Fall 2001, p.11

Downtown Brooklyn Awaits New Mayor

Brooklyn residents demanding relief from traffic overrunning their neighborhoods. (1997)A visitor to Downtown Brooklyn might not associate the new blue bike lane on Henry south of Atlantic with the newly widened median on Tillary St. and Adams St, but there is a connection. They are both traffic calming mea- sures being tested by The Department of Transportation as part of the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project's pilot program. The project's consultants, Ove Arup, expect to begin community outreach on the Area Wide Strategy, which will expand on the pilot, in mid November. In some ways, it is gratifying to see anything in the ground. When they were first announced, T.A. and the community criticized the pilot measures as ineffectual. In the ground a year later, they still are. We would love to say something nice about this project in which so many good people have poured so much effort, time, and political capital. But we can't. DOT's engineers over seeing the project continue to be committed to moving cars, beyond all other considerations. Sadly, they have evaded, misrepresented and even lied to the community about the effectiveness of traffic calming devices and their traffic impacts. Without clear instruction from City Hall, they worked to undermine the project and in doing so have done a great disservice to the public and the DOT.

Mother and child cross a new wider median at the corner of Adams and Tillary.At the start of project, Downtown Brooklyn had the tools, the money and the overwhelming community, local political, and mayoral support (temporary though it turned out to be) it needed to become a landmark of responsive and pro-active governance. Unfortunately, the DOT resisted and opposed it from day one. At no point in the process did they embrace the opportunity to innovate and expand the city's traffic claming toolbox that was extended to them.

If the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming project is to succeed, the new mayor must step in and take the project away from the engineers who have been derailing the project from the start. The DOT must have a clear directive from city hall of the goals of the program: reduce the amount of through traffic in residential neighborhoods and improve conditions for non-motorized street users. Likewise, the new Councilmember David Yassky should take the lead in City Council on this issue, as his predecessor.

The City doesn't need to spend a lot of money to accomplish these goals. The Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming project pilots were released last year into a different world of growth and surplus. Times have changed, suddenly. The City's fiscal outlook is bleak. Money that seemed assured on the horizon is being redirected to more urgently needed projects. There will likely not be enough money in the coming months and years for capital projects like Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming. The money is disappearing, but traffic still courses through residential streets in Downtown Brooklyn.

Street reversals, diversions and semi diversions are inexpensive and do the job of taming traffic on neighborhood streets. They've worked well for decades for neighborhoods in Chelsea and the Upper West Side.

We're back to square one, with a new mayor and a new city council. We'll need to show them what stopping through traffic and improving conditions for pedestrians in downtown Brooklyn means to the residents (and workers and guests) of Downtown Brooklyn.

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