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Wednesday: Fix Fourth Avenue

July 7, 2013

I’ll be on a light posting schedule this weekend, but wanted to call attention to what I feel is the most important livable streets advocacy issue of the summer, the effort to fix Fourth Avenue.  A public hearing is being held on Wednesday, July 10th, at 6:30 PM.

Community Board 6, which last month voted against a Department of Transportation plan to calm traffic on Brooklyn’s 4th Avenue between Atlantic Avenue and 15th Street, will hold a public hearing and special meeting at which it may reconsider the proposal.  DOT has accepted an invitation to appear and may offer modifications.  The DOT proposal, which is supported by local City Councilmembers Brad Lander and Steve Levin, arose from a multi-year public outreach effort aimed at improving safety on one of New York City’s most dangerous roads.  Members of the public will be allocated two minutes each to speak on the proposed plan; having a large group of respectful but resolute plan supporters present will help immensely.  The hearing will take place at the 78th Precinct station house, 65 6th Avenue, at the corner of Bergen Street.  If you’re unable to attend the hearing, you can submit written testimony in advance of the meeting to info@brooklyncb6.org.

Summer schedules may mean that many of the people who poured their blood, sweat, and tears into the community process over the past few years may not be in town for this hearing.  We’ll need smart, sane voices in the room to express their support for a sensible plan to fix one of the borough’s most dangerous streets for pedestrians and drivers.  I encourage you to attend if you’re so able.

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17 Comments
  1. TOM permalink
    July 8, 2013 2:18 pm

    To paraphrase Adlai Stevenson, you don’t just need smart & sane voices in the room, you need a majority.

    • Alex permalink
      July 8, 2013 2:29 pm

      The majority already had its say at a bunch of community workshops and in a 14 – 1 transportation committee vote. Community boards can be wrong and cb6 was wrong to vote this down. I hope DOT listens to the majority that has already spoken and moves forward with the plan no matter what happens on Wednesday. Lives depend on it!!

  2. Matt G permalink
    July 8, 2013 3:42 pm

    Maybe I’m missing something, but I live in the neighborhood where this restructuring is proposed and I don’t think it should pass. I am most often a pedestrian and am a regular bicyclist. If I am on my bike, I simply choose any other Avenue to travel on. I realize that the cars on 4th Avenue drive very fast and aggressive, but I believe that is because it is one of the only Avenues where that is possible, and we need that fast paced outlet for car traffic. If you slow down traffic on 4th avenue, you eliminate the last option in that area for rapid egress in a North/South direction. With the arrival of the Barclays center and its related congestion, I feel that we need 4th Avenue to maintain the status quo in order to provide an answer to vehicle traffic congestion.

    All that said, admittedly, I may be unaware of certain issues other than supposed safety issues, and welcome an education on those if they exist. I can only speak from anecdotal experience that has provided me with nothing but relief when I rarely am in a car and need to avoid congestion and choose to travel on 4th Avenue.

    • Alex permalink
      July 8, 2013 4:33 pm

      The majority of drivers speed on 4th Ave. The speed limit is 30 mph. I don’t like that status quo!

      • Matt G permalink
        July 8, 2013 4:35 pm

        You’ve never been on a road and thought that the speed limit might be set too low? Yes, the speed limit is 30 mph, but I’m not sure it should be.

  3. Alex permalink
    July 8, 2013 6:24 pm

    If you lived on 4th and saw how fast the drivers went all the time you wouldn’t say that the speed limit is set too low. There are too many pedestrians on this street now to allow drivers to keep speeding.

    • Matt G permalink
      July 8, 2013 7:21 pm

      I live on Prospect Ave. between 3rd and 4th Aves, and I respectfully disagree. As a matter of fact, the only accidents I have ever seen are at the intersection of 4th Ave and Prospect Ave right by my house. All of them have been due to someone running a red light and hitting someone who is turning late in the light cycle. A problem that will not be rectified by slower traffic. In fact, if you slow down traffic, the problem will be exacerbated because people will be more likely to run lights because of their increased delays.

      Now, if you want to talk about a barrier system that will protect pedestrians from errant vehicles that are likely to leave the roadway after an accident, and travel onto the sidewalk, then I am all ears.

      If you’re actually concerned about pedestrian safety, then barriers on corners is where the focus should lie. Slowing down traffic will only lead to congestion, higher levels of pollution from idling vehicles and an increase in drastic vehicle maneuvers due to frustrated drivers.

  4. July 8, 2013 8:32 pm

    Matt, it might help to familiarize yourself with the DOT proposal for Fourth Avenue, as it was presented to the CB6 Transportation Committee in May.

    http://a841-tfpweb.nyc.gov/4thave/files/2013/05/4th-Ave_Park-Slope_CB6-presentation-May_16_2013.pdf

    The committee approved this plan 14 – 1.

    Excessive speed is one of the top contributing factors to crashes. DOT studies found that 78% of drivers speed at off-peak hours. 53 people were killed or injured on the 1.4 mile Park Slope section of Fourth Avenue from 2007 – 2011.

    Many of the people injured on Fourth, as is the case citywide, were pedestrians who had the walk signal and were in the crosswalk when they where hit. While drivers have been known to crash onto the sidewalk, it is not listed as a common event here on Fourth. Drivers need to slow down when they make their turns so they have time to see and react to pedestrians in the crosswalk. Barriers on the corners won’t help.

    Slowing down traffic to, what must be emphasized, the *legal* speed limit, does not cause congestion nor does it cause pollution. This fear, which is routinely brought up with every new traffic calming project, bike lane, and pedestrian plaza, never bears out. It won’t bear out on Fourth, precisely because if you have a road where 78% of the drivers are able to speed, calming the traffic will essentially still allow for the free movement of motor vehicles while not adding congestion.

    Additionally, as was presented by DOT, part of the problem is that the vast amounts of double parking and short left turn bays at certain intersections mean that drivers frequently jockey and make sudden maneuvers to avoid delivery vehicles on one side or the tail end of cars sticking out into the moving lane as the drivers wait to make left turns on the other. This creates a lot of lane changes by through-moving traffic which are made even more dangerous by the excessive speeds on Fourth. Eliminate some of the left turns where the design is poorly suited to allow drivers to wait safely and you’ve reduced some of the potential problems.

    Lastly, I’ve heard this idea that slowing down traffic will lead to “frustrated drivers.” My response is this: so what? If drivers can not contain their frustration at, again, having to obey the *legal* speed limit, then that, in fact, is a very good argument for why pedestrians, cyclists, and law-abiding drivers need to be protected from these people. I drive, bike, and walk on Fourth Ave and don’t want to share the road with people who can’t control their frustration.

    To be honest, I haven’t personally seen or witnessed a lot of crashes on Fourth. Just a few. And I live right on the Avenue. But I do know that the statistics as presented not only by DOT, but by the Tri-State Transportation campaign and the NYPD’s own crash data, bear out what most people who live on Fourth know intuitively. The street is very dangerous and must be calmed.

    I trust CB6 will not throw the baby out with the bathwater on Wednesday.

    • Matt G permalink
      July 9, 2013 12:19 pm

      I’ve read the entire proposal. I am now more against the proposal than I was in the first place. The committee approving the proposal 14-1 does not sway my decision. In fact, it just tells me that the committee is, in my opinion, almost entirely mistaken.

      As with most persuasive essays, like that which you have written above, it is very easy to mislead the reader by employing improper verbiage. Let’s analyze your argument:

      “Excessive speed is one of the top contributing factors to crashes.” Yes. That is technically true. The problem with the statement is that you say “one of the top.” How big is the top exactly? Top 5? Top 10? Top 100? You see, by being vague, you get to assert your point and paint a picture that is misleading. Also, what else is in the top? Inclement weather? Impaired or impeded/obstructed vision or view? Poor driver education, training or skill? Driving under the influence? Frustration due to congestion? Improper pedestrian behavior? I’m willing to bet that the majority of accidents are caused by a combination of circumstances, but listing speed only and not considering other factors makes your assertion, at the very least inaccurate, if not, and most likely, false.

      “53 people were killed or injured on the 1.4 mile Park Slope section of Fourth Avenue from 2007 – 2011.” Easy on the shock statistics, they make your argument look desperate. Saying that these people were “killed or injured” is misleading because you list “killed” first, implying by order of importance that more people are being killed than injured. That’s false. One person was killed. A senior citizen in 2008. I’m very sorry that someone lost their life. But when you have a combination of 100 – 250lb fleshy people, mingling with 2 ton steel boxes moving at any speed whatsoever, you’re unfortunately going to have injuries and fatalities. Honestly, 13 injuries and .25 fatalities per year in a 1.4 mile stretch of 6 lanes of moving vehicle traffic, in a neighborhood that is home to close to 50,000 people, is a pretty good statistic.

      “Many of the people injured on Fourth, as is the case citywide, were pedestrians who had the walk signal and were in the crosswalk when they where hit.” Again, how many? Because I see how people brazenly cross crowded intersections, j-walk, and stand in the streets waiting for cars to pass all the time. Again, I’m willing to bet that most of the incidents of a pedestrian being struck by a vehicle are due to some combination of pedestrian irresponsibility, inclement weather, congestion (which comes with living in Brooklyn) and a range of other variables, none of which are excessive speed. If you expect me to believe that all 53 cases were innocent pedestrians crossing the roadway only during a walk signal, only in the bright light of day, and only in clear weather, then you’ve got the wrong guy.

      “Slowing down traffic to, what must be emphasized, the *legal* speed limit, does not cause congestion nor does it cause pollution.” Legality does not necessarily equate with prudence. We all do many things every single day that are technically illegal for the sake of convenience or efficiency. If you purport to behave within the limits of legality in perpetuity, you are either being naive or you are lying. Your claim that restricting traffic flow by reducing the number of available lanes will not lead to congestion, is patently false. In fact, what you’re asserting is a physical impossibility. In any area of study, narrowing a conduit while maintaining the same volume will lead to a rise in pressure and congestion. In this case, congestion leads to more cars stopped and idling.

      More cars idling does in fact lead to higher emissions and particulates in the air. I refer you to this site to help you familiarize yourself with this matter: http://www.makealeap.org/idling_myth
      Pay extra attention to the paragraphs with headers such as: Fact: Idling adds to global warming. Fact: Idling does affect the environment. Fact: Idling contributes to respiratory illness. Fact: Idling can harm our health. Fact: Idling wastes fuel. Fact: Idling wastes money & natural resources.

      “Additionally, as was presented by DOT, part of the problem is that the vast amounts of double parking and short left turn bays at certain intersections mean that drivers frequently jockey and make sudden maneuvers to avoid delivery vehicles on one side or the tail end of cars sticking out into the moving lane as the drivers wait to make left turns on the other.” This, now THIS is where we are in agreement. Double parking, especially in areas of heavy congestion, and (for personal reasons) in bike lanes, needs to be much more strictly enforced. And yes, let us please extend (not widen) the left turn lanes to help avoid overflow. Because removing the double parked vehicles, and the overflow cars waiting on the turn lanes helps clear congestion and makes for safer and more efficient traffic flow. However, eliminating left turns for the most part, is a bad idea.

      I also agree with a ban on south-bound left hand turns at 9th Street. In the interest of safety, specifically in that location and in the eastern cross walk, yes, let’s ban left turns there and only there. However, restricting north-bound left turns at Butler and Degraw, is just plain silly. With those restrictions there will be no opportunity to make a left turn between Union and Warren. That’s 5 blocks of wasted travel distance that also limit a driver’s ability to leave 4th Ave which would ease congestion. Are you noticing a pattern in my argument yet?

      “I’ve heard this idea that slowing down traffic will lead to “frustrated drivers.” My response is this: so what?” Ah yes, the old “so what” argument. As we all know, that’s the best attitude to have when trying to solve a problem. I’ll tell you “so what.” Ideally we would live in a world where all the laws that defined what is *legal* made sense, everyone always obeyed those laws, and everyone always controlled their temper. Ideally. Unfortunately, both you and I live in reality. Even more unfortunately, it happens to be a fairly harsh reality. Here’s the reality that you seem to want to ignore. The more restrictions you put on anything, the more pressure builds up. The more pressure that builds up, the more violent the eventual release will be. It’s a natural and unavoidable physical law of nature. Trying to fight that law of nature is an exercise in both futility and naivety.

      On the topic of the *legal* speed limit. I believe that 30 mph is too low. “…If you have a road where 78% of the drivers are able to speed….” The fact is, 100% of the drivers are ABLE to speed. How many of them do is in direct relation to the posted speed limit. If the *legal* speed limit were 15 mph, statistically and realistically, even more people are going to speed because it’s not a prudent speed limit. That’s why that 78% is a bogus statistic. If the *legal* speed limit were 100 mph, that speeding statistic would be much closer to 1%. Saying that exceeding the speed limit is categorically wrong, is, well, categorically wrong. It depends on the set of circumstances. In this particular set of circumstances, 40 mph is a more prudent speed, and is likely closer to the speed that the natural flow of traffic dictates on a busy 3 lane Avenue in Brooklyn, NY.

      I didn’t just come here to argue (only a little bit). I came here to voice my opinion, hopefully become more educated, evaluate the opinions and arguments of others, and yes, to make my argument clear. Fortunately for me, all of that has happened. I now know more, thanks to you, about the proposal. Unfortunately for your cause, my knowing more has strengthened my resolve against it.

      I feel that opposing any idea without offering an alternative solution is ineffective and often times rude. So, in an effort to be clear, here is my alternative solution: Ban south bound left turn lanes at 9th Street and extend the left turn lanes in all other instances. Install corner rails at all corners to protect pedestrians from errant cars leaving the roadway, and increase daylighting and improve the clarity of crosswalk markings. Post signs cautioning pedestrians against standing in roadways, crossing against the signal, and encouraging them to be alert when crossing roadways. People are more agile than vehicles. That is not to suggest that cars should have carte blanche in terms of their movement and responsibility towards safety. It is merely meant to suggest that we all work together, while keeping in mind our reasonable limits, and strive to make the roadways both safe AND efficient for all users.

      • David permalink
        July 9, 2013 12:28 pm

        You can’t extend the left turn lanes because most of them are set against the subway vents and as such cannot be altered.

        The only solution to prevent drivers from sticking out is to redirect them to places where it’s safer to make a left.

      • Matt G permalink
        July 9, 2013 12:33 pm

        Why can’t they be altered?

      • David permalink
        July 9, 2013 12:55 pm

        The vents are part of the structure of the subway tunnel that runs below 4th. They are cement and steel and could only be altered if the MTA and DOT coordinated a massive, expensive, and time consuming capital project. It’s not going to happen in anyone’s lifetime.

        Banning lefts where turn bays are too short is the only real solution to a very poor design that leads to some legitimate safety hazards.

      • Matt G permalink
        July 9, 2013 1:00 pm

        I see. Well, with that info, I’m still sticking with my much earlier stated, maintaining the status quo, other than a south bound ban at 9th street. I firmly believe that if both drivers and pedestrians exercise an elevated level of caution on 4th Ave, most accidents can be avoided. The statistics in relation to the population, support my belief.

      • July 9, 2013 5:00 pm

        Matt, thanks for your comments. There’s a lot to respond to in your comment up above, but let me tackle one: excessive speed. You seem to be misunderstanding my position which, I’ll admit, may be my fault for not explaining it accurately. I do not believe that speeding drivers are committing some sort of sin or are bad people. I myself drive on Fourth and find it very challenging to stay at the legal 30 mph limit due to a number of factors including the wide roadway, the pressure to keep up with other drivers’ speeds, etc. I behave in very much the same way on highways where the posted speed limit is 55 mph, but the road design and traffic conditions allow for speeds of 75 or even 85 mph.

        Where we seem to disagree is that regardless of what the road allows or how drivers behave, motor vehicles speeds of over 30 mph and dense pedestrian environments are fundamentally incompatible and inherently unsafe. A pedestrian hit by a car going 40 mph is 3.5 times more likely to be killed than someone who is struck by a car going 30 mph. (This is why so much of Europe’s biggest cities are moving to blanket 20 mph speed limits, but for now I’d be happy if we could just get most of the drivers in the neighborhood to stick to around 30.)

        Fourth Avenue is increasingly becoming a residential, pedestrian-rich neighborhood. My building didn’t exist about five years ago and now is home to around 200 people. New condos and rentals are going up all the time, adding thousands of people to the avenue. There are seven schools on or near the Park Slope stretch of Fourth alone. The area along 3rd Avenue, as I’m sure you know, continues to grow in much the same fashion, with hotels, restaurants, and apartments opening up all the time.

        So, given these two incompatible things — high-speed vehicular traffic and heavy pedestrian volumes — what should we do? Keep the “status quo,” as you now seem to be saying, or redesign the street, perhaps with some tweaks to accommodate recent criticism and objections, to reflect the new reality of Fourth?

        I’m not willing to settle for the status quo and a message of “Hey, please exercise an elevated level of caution.”

  5. July 9, 2013 5:06 pm

    And, yes, speeding is the leading cause of traffic deaths in NYC.

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2013/03/18/dot-speeding-the-leading-cause-of-nyc-traffic-deaths-in-2012/

    Speeding, driver inattention and distraction, unsafe lane changing, and improper turning consistently rank among the top contributing crashes as reported by the NYPD. These are stats I follow religiously every month. And these are factors that are all at play on Fourth Avenue.

  6. Dad on 8th Street. permalink
    July 10, 2013 9:13 am

    Fourth Avenue is not a highway! It is where a lot of people live. I don’t understand how anyone could argue for keeping it the way it is. My daughter will be attending 118 in the fall and I find it almost immoral that people would deign to argue that their “right” to turn left onto their street is more important than keeping kids safe. And the BS about the safety of kids at MS 51 is unbelievable. When have you ever heard any of these same people concerned about all of the illegal uturn and double parking and crosswalk blocking in front of 51 before this? Forgive me if it seems like people are simply using this bogus concern to oppose the changes to 4th Ave! DOT needs to change this street no matter what this backwards thinking community board thinks.

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