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One way? NOOO way! 400+ Slopers deride DoT plans for Sixth and Seventh avenues

For more than a week, the message had come loud and clear, from Park Slope residents, organizations, and their elected officials. The plan by the Department of Transportation (DoT) plan to turn Sixth and Seventh avenues in Park Slope into one-way streets, faced nearly unanimous opposition, in part because it was seen as way to relieve Atlantic Yards-related congestion and turn neighborhood streets into speedy thoroughfares. (Atlantic Yards site outlined at right.)

The message was even louder last night at a meeting of the Community Board 6 (CB 6) Transportation Committee, where at least 160 people squeezed into an auditorium at New York Methodist Hospital, some 250 listened outside via loudspeaker, and Eric McClure of Park Slope Neighbors presented a petition with nearly 1500 signatures. [Update Friday afternoon: McClure reports 600 more signatures from the event itself.]

DoT Deputy Commissioner Michael Primeggia (right), gamely presenting the rationale for the plan, made a fundamental point: the DoT believes that one-way streets are safer because they make it easier for pedestrians to cross and eliminate head-on collisions and turning conflicts. Neighborhood residents, however, point to one-way streets like Eighth Avenue and say they induce speeding.
(Photos by Jonathan Barkey)

Indeed, Aaron Naparstek who broke the DoT story on Streetsblog on Feb. 28 and has mercilessly diced the DoT’s plans, this week posted a film in which volunteers timed traffic on Eighth Avenue as nearly twice as fast as that on two-way Seventh Avenue, the neighborhood’s shopping spine.

(Unremarked on, but notable: the DoT’s plan to make mainly residential Sixth Avenue one-way northbound from 23rd Street to Atlantic Avenue would contradict the Atlantic Yards Final Environmental Impact Statement, in which Sixth Avenue is proposed to run in two directions between Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.)

A vote to table

Primeggia didn’t get far with the skeptical and derisive crowd, though the plan wasn’t fully shot down. After some 90 minutes of nearly unrelenting criticism from the audience, bolstered by cheers and boos from the shadow crowd in the hall, members of the committee called for a vote, perhaps partly to call it a night.

They agreed to ask DoT not to continue with the plans for one-way streets at this time, and that the agency should first work with the community to address existing issues, such as speeding on the one-way Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West.

“What about Atlantic Yards? That’s the context,” shouted Stuart Pertz, a former City Planning Commissioner and a member of the Municipal Art Society’s Atlantic Yards committee, echoing a point several others had made.

“Atlantic Yards is out of the purview of the city and the community board,” replied the committee’s Jerry Armer, who was chairing the meeting. (Armer’s point was that AY is a state project; still, surely city agencies must address it.)

Fourth Avenue tabled, too

What about Fourth Avenue, asked another person in the crowd; the DoT’s second proposal is to turn that busy thoroughfare at Park Slope’s western border, now three lanes on each side, to two-lane traffic, thus providing much longer bays for turning.

Naparstek, a member of CB6, suggested that the committee ask the DoT to work with the community on a “comprehensive, multi-modal planning process.”

Armer (right) suggested that was going too far, though he did offer a personal verdict, observing, “I somehow doubt we will see either of these two avenues as one-way.” The committee then voted to table the Fourth Avenue changes until further discussion with DoT regarding the rest of the neighborhood issues.

Primeggia said the DoT would be guided by the community, but negotiations with the agency might not be easy. City Council Member David Yassky said that some of the changes proposed, such as muni-meters that serve several spaces and truck loading changes on Seventh Avenue, could be worth pursuing. He asked if DoT would consider piecemeal changes.

Primeggia demurred. “We believe this is a nice package,” he replied. “All of the elements sort of complement each other.” He pointed out, for example, that some of the increased parking would be dependent on eliminating bus stops on one side of a one-way Seventh Avenue.

Atlantic Yards-induced traffic?

Primeggia did not utter the term “Atlantic Yards,” though he said, to some skepticism, that “I’m convinced we’re not going to induce traffic on Fourth or Third avenues” to use Sixth Avenue. Yassky, who earlier had called the plans "Atlantic Yards coming home to roost," disagreed, though he didn’t specifically cite the project.

Lydia Denworth (right), the generally diplomatic president of the Park Slope Civic Council, was the first to make it plain. “You say it won’t induce traffic,” declared Denworth, a Sixth Avenue resident and mother of young children. “You left out the 800-pound gorilla”—the arena.

She said it wasn’t possible that Atlantic Yards visitors wouldn’t use 6th Avenue—one-way northbound—to cross Flatbush Avenue to get to the arena. The Civic Council had earlier also complained that the community was excluded from the planning process.

"This community has come together in a way that's truly astonishing," Denworth declared.

AY mitigations?

Though Primeggia wasn’t asked the question directly, Craig Hammerman, District Manager for CB6, told me after the meeting that he had queried DoT as to whether the changes were to mitigate the effect of the 17-building Atlantic Yards development nearby. The response, he said, was no, because the changes were not studied in the Atlantic Yards Environmental Impact Statement (EIS).

Had DoT claimed the changes as a mitigation, he said, the EIS would be vulnerable to a lawsuit over its inadequacies.

Still, Primeggia’s announcement marked a significant divergence from the mitigations announced. Currently, Sixth Avenue runs two-way to Flatbush Avenue; between Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, it’s one-way southbound. The DoT would make Sixth Avenue one-way northbound from 23rd Street through to Atlantic.

However, in the AY Final EIS (Chapter 12, p. 2), it’s proposed that Sixth Avenue be made two-way between Flatbush and Atlantic avenues, “partly to accommodate diverted traffic resulting from the closure of 5th Avenue.” How that squares with the DoT’s plans remains to be seen.

Does Hammerman think the changes are a response to Atlantic Yards? He said he wouldn’t say Atlantic Yards was the foremost reason, but said “any responsible planner” would have to consider it.

Jeff Strabone, a member of CB 6, was more forceful, telling the audience, “There’s only one reason for the proposed changes, and that’s Atlantic Yards.” He noted that the intersection of Atlantic and Flatbush avenues is particularly dangerous “So what does the city propose to do? To extend the danger zone,” he said. “Park Slope should not have to bear the burden for [developer Bruce] Ratner’s greed.” (More from Strabone's blog.)

DoT rationale

Primeggia led off, working a bit tensely through a slideshow that explained the DoT’s rationales for turning Sixth and Seventh avenues one-way. Among the reasons: to enhance pedestrian safety, to complement the enhancements on Fourth Avenue, and to “better serve current and future land uses.” (He didn’t elaborate, but that likely refers to the rezoning on Fourth Avenue. Could it be an oblique reference to Atlantic Yards?)

[Update: here's the bootleg slideshow, via Streetsblog; Naparstek comments, "Though the plan is supposedly all about improving pedestrian safety, you can see for yourself that it is almost entirely concerned with the movement and flow of motor vehicles and the calculation of 'vehicular level of service.'"]

The B67 bus on Seventh Avenue would have to be re-routed, with northbound service assigned to Eighth Avenue. Currently two bus lines serve Eighth Avenue, with ten stops and hour. Eight more would be added, but no new bus stops would be created.

“We’re not looking to increase throughput,” he declared. In fact, he said, “We believe we can take as much as ten percent of the green [signal] time and give it to the cross streets,” thus making it easier to cross the avenues.

As for Fourth Avenue, he noted that the turning bays are the length of one car, which often creates backups and abrupt lane changes. There’s no way to extend those bays without damaging the airshaft over the subway, so the elimination of the current left lane would establish an 80-foot bay.

He concluded that Sixth and Seventh avenues were such good candidates because they were mostly contained within the Park Slope neighborhood. He said DoT doesn’t believe traffic will be generated from outside the neighborhood just to use the streets.

Council Members skeptical

“I certainly will need to be convinced,” declared Yassky (right), the first public official to speak. “You’re going to bring traffic from Fourth to Sixth and Seventh avenues, which are neighborhood streets.” The audience clapped heartily.

Primeggia protested that one-way streets are successful in Cobble Hill/Carroll Gardens, where DoT has had “wonderful results” at maintaining order on Court Street. (Court Street and Smith Street, both one way, are both also shopping streets.)

Council Member Bill DeBlasio called Seventh Avenue the neighborhood’s lifeblood, warning that the proposals “would change the character of the neighborhood.”

Primeggia responded, “We do not believe this will increase speeds on Sixth or Seventh avenue.” The crowd groaned, and Armer had to call for order.

Primeggia hearkened back to the success on Court Street and offered an olive branch. “On Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West, we believe we can make the same kinds of improvements.” He said DoT was currently “experimenting” with various solutions. That might have been welcomed more had Denworth not later pointed out that the Civic Council last year had asked for changes in signal timing and been refused.

DeBlasio asked if the Metropolitan Transportation Authority had signed off on plans to change the bus routes. “It’s a proposal,” Primeggia replied, adding that it would be taken to sister agencies later. He added that the MTA was stodgy about change, a point Armer backed up.

Adams, Brennan, Marty

State Senator Eric Adams, a retired police department captain, said, “I find that one-way streets are an invitation for drag racing.”

Assemblyman Jim Brennan, who’d strongly opposed the plan, observed, “Currently, Seventh Avenue is safe and local.” With the changes, “It will become speedy and a thoroughfare.”

Borough President Marty Markowitz, whose Park Slope apartment is a reasonable walk from the meeting site, didn’t attend, nor has he stated a position. He sent a staffer, Michael Rossmy, who said the Borough President appreciated the opportunity to hear the concerns, and was particularly averse to any change that diminishes pedestrian safety.

Hospital opposition

Lyn Hill, a VP at New York Methodist and one of the Park Slope Civic Council’s more cautious voices on Atlantic Yards, said the hospital was opposed to the proposed changes.

One-way streets, she said, “would be nearly intolerable,” forcing loud ambulances onto mainly residential thoroughfares and requiring them to circle the block to reach the hospital emergency room.

Naparstek confronts nemesis

Naparstek (right) took the microphone, calmly but pointedly recalling the last time he met with Primeggia in person, a 2003 meeting regarding the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Project, an effort to assist pedestrians. “I watched the Deputy Commissioner terminate the project,” Naparstek declared. Primeggia sat stonefaced, facing the crowd rather than his interlocutor.

Last year, Naparstek invited DoT to a transportation forum sponsored by the Park Slope Civic Council, but the agency didn’t send anyone. People complained about one-way streets. Recently, Naparstek pointed out, there have been several high-profile pedestrian deaths, most recently on Third Avenue, where traffic calming was promised by the end of last year, but hasn’t arrived.

“If you are concerned about pedestrian safety, will you finally do traffic calming on Third Avenue,” Naparstek challenged Primeggia. “Will you take the neighborhood’s request to make Eighth Avenue and Prospect Park West safer for pedestrians?”

Primeggia was unbowed. “This administration has been extremely focused on improving safety,” he replied, adding that “we’re at historic lows” regarding pedestrian fatalities. “To suggest that the Department hasn’t done enough is a little harsh.”

“The answer to everyone’s question: are one-way streets safer?" Primeggia said. "The answer is a resounding yes.” From inside the room, the crowd outside could be heard chanting, “One Way! No Way!”

(Pictured is Lumi Rolley of NoLandGrab, who helped deliver to CB 6 a tablecloth with signatures of those who didn't get into the auditorium.)

Regarding Third Avenue, Primeggia said, “I don’t have the answer to that question,” noting he was present to talk about other projects. He said the department, if queried, would report back to the community board.

Shortly afterward, the Transportation Committee took its votes, which will be relayed to CB 6 as a whole for further evaluation.

[Update: While DoT spokeswoman Kay Sarlin told the Sun earlier this week, "If the community doesn't support these proposed changes, we will not move forward with them," Primeggia last night--as noted by Neil deMause in the Voice online--offered a more equivocal commitment, saying "our commissioner said she will be guided by the community board's letter."]

Curiously, none of the daily newspapers deemed the meeting worth coverage, though the New York Times sent a contributor to the Sunday City section. Bob Guskind of Gowanus Lounge also provides a thorough report, as does Naparstek's Streetsblog.


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