Spring 2005, p.15

Reclaiming the Streets
Freeriders Crowd Out Paying Customers

Reducing Bad Traffic and Increasing Good Traffic on Both Sides of the Manhattan Bridge

Drivers heading to East River bridges down Smith Street in Downtown Brooklyn deter pedestrians and drive away potential customers from local businesses.

Drivers heading to East River bridges down Smith Street in Downtown Brooklyn deter pedestrians and drive away potential customers from local businesses.

The free ride for people driving across the Manhattan and Brooklyn bridges has also led to stunted retail business development, reduced mobility, and degraded quality of life for people living, working and shopping on both the Brooklyn and Manhattan side of the bridges, while potentially harming the physical well being of the tiny minority of drivers who directly benefit from the privilege. The City Department of Transportation has an opportunity to fix the root of the problem, and to ensure that surrounding neighborhoods are maximally protected from through traffic as part of two current projects.

Canal Street

New study aims to give more time and space to pedestrians on Canal Street in Manhattan.

The New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC) is conducting a two-phase Canal Area Transportation Study of the river-to-river area bounded roughly by Chambers Street on the south and Houston Street on the north. CATS I is now winding down and CATS II, the long range phase of the project, is starting.

CATS I was supposed to focus on making immediate changes to the Canal Street area, and most of the early efforts have involved improving enforcement of traffic violations, upgrading missing sidewalks, adding more time to cross the street and improving coordination among agencies. But community members have expressed serious concern about the outcome and process of CATS I. Locals from the communities around Canal Street would like to see a plan that focuses on the Canal Street area as a place to walk, and not as a regional corridor for out-of-state drivers.

CATS II, which will develop recommendations that the DOT will consider in its rebuilding of the street, is an opportunity to address community concerns by tackling the not-so-free Manhattan Bridge problem. Transportation Alternatives has recommended that the cornerstone of CATS II be to study and implement a congestion pricing program that includes reducing the amount of driving across the East River bridges. A congestion pricing program, which can take many different forms, will help solve many of the problems identified in both CATS I and CATS II, including excessive car and truck traffic, abysmal air quality and unsafe walking and bicycling conditions. Less vehicular traffic will provide an opportunity to significantly widen sidewalks and make over-all better use of the street as a working and living space, and not a through route.

Downtown Brooklyn

The Brooklyn side of the Manhattan Bridge is similarly plagued by unpleasant amounts of through driving. East River bridge-bound motor vehicle traffic comprises 43% of all motor vehicle traffic entering Downtown Brooklyn during the morning rush hour and 45% during the midday, though only five percent of Brooklyn commuters use a car.

Transportation Alternatives advocated for strong measures to reduce the amount of through drivers cutting through the neighborhoods in the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project. And though the DOT refuses to acknowledge publicly that driving traffic can be transformed into subway, bus, ferry, walking or bicycling traffic, or just re-routed onto the highway or to a different time, it has actually just released data proving that so-called “shrinkage” of traffic does occur. A recent Brooklyn Community Board 6 newsletter reported:

“Also, during the morning rush hour the four northbound commuter corridors in our district, Columbia, Hicks, Clinton and Smith Streets have seen an overall volume reduction of 24% from the period of June 1999-October 2004 . . .The District Manager asked where the cars went, and while the DOT suspects that more cars are staying on the highway, they will try to verify that answer.”

Encouraged by the success of the relatively minor measures that the DOT has already implemented, in February, Transportation Alternatives sent a letter to the DOT enquiring whether the money for the build out of the project’s recommendations would include construction of the 40 raised crosswalks and a re-pilot of raised intersections.

Take Action!

Write to Brooklyn Borough Commissioner, Lori Ardito, to congratulate the Department of Transportation for decreasing motorized traffic on our neighborhood streets and to ask the agency to implement all of the recommended raised crosswalks and to re-pilot raised raised intersections.

Lori Ardito
Brooklyn Borough Commissioner
NYC DOT
16 Court Street
Brooklyn, NY 11241

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