ways they never would have considered before. But the NBBL crew keeps on plodding along, spending time and energy just to undermine projects that let people do this:

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In Bay Ridge and Park Slope, Fourth Ave Traffic Calming Moves Forward

Fourth Avenue at 86th Street in Bay Ridge would get a pedestrian island - and a pedestrian fence - under a plan presented to CB 10 last week. Image: DOT

Last year, DOT redesigned Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park to calm traffic by widening pedestrian medians and reducing the number of motor vehicle lanes. Similar improvements are now on track for Fourth Avenue in Bay Ridge and Park Slope. Last Thursday, Community Board 6′s transportation committee voted 14-1 to support the Park Slope plan. In Bay Ridge, CB 10′s transportation committee reviewed the plan last Monday; it now goes to a community forum scheduled for June 5.

The biggest news is that, based on public feedback, the Bay Ridge road diet, originally planned for both directions from Ovington Avenue to 84th Street, will cover more blocks than expected [PDF]. Now, both directions from Ovington Avenue to 86th Street and northbound Fourth Avenue from 101st Street to 95th Street will be converted from two lanes in each direction to one through lane in each direction plus left-turn lanes.

CB 10 has historically been reluctant to support DOT’s street redesigns, but while infamous cars-first board member Allen Bortnick raged against DOT at last week’s meeting, he seemed to be in the minority this time around. “The plan was very well-crafted and thought out and DOT took the idea of community input to heart,” CB 10 member Andrew Gounardes said. ”They went block by block and they tweaked their plan based on input from us. I’m very encouraged by that.”

The intersection with 86th Street, a major bus and subway hub with lots of pedestrian activity and automobile drop-offs, will be receiving a new pedestrian island on the south side of the junction for pedestrians crossing Fourth Avenue.

The crossing would also receive an 80-foot pedestrian fence along the west side of Fourth Avenue. Hemming people in isn’t a pedestrian-friendly solution to traffic dangers, but DOT’s fence proposal was received positively by the committee. ”It’s the most troublesome intersection we have in Bay Ridge,” Gounardes said.

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Dear Streetsbloggers: How Do You Handle Alt-Side Parkers in the Bike Lane?

Christine Bush, editor of the neighborhood blog South Slope News, writes in with this question about when painted bike lanes and alternate side parking collide:

We just had our snazzy new bike lanes pop up on 14th and 15th Streets in South Park Slope last weekend, but when I left to take my son to school this morning, I discovered most of the lane blocked by double-parked cars.

Is this an issue on other bike lane streets?

Other residential streets with un-protected bike lanes do have this problem on alt-side parking days. The problem has been overcome, sort of, on at least one of these streets.

On Maple Street in Prospect-Lefferts Gardens, the alt-side double parkers stay out of the bike lane. Neighborhood blog Hawthorne Street attributed this behavior to some effective enforcement by the 71st Precinct in 2007.

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Motorists Crash Into Businesses in Queens and Brooklyn, Taking Life and Limb

The motorist who crashed into a garage in Willets Point, killing one man and injuring two. Photo: DNAinfo

Curb-jumping motorists have crashed into places of business in Brooklyn and Queens in two incidents since Tuesday morning, leaving one dead and several injured, including a man whose legs were reported severed.

At approximately 11:40 a.m. yesterday, a speeding driver rear-ended a vehicle on 126th Street in Willets Point, then veered off the street and crashed into an auto body shop, according to NYPD and published reports. The motorist hit one employee who was standing on the sidewalk, severing his legs below the knees. The driver then hit one or more vehicles inside the shop, and two mechanics. One man, age 33, was killed. The other man inside the shop, age 34, was reported in serious but stable condition, and the 30-year-old man who lost his legs was listed in critical condition, according to NYPD and the Times Ledger.

DNAinfo posted photos of the driver, age 52, being interviewed by police. No arrests were made yesterday, and NYPD had no further information on charges or summonses as of this morning. Police had not yet released the identity of the man who was killed. A commenter on DNAinfo who identified the victim as his father posted a photo on Facebook.

At 6:15 a.m. today in Park Slope, a motorist drove through the front of a deli at 439 Fifth Avenue. The Post reported that a store employee and the driver were injured.

A deli worker was injured by a motorist who jumped a curb in Park Slope. Photo: New York Post

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Traffic-Calming Road Diet Could Come to Fourth Avenue in Park Slope

Fourth Avenue in Park Slope is slated for a road diet that will shorten crossing distances for pedestrians. Image: NYC DOT

For years, Fourth Avenue has been identified as one of Brooklyn’s most dangerous streets for pedestrians. Recently, DOT has been working neighborhood-by-neighborhood — in Bay Ridge, Sunset Park, and Park Slope — to redesign Fourth Avenue for greater safety. Last week, the agency unveiled its proposals to calm traffic and add pedestrian space on 28 blocks of Fourth Avenue, from 15th Street to Pacific Street.

The Park Slope proposal [PDF] resembles the changes implemented last year in Sunset Park. On most of this stretch, traffic lanes would be reduced from three lanes in each direction to two, providing room for painted curb and median extensions. The northbound lanes from Union Street to Atlantic Avenue — where motor vehicle traffic is heaviest, especially during the morning rush — will retain the existing three-lane configuration.

DOT is also proposing to daylight intersections — removing car parking so motorists, cyclists, and pedestrians can see each other better — and introduce bike corrals and planters near St. Mark’s Place, Union Street, Carroll Street, and 10th Street.

The proposal calls for restricting left turns from Fourth Avenue onto Dean, Butler, Degraw, 8th, and 13th Streets. In addition, 3rd and 9th Streets would receive left-turn restrictions, but from southbound Fourth Avenue only. The restriction at 9th Street would eliminate the dedicated turn lane currently in place at the intersection, creating space for a wider median to accommodate the high number of people walking to the subway. (The 9th Street intersection sees more crashes than any other along this stretch of Fourth Avenue.)

Medians at intersections where turn restrictions are introduced would be widened from two feet to 18 feet. Many of these wider medians are near schools — specifically P.S. 133, P.S. 118, and P.S. 124. At intersections that retain turn lanes, the two-foot medians would be widened to six feet.

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Envisioning a Safer Fourth Avenue in Park Slope

One of ten tables at last night's workshop. DOT is using input gathered at the meeting and on its website to form a plan for Fourth Avenue in Park Slope. Photo: Stephen Miller

Last night, DOT staff led a public workshop sponsored by Borough President Marty Markowitz’s Fourth Avenue Task Force on how to improve 28 blocks of Fourth Avenue in Park Slope, between 15th Street and Pacific Street. DOT expects to have a draft plan for the avenue, one of the borough’s most dangerous streets, within two months.

This project follows DOT’s pedestrian safety improvements on 50 blocks of Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park, which included wider medians and shorter crossing distances. These types of fixes may be likely for Park Slope, depending on the feedback that comes out of these meetings. DOT also has an online portal for the project, where people can suggest what type of improvements they want to see and where.

At the workshop last night, about 70 people gathered at ten tables arrayed with maps and diagrams at Holy Family and St. Thomas Aquinas Church. Their suggestions for Fourth Avenue ranged from bike lanes and median expansions to better lighting and more street trees.

DOT’s Christopher Hrones noted that traffic volumes increase as Fourth Avenue approaches Downtown Brooklyn, which will lead to some tension between needed pedestrian safety improvements and the agency’s desire to keep traffic flowing. The agency is still collecting traffic data for the project, Hrones said.

Fourth Avenue at Sackett Street. Image: Google Maps

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Positively 3rd Street

Did 9th Street in Park Slope formerly have sidewalks as generous as 3rd Street?

Strolling up 3rd Street in Park Slope from 7th Avenue toward Prospect Park, it’s easy to see this is one of the most magnificent streets in what is, let’s face it, one of the prettiest neighborhoods in the city. The homes, built in the late 19th century and often clad in white stone, are set back further. The double flanking of trees lend a calming tone. A bike lane is set along one side of the one-way street.

But what’s most luxurious about this street, if not consciously noticed by its users, are the expansive sidewalks, about 8 paces, which is roughly twice as wide as the sidewalks on surrounding streets. The wide sidewalks on 3rd Street provide room for several people to walk side by side in one direction, without playing the game of dodge a person so common in New York. It’s a strolling street.

If you walk south from 3th Street for just six blocks, you come to a very different sort of street, 9th Street. It’s probably one of the least pleasant streets in the Slope. The sidewalks are narrow. The car portion of the street is wide. A torrent of cars and trucks pour up and down it, making their way to and from the Gowanus Canal, Court Street, and Red Hook. The street has bike lanes on each side, but this is still a chaotic and risky place to cycle, given the trucks and double-parking.

But here’s the thing. Did 9th Street used to be like 3rd Street? My eye, somewhat attuned to urban geography, sees evidence that the answer is yes. Both of the streets, measured by the distance from the homes on each side to each other, are wider than surrounding streets. Both are flanked by particularly elegant townhouses.  I wonder if 9th Street, now so chaotic and workhorse like, used to be a grand strolling street leading up to the prominent entrance to Prospect Park where the statue of General Lafayette awaits you.

What I bet happened is that at some point in the last century the city grabbed some of the width from the sidewalks and setbacks of 9th Street, and gave it over to cars, converting 9th street into a car artery, decidedly unpleasant. I bet the political power of the residents of these beautiful townhouses had reached a nadir, allowing the city to decrease the charm of their street and thus their property values.

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The NBBL Files: Chuck Schumer “Doesn’t Like the Bike Lane”

Editor’s note: With yesterday’s appellate ruling prolonging the Prospect Park West case, Streetsblog is running a refresher on the how the well-connected gang of bike lane opponents waged their assault against a popular and effective street safety project. This is the third installment from the six-part NBBL Files.

This piece originally ran on October 5, 2011.

This is the third installment in a series of posts examining the tactics employed by opponents of the Prospect Park West redesign. Read the first post and the second post.

Senator Chuck Schumer, a frequent cyclist, walks his bike by the Prospect Park West bike lane, which he told bike lane opponents he does not like. Image: Brooklyn Spoke.

Throughout the Prospect Park West bike lane saga, intense speculation has surrounded New York’s senior senator, Chuck Schumer. Both his wife, Iris Weinshall, and his daughter, Jessica Schumer, played leading roles in the fight against the redesign, but Schumer’s office remained studiously silent throughout. “I am not commenting,” Schumer repeatedly told the New York Times when asked about the bike lane this March; in later press conferences, his staff barred reporters from asking about it.

Despite his public attempt to remain neutral, Schumer told opponents of the bike lane that he personally opposed it, according to correspondence obtained by Streetsblog via freedom of information request.

Members of the anti-bike lane group “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” also attempted to use the senator’s political power and network of contacts to their advantage. They exploited his connections to get access to top political consultants and hoped to use his clout to pressure local elected officials. David Seifman at the Post has reported that Schumer asked City Council members what they would do about the bike lane. Schumer may also have discussed the project with Mayor Bloomberg himself, according to a message from one leading bike lane opponent.

Schumer apparently revealed his opposition to the bike lane to NBBL leader Louise Hainline, who lives in the penthouse of the same Prospect Park West apartment building the senator calls home. “Schumer can’t help much with this issue, but I have seen him and he doesn’t like the lane,” wrote Hainline to two bike lane opponents on June 29, 2010. Though Hainline said Schumer “can’t help much,” NBBL repeatedly attempted to use his connections and clout to aid their efforts.

Bike lane opponents sought to wield the senator’s political influence to pressure local elected officials. Specifically, Hainline believed that she could leverage her Schumer connection to win the backing of City Council Member Steve Levin.

In an e-mail to a personal friend on December 24, 2010, Hainline reported on her recent meetings with members of the City Council. She came away believing Council Member Brad Lander wouldn’t turn against the lane, but that Levin might. Wrote Hainline: “Stephen Levin is a protégée of Vito Lopez, who if you are reading the papers is in some hot water, so Levin’s looking for some god father, and may want Vacca or Schumer to protect him, maybe both.”

It’s not clear whether Hainline’s plan for Levin was based on her recent conversation with him or was simply wishful thinking. Levin has not taken a public position on the bike lane, even when asked about it directly.

No written evidence of Schumer’s direct lobbying on the bike lane has surfaced, but one email is quite suggestive. On December 3, 2010, bike lane opponent and former deputy mayor Norman Steisel wrote to Weinshall: “Also heard abt a purported conversation betwn the mayor and our sr. senator you might find of interest.” In all the documents obtained by Streetsblog, the extent of Steisel and Weinshall’s communications was limited to the Prospect Park West bike lane, suggesting that the conversation “of interest” between Schumer and Bloomberg was likely about the same topic.

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