Block war: Midwood residents pan plaza plan

The Department of Transportation wants to convert this patch of concrete at Avenue M, Elm Street, and E. 15th Street into a gravel pedestrian plaza with metal tables and chairs — but not all Midwood residents are cheering the plan.
Photo by Elizabeth Graham

Midwood residents shot down the city’s controversial plan to turn Elm Avenue near Avenue M into a pedestrian plaza last week, claiming the closure of the small side street would create massive traffic backups in an already congested neighborhood.

The Department of Transportation and the Midwood Development Corporation want to close Elm Avenue between East 15th Street and Avenue M to traffic to free up space for the proposed plaza — which they want to call “Dorman Square” — but residents attending a Community Board 14 committee meeting on the issue panned the plaza, claiming its construction will do more harm than good.

“That street was closed for two years and there was chaos,” said CB14 member Ephraim Nierenberg. “There are a lot of people using those streets during the week.”

But the city’s Department of Transportation disagrees: the agency contends that only 95 cars use the street an hour, far less than the amount of cars driving on other streets that the city turned into pedestrian plazas.

Residents who say they use the street everyday say the city’s numbers are way off.

“Why don’t you come at 4 pm Monday through Thursday and you will see that your statistic of 95 cars an hour is out of whack!” CB14 member Zvi Plotsker told city representatives. “In the summer there are many more cars from day camps — there is no way there are just 95 cars.”

Yet proponents say Elm Avenue, which is considered a slip lane because it feeds into Avenue M, is a dangerous roadway and needs to be shut down.

Chaudhry Ahmad, who own’s a Dunkin’ Donuts on Elm Avenue near Avenue M, said he’s witnessed more than three car crashes on Elm Avenue in recent weeks — the most recent occurring last Wednesday night.

“I see a lot of accidents when people try to merge onto Avenue M,” said Ahmad, who admitted he supported the plan. “This plaza is going to be better for businesses and better for people.”

Supporters of the plan say there is nothing harmful with blocking Elm Avenue to traffic and turning the street and a small, oval-shaped pedestrian island near the Avenue M Q train station into a tranquil gravel court with metal chairs and tables.

Those against the plan are just afraid of change, supporters said.

“Sometimes we get scared when things are changing,” said Linda Goodman, the director of the Midwood Development Corporation. “But this is a unique chance to improve the area.”

Opponents countered Goodman’s characterization.

“I’m not opposed to change but I’m opposed to change that doesn’t improve on the past,” said Plotsker.

CB14 will vote on the plaza on April 16.

Reach reporter Eli Rosenberg at erosenberg@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-2531. And follow him at twitter.com/emrosenberg.

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