Times Plaza safety upgrades include new pedestrian islands at Atlantic/Flatbush; open space plan, not applauded, comes later
The initial justification for the plan--first presented as a public space upgrade, then augmented with safety improvements after much public pushback--is to offset an open space deficit for workers in the area, as identified in the 2014 Supplemental Environmental Impact Statement for Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park. (That open space deficit is a moving target, if new office towers and thus workers arrive.)
And not only did members of Brooklyn Community Board 2's Transportation Committee and attendees look skeptically at the city's plan for that open space, Emily Weindenhof, Director of the DOT's Public Space Unit, acknowledged the obvious: "This is an incredibly small space, mainly for getting pedestrians safely through... This is much more of a pass-through space."
Ultimately, the board approved the DOT's plans, subject to conditions. The intersection work should begin this fall, with the open space improvements possibly starting next spring.
The city in charge
Interestingly, while Greenland Forest City Partners will pay for the public space upgrade, and had several staffers in attendance, they didn't do the presentation (but responded to some questions). "It's all one big project," the DOT's Sean Quinn, Senior Director, Office of Bicycle and Pedestrian Programs, said of the safety improvements and public space upgrade.
No, Quinn said. "This would be the new existing condition, which any development would have to contend with." Expect more discussion of traffic once the Site 5 project is formally proposed and a public review by Empire State Development begins.
As Merisa Gilman, Project Manager for the DOT's Pedestrian Projects Group noted, the long crosswalks, 130 feet in places, combine with turning conflicts, heavy curbside drop-off demand, and heavy right-turn demand from Fourth to Atlantic, lead to hazards for pedestrians.
One attendee asked if re-striped crosswalks at different angles could shorten the walk. No, said Quinn, saying that the current configuration allows for "storage" of vehicles at intersections. The refuge islands, he noted, are meant for people crossing near the end of a signal, as they'd hold "just a couple of people."
Traffic pattern changes
S.J. Avery, co-chair of the Forth on Fourth Avenue initiative, responded warily to the notion of a right-turn from a middle lane: "That's a wicked turn, it's really scary" to pedestrians.
Gilman said pedestrians shouldn't be crossing during that right turn; Avery said it's also an issue of enforcement.
The medians will actually eliminate travel lanes, but DOT officials said that shouldn't slow traffic, since, as Quinn put it, "we're just normalizing the lanes: Flatbush expands at the intersection, then contracts."
Even with cutting those lanes, and allowing 15 seconds more for traffic on westbound Atlantic Avenue, there should be fewer delays, DOT said.
What's the timetable?
Quinn said DOT aims to do the work to improve pedestrian access to the intersection after Greenland Forest City finishes its West Portal work--which currently affects traffic along Atlantic and at the Atlantic and Sixth avenue intersection--and before the Times Plaza upgrade.
From the audience, Forest City Ratner's Jane Marshall noted that the project must follow established Design Guidelines. (They can be modified, and have been.) "In any case, we don't have a proposed project," she said. "For sure, that will be considered." Cahill noted that that didn't mean a guarantee.
Marshall said she couldn't provide a timetable until they had drawings. "Once we get all the approvals, hopefully it's done in a few months," she said.
As shown in the above map, the purple indicates space for a bike lane, and a neckdown to make for a shorter crossing of Flatbush. Heavy planters would be movable (with a forklift). Also movable would be tables and chairs. There's space for a kiosk, bike racks and trash cans.
|Times Plaza Control House, via HDC|
DOT City Planner Abigail Ikner said they had reached out to the MTA and to Council Members (but didn't mention state elected officials). "Because it is a skylight, they don't want to remove the bollards," she said. "We've done our due diligence."
"To me, it seems kind of hodgepodge," Cullen-Cheung said. "Does DOT have other ideas?" Quinn said they were using their "standard toolkit" to upgrade spaces. Weindenhof added that it was "much more of a pass-through space."
As one committee member put it, "you cannot design a pass-through as if it's a destination." Despite dismay about the design, the committee--warned that a delayed approval might slow down the project--voted to approve it subject to DOT returning with improved esthetics and actual renderings of its plans.
The project, after expected approval June 14 by the full board, must later go through the Public Design Commission and the Department of Environmental Protection.