Hills & Gardens
By Trudy Whitman
Bikes and trikes, scooters, skates, and strollers — all are being ridden or pushed down Atlantic Avenue to access Brooklyn Bridge Park and the park’s Pier 6 playground. Bringing people back to the waterfront is one of the park’s guiding principles. But the new activity has focused attention on a peril that Cobble Hill residents have long been aware of — vehicular traffic around the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway’s on and off ramps threatens human life.
Citizens and elected officials have been lobbying the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) to introduce pedestrian safety measures since the Pier 6 playground opened in the spring of 2010. State Senator Daniel Squadron and City Council Members Brad Lander and Steve Levin have pushed hard for improvements, as did the Cobble Hill Association (CHA) and the Brooklyn Heights Association. The Community Board 6 Transportation Committee scheduled a special meeting on Thursday, July 7, at Long Island College Hospital to review safety proposals presented by DOT officials. Community Board 2 has already approved the measures. (The area straddles both community boards.)
Ted Wright, a senior project manager for NYC DOT, gave an overview of the problems and the steps proposed to ameliorate them. When the BQE gets clogged, he noted, frustrated motorists exit at Hamilton Avenue, using Hicks Street as a service road to travel north. Many then jump back on the BQE at Atlantic, all too often running the red light. In addition, buses and trucks use the widened roadway at the foot of Atlantic at Furman Street to make U-turns, frequently stranding cyclists and pedestrians in the middle looking for a safe way to leave or enter the park.
In an email sent to the community, Brad Landers’ office simplified the many measures outlined by Ted Wright at the meeting. These include: improving signal timing and the “no right on red” sign at the Atlantic Avenue BQE entrance; improving the Atlantic Avenue/ Furman Street intersection by rerouting the bus turnaround (pulling the buses onto the park roadway instead) and adding pedestrian space and crosswalks; removing the greenway bike path from the sidewalk on he west side of Columbia Street; and adding a crosswalk across Columbia Street at the stop light near the BQE entrance.
Wright also mentioned the possibility of installing a traffic camera at the on ramp intersection, but another DOT official, Joshua Benson, explained later that the number of red light cameras is regulated by the state legislature, and New York City now has the highest number permissible.
Although Transportation Committee members and other attendees expressed gratitude for the traffic calming measures DOT is willing — and can afford — to put in place, there was much dissatisfaction in the room.
Roy Sloane, CHA president, expressed anger with the Port Authority’s decision to allow a beverage company to rent space on Pier 7. Trucks have made the U-turn area at Atlantic and Furman that much more lethal, as access to the company lot is also at this site. And, as he has said before, Sloane also believes that one of the primary entrances to a world-class park should be world-class itself. The Pier 6 entryway, in his opinion, leaves a lot to be desired. Sloane agreed that the DOT measures will help, but the area will remain unsafe, he advised, and it will certainly remain unattractive.
Judi Francis, a founding member of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Defense Fund, brought photos of flyover bridges built elsewhere in the country to keep wildlife safe. She marveled that this precaution would be taken for animals and not humans. Francis called the DOT measures “baby steps,” adding that DOT officials had missed a “real opportunity.”
A One Brooklyn Bridge Park condo owner, who said he represented other unit owners, objected to rerouting buses via the park roadways. (Essentially, rather than making U-turns, under the new plan, buses would circle the large condo complex.) Buses — the B 63 and an increasing number of tour buses — will pass ten different crosswalks, the man claimed, and noise and pollution will be brought to the front doors of one existing building and two proposed buildings.
In the end, the CB 6 Transportation Committee recommended approval of the DOT tactics, calling it a necessary “interim” plan, but adding a number of their own suggestions, such as traffic light installation at Congress and Columbia streets.
Since Community Board 6 is on summer hiatus, its executive committee, empowered to act on time-sensitive matters, will vote on the proposals on July 14.