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Was accident on Dean Street caused by increased congestion linked to street closures? Neighbors say yes, as traffic has doubled

We know that Atlantic Yards-related street closures have caused an increase in congestion on certain streets in Prospect Heights, but a car accident?

Residents of Dean Street between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues say aggressive driving, driver frustration, and a long traffic light has made their street more perilous, and they blame the traffic increase in the past two months for a three vehicle accident that occurred May 26 at about 6 pm and blocked the street for some 40 minutes.

(Approximate location of accident marked by oval. Map from mitigation plan. Click on graphics to enlarge.)

That's hard to pin down, and the Empire State Development Corporation says that the accident was not directly related to Atlantic Yards. But it is clear that, at the very least, driving on Dean Street has become much more fraught.

Before the street closures in early March--Fifth Avenue and parts of Pacific Street--it was rare for traffic to back up on Dean during rush hours.

Now that's typical, residents say, with the most intense traffic on weekdays in the late afternoon, as well as in the morning (as per my video) and on Saturday afternoons.

So that's an argument for much closer attention from the authorities.

(I posed several questions on Thursday to the Department of Transportation, but haven't heard back. According to a recent Atlantic Yards Construction Alert, "The new traffic flow, implemented as of March 8, 2010, continues to be monitored by the DOT and private transportation consultants.")

The accident

Dean Street resident David Schlesinger reported: "I heard brakes, sliding on pavement, and then the collision. A car smashed into a van, and a third SUV hit the car, I assume while trying to avoid the accident."

"A woman, I think, was removed from the car by EMTs, put on a stretcher, and taken away by ambulance," he continued. "The EMTs seem to spend a lot of time getting her out of the car. From what I could see the accident was not all that bad, but she did seem badly injured.

"The accident blocked Dean Street for about 40 minutes. Vehicles used the sidewalks to get around the accident. It seemed like a very dangerous situation for pedestrians and cyclist. The police did not arrive on the scene for at least 30 minutes. The police pulled up just as the vehicles involved in the accident were cleared from the street."

"The aftermath was unreal," his neighbor Matt Ingle added. "First they were going up on sidewalk to Vanderbilt. Then ambulances showed up, and people were driving the wrong way down Dean Street [back to Carlton]."

Cause and effect

Did the increase in traffic cause the accident? Schlesinger suggested yes, noting that traffic and congestion have doubled since the street closures. "With the increase, there is so much more stop and go, and it seemed that is what caused the accident," he said.

Ingle is more certain: "Drivers are so full of road rage by the time the get past the intersection of Dean and Carlton they are honking and trying to get through the light at Vanderbilt."

"In the morning it gets bad," he reported. "From 4 to 6 [pm] it gets bad bad." Drivers going right off Carlton--because they have no outlet via the bridge of Pacific Street--wind up vying for position with those going eastward on Dean. "They wind up side by side trying to outrace each other," he said.

"I've lived on this block for 11 years, and it's unbelievable," he said. And Ingle says he can handle the traffic, but "it's the horn-honking that's out of control," making it very unpleasant to sit in the backyard.

I went by twice last week. On Wednesday at 6 pm, the traffic flowed reasonably well; on Friday at 6:30 pm, as noted below, it was busier, with some honking and the line of vehicles along Dean extending nearly the length of the block when waiting for the light to change at Vanderbilt. But it was busier when I filmed on the morning of May 25.



Mitigation possible?

Ingle thinks a traffic enforcement agent is needed at Carlton and Dean. (As the map shows, agents are supposed to be placed nearby.)

He also suggested an adjustment in the timing of the long red light at Dean and Vanderbilt.

ESDC comment

Without knowing much about the accident, I asked the Empire State Development Corporation for a comment.

"The police report indicates that a courier service truck hit a car that served to avoid a bicyclist," stated spokeswoman Elizabeth Mitchell. "Coordinating with Forest City Ratner, we have learned that no one affiliated with the Atlantic Yards was involved; neither our project nor our project vehicles were involved, and none of our personnel were involved. In fact, most of the site is shut down at 6 pm, when this occurred."

I followed up by pointing out that the issue wasn't the direct role of project workers, but congestion caused by the change in traffic patterns. No further comment was forthcoming.

(I've requested the police report.)

What caused the congestion?

The Carlton Avenue Bridge is nearby, but it closed two years ago, without causing an increase in traffic. But in March parts of Pacific Street (between Flatbush and Sixth avenues and between Carlton and Vanderbilt avenues) closed, as did Fifth Avenue between Flatbush and Atlantic avenues.

I concluded that the cause was the Pacific Street closure, but Dean Street resident Peter Krashes disagrees.

"The best guess for the primary source of the congestion is the closure of Fifth Avenue," he observed. "Traffic used to use Fifth Avenue to avoid the Atlantic/Flatbush intersection, and in an effort to do the same now, they get stuck in congestion on Dean Street instead."

And Krashes sees a lost opportunity to relieve the congestion. "If the Carlton Avenue Bridge were open now as Forest City Ratner and the Empire State Development Corporation originally promised, or if Pacific Street between Vanderbilt and Carlton Avenues were still open, then there would be additional options for cars to get back to Atlantic where it is likely many are heading."

He noted that traffic on Atlantic Avenue between Vanderbilt and Carlton avenues. "is generally moving smoothly. The traffic just can't reach that spot."