One Week Later, Pols Bury Yards Tunnel Plan

Brooklyn Paper | April 14, 2007

By Ariella Cohen

Two Brooklyn lawmakers have already abandoned their week-old proposal to dig a tunnel under the proposed Atlantic Yards project as a way of fixing the mega-development's anticipated traffic -- a portent of how difficult it will be to find a solution to the coming snarl at the intersection of Flatbush, Atlantic and Fourth avenues.

Councilman David Yassky (D--Brooklyn Heights) and Assemblyman Hakeem Jeffries (D--Prospect Heights) had suggested digging a tunnel below Fifth or Sixth avenues that would run from Flatbush Avenue to north of Atlantic Avenue.

But a spokesman for Yassky (below) said this week that the councilman had already realized that the tunnel was "unrealistic."

"It would be very costly," admitted the spokesman Sam Rockwell.

The "Yassky Tunnel" is the second high-profile traffic proposal to crash in as many weeks. Last month, the Department of Transportation proposed converting Park Slope's Sixth and Seventh avenues into one-way streets in hopes of untangling the gridlock.

That plan was killed by DOT after the local community board put up a stop sign.

The mega-development is projected to bring up to 3,000 cars per hour to the already-choked intersection of Flatbush and Atlantic. The throngs of basketball fans and thousands of new residents prompted Yassky and Jeffries (right) to think big.

"This tunnel would become the primary means for north and southbound traffic to cross Atlantic Avenue," the pols said in the letter to Empire State Development Corporation chairman Pat Foye and Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff.

But maybe the lawmakers were thinking too big.

"The point is that there are options that aren't being discussed," said Rockwell. "We are advocating for a real discussion that results in significant action."

Other ideas that Jeffries and Yassky kicked around included turning the troubled intersection into a Grand Army Plaza--style traffic circle, hiking the price of parking to discourage car traffic, and creating a bus rapid transit route on Flatbush Avenue.

Jeffries and Yassky also suggested a Park Avenue--style overpass as an alternative to the tunnel.

The letter said Ratner, rather than the city or state, should cover the costs of the traffic-mitigation measures.

"But we are not aware of any commitment by Forest City Ratner to assume this obligation," the letter noted.

Experts were attracted to the notion of a European-styled traffic circle at the hectic intersection to improve the flow of cars.

"A rotary would probably improve the performance there," said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives.

But White said that the strongest proposals were those that discouraged driving and promoted the use of public transit or bicycles. He said that the Flatbush--Atlantic tunnel was a dead end, hefty price tag aside, because it didn't address the root cause of traffic: too many cars.

"The era of creating more roads is over," said White. "The new goal is to make better use of the roads we have.

"Old-school traffic solutions are just not going to cut it for this project," he added.

Errol Cockfield, a spokesman for the ESDC, said that Foye would "review the letter very closely."

"We are very concerned about traffic concerns from the community," Cockfield said.