May/June 2000, p.9

DOT Turns Traffic Calming Program On Head

Too good for Brooklyn. The intersection of Hicks and Pierrepont Streets, which DOT has proposed raising by two inches. The international standard for raised intersections is four inches.At a March 30th meeting of the Traffic Calming Task Force, NYCDOT Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Kathy Keegan outraged neighborhood groups by repeatedly claiming that motorist "safety concerns" preclude standard traffic calming practices in Downtown Brooklyn. Her spurious safety claim came in response to sharp community questioning about DOT's proposed pilot projects. The community consensus is that the engineering designs proposed by DOT for the pilot are so watered down that the traffic calming devices will be useless. This is extremely important because the pilot projects are a preview of the final traffic calming plan.

The purpose of the project is to make pedestrians safer and to reduce the impact of cars on the quality of life in Downtown Brooklyn. This means slower speeds and pedestrian-friendly street design. Keegan's statements indicate that DOT's goal for this project is to have as little impact on drivers as possible. An example of this is Commissioner Keegan's assertion that raised intersections and crosswalks can not be built any higher than two inches because of "safety concerns." However, in their technical memorandum on traffic calming devices, the project consultants Ove Arup and Partners themselves stated that "raised crosswalks are constructed 3-4 inches above the roadway surface," and the international design consensus for "raised traffic calming platforms" is between 4 and 5 inches. Raised crosswalks and intersections have been built at this height in countless locations across the U.S. and around the world, with no evidence that they are unsafe to motorists. There is, however, indisputable evidence that they slow vehicles and increase pedestrian safety. Conversely, a case study in The Institute of Transportation Engineers' seminal Traffic Calming: State of the Practice found that a two-inch platform could just barely be felt at 60 mph.

The pilot projects are meant to test the limits of the possibilities of traffic calming in Downtown Brooklyn. By prioritizing the movement of cars over the safety of pedestrians, NYCDOT is turning its back on the communities that have worked for the past five years to bring this project to fruition. The agency is undermining the project consultants' traffic calming expertise. If Commissioner Keegan holds to her absurd "safety" claims, the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming project will be weak and ineffectual and it will ultimately fail to make walking safer or to reduce air pollution, noise and traffic.

Read the latest news on this subject.