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In defense of a technocrat

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I never thought I’d take a swing at my fellow Park Slopers, but after leaving last week’s city presentation about converting Sixth and Seventh avenues into one-way streets, I would be remiss if I didn’t point out one thing:

You’re closed-minded, anti-intellectual whiners!

I formed this opinion based on how “the community” received our fellow Brooklynite, Michael Primeggia, the Department of Transporta­tion’s deputy commissioner who made his agency’s presentation.

Primeggia lives on Henry Street in Carroll Gardens, not on some farm in Iowa or a sprawling exurb outside of Denver where the car is king — but you never would have known it by the way he was treated by his own neighbors.

Primeggia’s unenviable job last week was to counter the neighborhood’s gut emotional reaction against the one-way plan with a logical presentation aimed squarely at Park Slope’s much-vaunted intellect.

His statistics show that a 1998 (boo!) conversion of then-two-way Glenmore Avenue in East New York (boo!) resulted in 16 percent fewer total accidents and 22 percent fewer injuries.

Primeggia also cited a Federal (boo!) Highway (boo!) Administration report that concluded that one-way streets (boo!) are safer (boo!) for pedestrians.

No one wanted to listen. Why? Well, it’s certainly true that one-way Eighth Avenue is a highway that speeds drivers from the Prospect Expressway to Flatbush Avenue. As this newspaper reported on its front page last week, speed-gun-toting activists recently clocked cars routinely going 40 miles per hour — 10 mph above the speed limit — on Eighth Avenue.

Clearly, no one wants that for commercial Seventh Avenue or residential Sixth Avenue. But no one wanted to listen to Primeggia address the issue, either.

Well, I did, so I called him up. First off, he said that cars go faster on Eighth Avenue because of different timing of the traffic lights. “Green time” for lights on Seventh and Sixth avenues would not last as long as those on Eighth Avenue, he said.

He added that one-way streets are safer because they eliminate “conflicts,” which is DOT jargon for all the places where cars and pedestrians interact.

It makes sense, even from a gut emotional level: When you’re driving on a two-way street and waiting to make a left turn, you not only have to watch the oncoming traffic, but also the pedestrians in the crosswalk. How many times do we see drivers rush to beat an oncoming car only to screech to a halt as they notice — at the last minute — the people in the crosswalk?

In addition, one-way streets eliminate head-on collisions and right-angle crashes because there are no cars traveling the opposite way.

But forget about drivers. Pedestrians are also safer on one-way streets, Primeggia said, because cars on one-way streets tend to travel in packs that make jaywalking easier (not that he officially sanctions such illegal behavior, but he is a Brooklynite, after all).

And there’s also the simple fact that one-way streets are safer because traffic only comes at you from one direction.

It’s all in that federal report, “A Review of Pedestrian Safety Research in the United States and Abroad.” OK, it’s not as gripping as “Harry Potter and the One-Way Conversion,” but the report makes some things very clear:

1. “A pedestrian is more than twice as likely to be struck by a vehicle when crossing on the turning conflict side than when crossing on the non-turning conflict side.”

2. “One-way streets can greatly simplify the task of crossing a street and … improve safety for pedestrians.”

3. “A comprehensive study of pedestrian and bicycle crashes … found fewer crashes on one-way streets in the core of a city than on two-way streets.”

I’ll admit, when I heard the numbers and read the report, I didn’t jump out of my grass-fed, natural-death leather chair, spit up my cruelty free, shade-grown organic coffee, and scream, “Allah be praised! Primeggia is a genius!” But I did vow, as a good Park Sloper, to at least consider what he had said.

After all, I didn’t want my nice liberal, intellectual enclave to get a reputation for intolerance, did I?

Gersh Kuntzman is the Editor of The Brooklyn Paper. E-mail Gersh at gkuntzman@cnglocal.com
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