Reclaiming the Streets
A "Big Nothing"
or Still Worth Cheering For?
Back in 1997, T.A. hoped that
the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project would revolutionize the way that
New York City addressed community complaints about through-traffic, dangerous
driving and poor pedestrian conditions on neighborhood streets. There has been
no such revolution. In June, the Brooklyn Borough President convened a meeting
to wrap-up five years of community planning with the DOT, traffic consultant
Arup and community groups, including T.A.
|Raised crosswalk at 24th
Street between 7th and 8th Avenues in Manhattan: The DOT repeatedly refused to
test such four-inch high raised crosswalks in Downtown Brooklyn though they are
a proven pedestrian safety tool used around the world and (quietly) here in
Manhattan. Instead, the DOT built a two-inch device, which, as expected, did not
At the meeting, the DOT
announced that it would not install any of the traffic calming recommendations
in the 130-page consultant report until 2009. In short, the DOT said that, after
spending five years, $1.2 million and thousands of hours of the time of
interested citizens, it would:
- Not reduce through traffic
on neighborhood streets, which was the community's number one concern.
- Not install any physical
pedestrian safety or traffic calming devices like neckdowns or medians until
- Not test important traffic
calming devices (some already in use in NYC) like raised crosswalks,
diagonal diverters, street closures, speed cushions and median barriers.
Community leaders were dismayed
and incredulous. T.A.'s representative blasted the effort as a "big
nothing." But maybe in hindsight it should not have been such a surprise.
Since day one of the project, it was clear that the DOT traffic engineers
disliked the project and many of the traffic calming practices employed by the
consultants at Arup. Unconstrained by an order from City Hall to listen to the
consultants and general public, DOT officials sabotaged the project by
undercutting the consultant and vetoing important traffic calming devices like
raised crosswalks and changes of street directions. Judging from the
consultant's report, the DOT also had the consultant spend an enormous amount of
time and money attempting to maximize traffic flow on major arterial streets;
this time spent tweaking traffic lights was time away from working on pedestrian
safety and neighborhood quality of life.
|Bollards at 59th Street and
5th Avenue in Manhattan: Bollards are an attractive and inexpensive way to
enlarge pedestrian space without expensive drainage work. The DOT refused to
consider designs like this in its Downtown Brooklyn traffic calming study.
DOT: No Net Reduction in
The DOT's car-first philosophy
is written all over the consultant's report. In particular, its philosophy is
apparent in the agency's insistence that the goal of the project is to reduce
the effects of traffic, not to reduce the volume of traffic. The political
impetus and community goal for the project, on the other hand, is to reduce the
number of cars in the neighborhoods surrounding Downtown. This fundamental
disagreement about the purpose of the project is at the root of its problems.
While the community wanted a net reduction in traffic, the DOT sought only to
from small streets to big streets. Remarkably, a perfect
opportunity to observe the effects of closing streets in the project area
presented itself when Clinton Street, a busy, middle-size street, was torn up
completely for replacing giant water and drainage pipes. Traffic counts showed
that some traffic diverted to adjacent streets, but that, overall, traffic
declined. This confirms, yet again, the findings of a huge 1998 British
government study which surveyed 50 major road and bridge closings around the
world, including in NYC, and found that, in 49 of the cases, overall traffic
declined. Unfortunately, the DOT and the consultant did not seem to understand
what they saw on Clinton Street. The groups believed that every car taken off a
small residential street would appear on a major street; hence, the huge amount
of work spent retiming traffic signals.
|Inexpensive traffic calming
at Yeshiva University in Northern Manhattan:
The DOT refused to use inexpensive techniques like this to test the effects
of narrowing streets and widening sidewalks.
The Consultant's Report
Ultimately, with their options
severely limited by the DOT, Arup recommended that the agency install numerous
neckdowns (extensions of the sidewalk at corners) throughout Downtown
neighborhoods. Neckdowns narrow the crossing distance for pedestrians and slow
turning cars, thus helping to reduce the number of pedestrians struck by turning
drivers. However, neckdowns do not reduce vehicle speeds or discourage vehicles
from using small, neighborhood streets. If the DOT actually spends $3.6 million
to build traffic calming improvements in 2009, it should spend it
on more than neckdowns. These neighborhoods need real relief from traffic, a
need that has only grown since the City announced that Downtown Brooklyn would
be rezoned to encourage massive new office buildings.
Read the Downtown Brooklyn
Traffic Calming Report at www.transalt.org/campaigns/brooklyn/dbtc/arup.html.
Since the 1980s, Downtown
neighborhoods like Brooklyn Heights, Carroll Gardens and Boerum Hill have
implored the City to do something about the avalanche of traffic clogging their
streets. The issue came to a head in 1997 when the State DOT raised the specter
that the Gowanus Expressway would have to be rebuilt, pouring 400,000 cars a day
onto already jammed streets. With T.A.'s help, community groups staged five
early morning traffic-blocking actions that featured families carrying signs.
The demonstrations got great TV coverage and put pressure on then Mayor
Giuliani, who was up for re-election that year, to acquiesce to community
demands to hire an independent consultant to work with the DOT and the public to
reduce traffic and "traffic calm" Downtown Brooklyn. Neighborhood
groups and T.A. helped write the request for proposal for the consultant, which
was based on a proposal for Federal clean air funds drawn up by Brooklyn traffic
engineer Brian Ketcham. The neighborhood groups also sat on the committee
selecting the consultant, an important first for New York City.
rally in Brooklyn Heights 1997: Election year demonstrations like this one
pressured then-Mayor Giuliani to acquiesce to community demands to hire an
expert consultant to help traffic calm Downtown Brooklyn neighborhoods.
DOT Short Term Plan Is
Bonanza of Bike Lanes and LPIs
Concessionary Bike Lanes
As a sop to the angry community, the DOT has fast-tracked 30 traffic
signal timing, parking and bike lane improvements intended to improve bicycle
and pedestrian safety. The agency expects to have the improvements in place by
the end of 2004, and many of them sooner. T.A. and the communities would warmly
welcome these changes, were it not for the fact they are but a modest response
to a massive community planning process.
Giving Pedestrians a Head
Most of the planned signal changes are for Leading Pedestrian Intervals, which
change the timing of the walk symbol so that it comes on two to three seconds
before motorists get a green light. This head start for pedestrians gives
walkers time to establish themselves in an intersection before motorists turn
across their path. Leading Pedestrian Intervals are proven to improve pedestrian
safety; the City has installed them at about 200 intersections.
New Bike Lanes To Be
Installed in Next 14 Months
block bike lane
block bike lane
block bike lane
lane & signage to discourage trucks
block bike lane
block bike lane on w/s of the st.
blue color bike lane for 7 blocks
block bike lane
Read the latest news on this