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Posts from the "Park Slope" Category

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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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Eyes on the Street: A Better Walk to the Center of Bartel Pritchard Square

Bartel Pritchard Square, at the southern end of the Prospect Park West bike lane, got some bike and pedestrian tweaks this morning, including this new crosswalk. Photo: Philip Winn

Bartel Pritchard Square, at the southwest corner of Prospect Park, received some tweaks this morning, including new and re-striped crosswalks enhancing access to the central space in the middle of the traffic circle. There are also markings to channel traffic as it enters the square, and the short stretch of bike lane between Prospect Park West and Prospect Park Southwest has been more clearly marked as two-way.

More tweaks are on the way, along with a bike lane on 15th Street, according to a DOT staffer at the site who spoke this morning with tipster Philip Winn.

Above, two views of the upgraded zebra crosswalk coming to Bartel Pritchard Square and Prospect Park Southwest. Photos: Philip Winn

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Eyes on the Street: Scenes From Flatbush Avenue

Flatbush Avenue and Prospect Place, southeast corner. Photos: Ian Dutton

Thanks to Ian Dutton for these great shots from Flatbush Avenue, where pedestrians are being allotted more space on five side streets from Prospect Park to Atlantic Avenue.

The materials are designed to be temporary, but it’s remarkable what a little paint and plastic can accomplish. According to Ian, crossing distances at Prospect Place and Sterling Place have been reduced by 50 percent. Not bad for a few hours’ work.

Flatbush at Park Place and Carlton Avenue

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DOT Makes Room for Pedestrians on Flatbush Avenue

A conceptual before-and-after sketch of how the new neckdowns on Flatbush Avenue side streets will look. Image via North Flatbush BID

Ahead of a 2014 capital project that will shorten crossing distances for pedestrians on the stretch of Flatbush Avenue between Grand Army Plaza and Atlantic Avenue, DOT this week is installing temporary sidewalk extensions on side streets at five intersections.

Crews will be painting extensions on Bergen Street, St. Marks Avenue, Prospect Place, Sterling Place and St. Johns Place where those streets intersect with Flatbush, according to a DOT flier. The pedestrian areas don’t extend into the roadbed of Flatbush itself but should calm traffic turning onto the cross streets. The intersection of Carlton Avenue and Park Place will also see an expansion of pedestrian space. In addition to paint, plastic bollards will be installed to delineate the new pedestrian areas.

“Working with the North Flatbush BID, Community Boards, and elected officials, DOT has over the past several years fully repaved the roadway, added pedestrian countdown signals, limited turns for safety, and retimed the signal progression during off-peak hours,” said Craig Hammerman, district manager of Community Board 6, in an email announcement. The temporary spaces “will set a footprint” for the 2014 improvements, which will include permanent sidewalk extensions and the reconstruction of four triangular parks, Hammerman said.

Efforts to make this stretch of Flatbush Avenue safer have been in the works for several years. More than 200 pedestrians and cyclists were injured, and two cyclists were killed, on Flatbush between Atlantic Avenue and Eighth Avenue from 1995 to 2009, according to Transportation Alternatives’ CrashStat.

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Barclays Center Opening Weekend Traffic: Not a Total Disaster

Many residents and elected leaders from the neighborhoods near the Barclays Center in Prospect Heights are letting out a sigh of relief after steeling for gridlock this weekend. Sellout crowds for the arena’s first events — three Jay-Z concerts — did not completely overwhelm nearby neighborhoods with traffic, but the strain on local streets was still clear.

Traffic generated by the first events at the Barclays Center was not as heavy as expected, but there are still problems. Photo: Mark Bonifacio/Daily News

“It wasn’t as bad as we expected,” Danae Oratowski, chair of the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, told Streetsblog.

Council Member Letitia James said her office was “pleasantly surprised that we did not receive as many complaints as I had anticipated.”

Despite the relative smoothness of the arena’s opening, there were rough spots. Early indications show that the share of event-goers taking transit may not be as high as predicted during the arena’s planning, while free curbside parking on local streets seems to be irresistible to many drivers looking to avoid paying at parking garages and lots. Sidewalk space fell short of what was needed to handle the number of pedestrians, especially when the concerts let out, which led police to close Atlantic Avenue to vehicles in order to accommodate crowds leaving the arena.

After the concerts ended on Friday and Saturday, NYPD barriers proved to be ineffective crowd control, as sidewalks filled up near the intersection of Flatbush Avenue and Dean Street and along Atlantic Avenue. Presently, there is no crosswalk for people leaving the arena’s mid-block Atlantic Avenue exit. “The sidewalks are too small to accommodate the crowd,” said James.

Traffic management around the arena was supplemented by additional NYPD personnel for opening weekend. “One of the reasons it worked so well is that there were vast numbers of police officers on the streets,” Oratowski said. “I don’t know if that’s really a sustainable plan for the future.”

Not that the traffic management provided by police necessarily improved matters either. NYPD officers waved many drivers through red lights, leading to conflicts with crossing pedestrians and cyclists who had a green light. Safety apparently wasn’t the top priority. 78th Precinct Captain Michael Ameri told the Patch, ”I’m in a good mood because traffic is moving well.”

A large portion of concertgoers got to the event by subway. Turnstile exits at the recently rechristened “Atlantic Ave-Barclays Center” station increased 6,754 in the four hours before the show compared to other Fridays in September, according to MTA data analyzed by WNYC. If all of those additional riders were going to the Barclays Center, they would make up approximately one in three concert attendees at the sold-out 19,000-seat arena.

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Braving Double-Parked Parents, MS 51 Students Bike to School in Droves

Bike racks set up for MS 51's annual Bike-To-School Day are filled with students' wheels.

Based on this picture of rows of temporary bike racks, all filled, it looks like MS 51′s Bike-To-School Day was a big hit (photo via Lara Lebeiko of Bicycle Habitat, which provided volunteers for the event). Escorted rides, or “bike buses,” took students from Sunset Park, Carroll Gardens and Windsor Terrace/Kensington to the Park Slope school and back. During the day, a bike skills and safety course helped teach the students how to ride on their own.

MS 51 has been holding a Bike-To-School Day event since 2010. Check out Streetfilms’ coverage of the school’s first year of festivities here.

But even a coordinated effort to promote biking to school didn’t eliminate one of the most persistent perils on the route to MS 51. In the morning, Fifth Avenue is a mess of double-parked parents dropping off their kids out in front of school. The bike lane in front of the school is routinely impassible, and today was no exception, as the below photo from Streetsblog reader Car Free Nation illustrates.

It’s great to see a city school promoting cycling to its students. To keep them riding, though, it looks like the city needs some traffic enforcement.

Double-parked cars block the Fifth Avenue bike lane before school starts.

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Eyes on the Street: Neighbors Get Better Bike Lane

DOT construction crews were out today building concrete pedestrian islands along the Prospect Park West bike lane. Image: OasisNY via Flickr.

Somehow we doubt it’s going to make Iris Weinshall, Norm Steisel and Louise Hainline feel any better (what with the threat of another lawsuit), but construction is now underway on pedestrian islands along the Prospect Park West bike lane.

Image: NYC DOT via Brooklyn Paper

Once complete, the islands will provide easier crossings for pedestrians — who have already benefited from shorter crossing distances and calmer traffic — and additional beautification and greenery to the street.

Those improvements, which were unanimously approved by the local community board, should allay the concerns of those who criticized the lane for its aesthetic impact on the street and its supposed deleterious effect on pedestrian safety (claims that, again, were baseless to begin with). Renderings show street trees planted in the islands, which would help protect cyclists in the two-way lane.

It’s also a bit more difficult to rip concrete out of the ground than to take away a bike lane made only of paint.

For more construction shots, head below the fold or to this Flickr album.

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Brooklyn CB Committees OK Un-protected 2-Way Bike Lane on Plaza Street

Image: NYC DOT (PDF)

NYC DOT presented plans last night for an un-protected two-way bike lane on Plaza Street, which would enhance a critical hub in the Brooklyn bike network by defining space for contraflow riding, but fall short of providing safe cycling infrastructure for all ages. The transportation committee of Community Board 6 voted in favor of the project as a first step toward implementing a fully protected bikeway, along the lines of what DOT first presented for Plaza Street in 2010. Update: The Community Board 8 transportation committee endorsed the plan unanimously, “requesting that DOT continue to look into further pedestrian safety and traffic calming measures,” said vice-chair Rob Witherwax.

The upgrade to the Plaza Street bike lane will help connect several important spokes in the Brooklyn bike network but won't provide physical protection.

Plaza Street currently has a one-way buffered lane; with other bike routes extending from Grand Army Plaza in every direction, the new contraflow lane will be a significant upgrade in terms of connecting gaps in the bike network.

Without physical protection, though, the project won’t pack the same punch as the nearby Prospect Park West bike lane, the gold standard for safe, all-ages cycling infrastructure in NYC. As more than one parent pointed out at the meeting, biking is an increasingly popular transportation option for kids and families getting to Prospect Park, and incursion by vehicle traffic and double parkers will limit the safety of the Plaza Street lane for young riders. The project, which doesn’t touch the number of parking spaces on Plaza Street, also won’t provide new walking connections to the Grand Army Plaza berms, which are currently sealed off to pedestrians by parked cars at several cross streets.

“I commend the Department of Transportation for putting forth this new design, which will greatly improve cycling connections around Grand Army Plaza, shaving several minutes off travel times by creating more direct access to adjacent bike lanes,” said Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors, who’s also a member of the CB 6 transportation committee. “Given the frequency with which impatient and, frankly, law-breaking drivers encroach on the existing Plaza Street bike lanes, however, I hope that DOT will continue to look at ways to better protect cyclists, including some sort of physical separation.”

The DOT presentation isn’t online as of this writing (update: now it’s online — check out the PDF), but here’s how the street would be laid out, starting from the berm-side:

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