Democracy at work! Park Slopers approve Fourth Avenue slow-down plan

A go for left turn bans: Community Board 6 voted on Wednesday to approve a controversial city plan that would ban six left turns along dangerous Fourth Avenue and reduce car lanes from three to two in both directions.
Department of Transportation

A Park Slope panel has changed course and approved the city’s controversial plan to radically redesign a dangerous stretch of Fourth Avenue after it shot down a slightly different proposal last month.

On Wednesday night, Community Board 6 voted 21 to 3 in favor of a traffic-slowing plan that reduces car lanes in both directions from three to two to make room for wider parking spaces and fatter pedestrian islands. The approved plan addresses a 1.4-mile stretch where 53 people were killed or severely injured between 2007 and 2011, according to the city. The plan will also ban some left turns along the 28-block stretch from 15th Street to Atlantic Avenue.

The board finally approved the plan following a four-hour public hearing, with the condition that the Department of Transportation come back in one year to review its effect.

“It took a little time, but we definitely made the right decision,” said CB6 transportation committee member Gary Reilly, who also backed the first city proposal. “If we failed to act, more people will be hurt and someone will die.”

Last month, the community board rejected the transportation agency’s initial proposal, even though the board’s transportation committee approved it. Opponents feared the plan banned too many left turns.

But after the vote, activists and concerned residents passionately pushed the board to reconsider. The original plan was the city’s response to complaints residents made at a public workshop in the neighborhood in February about narrow medians, double parking, cars speeding on the boulevard, and other hazardous pedestrian conditions.

“Fourth Avenue is so dangerous – I feel so unsafe crossing the street with my children,” said activist Grace Freedman of Saint Marks Place. She called the board’s initial rejection “unjust,” considering the proposal had garnered a large amount of community input before it was developed.

But the city came back to the community board with some minor changes to its initial proposal, such as banning only six left turns instead of eight, which was enough to win approval this time around.

“We understand that maybe eight was too many,” said project manager Jesse Mintz-Roth. The city expects to implement the upgrades this summer.

Left turns will no longer be allowed by Bay Ridge-bound traffic at Dean Street, Third Street, Ninth Street and 14th Street. Downtown-bound traffic will no longer be allowed to make left turns onto Eighth Street and 13th Street. The initial proposal had also banned turns onto Degraw and Butler streets. At those intersections, the short turning bays will become part of wider pedestrian islands that will be marked by lane delineators.

Only the Downtown-bound lanes from Carroll Street to Atlantic Avenue will retain the three-lane structure. The previous plan called for lane transition to start at Union Street. The two-block extension will allow the traffic-heavy stretch to flow easier, said Mintz-Roth.

At intersections keeping the existing turn lanes, the medians will broaden from two feet to six feet, and the 11-foot cross walk median will expand to up to 19 feet.

Many people applauded the new plan, but some residents who opposed the left turn bans said they were fearful that traffic would spillover onto narrower residential streets, such as Fifth Street and 10th Street, and that it would create more congestion from the Barclays Center and other developments on the strip.

“I really do think that part is a mistake,” said CB6 member James Bernard of Park Slope, who voted against the both plans. “I just think we need to be able to make a left turn on Ninth Street and Third Street.”

But Mintz-Roth said that residents will hardly noticed the impact from the left turn bans.

“We’re not projecting spillover onto parallel avenues,” he said. “All of the traffic will be distributed.”

Transportation officials said that the new plan closely mirrors Sunset Park’s recently redesigned Fourth Avenue traffic lanes from 15th to 65th streets.

This isn’t the only stretch of Fourth Avenue up for a pedestrian-friendly makeover.

In Bay Ridge, Community Board 10 voted to delay the vote on the revamp until the fall because some members opposed creating a concrete pedestrian median on the strip.

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

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