More room for people, less for cars on Fourth Avenue in Slope

Left turn bans: The city-proposed plan would eliminate eight left turns along Fourth Avenue. The city would widen narrow pedestrian islands from two feet to up to 19 feet at intersections where turns are made illegal by the use of paint and bollards.
Department of Transportation

Dangerous Fourth Avenue could become a pedestrian’s paradise if the city’s newly proposed redesign of Park Slope’s thoroughfare goes through, backers of the plan say.

The Department of Transportation’s new proposal for the speeding-prone boulevard will decrease the amount of lanes for cars from three to two in each direction, making room for wider parking lanes and fatter pedestrian islands on a 28 blocks stretch of the strip from 15th Street to Atlantic Avenue, moves which residents hope will slow down traffic.

“Fourth Avenue has been a bit of a wild-west show for far too long, and I am glad that the DOT is taking steps to change that,” said Eric McClure, a member of Community Board 6. “I expect that [the plan] will reduce pedestrian injuries and death and I don’t think that is something we can place a price tag on.”

Shrinking traffic lanes will curb speeders, who many say treat the busy avenue like a raceway, by minimizing lane changes. This should reduce the risk of car crashes, said project manager Jesse Mintz-Roth at public forum on the plans last Thursday. Some residents were concerned that the lost lane would result in traffic back ups, but Mintz-Roth said the city’s studies showed that congestion would not be significant.

The redesign proposal would also ban eight left turns near playgrounds and schools at what the city is calling “underutilized” left-turn bays. The 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 Butler Street, Degraw Street, Eighth Street, and 13th Street. At those intersections, the short turning bays will become part of wider pedestrian islands that will be marked by lane delineators.

At intersections keeping the existing turn lanes, the two-foot medians would broaden from two feet to six feet and the 11-foot crosswalk median opposite the turn bay would expand to up to 19 feet with paint and street posts.

The new infrastructure would give pedestrians more room to wait when crossing the wide, bustling avenue. From 2007 to 2011, according to transportation statistics, 53 people have been killed or severely injured along a 1.4-mile stretch.

Mintz-Roth said that the strip is a crash hot spot because it’s a “very chaotic intersection with trucks, vehicles, and lots of pedestrians.”

Most neighbors who showed up applauded the plan, saying that it is a necessary for safety’s sake.

“The redesign is needed urgently because the dangers along Fourth Avenue have been constant for far too long,” said Cobble Hill resident Dave Paco Abraham. “Fourth Avenue has been an out-of-place highway in a residential setting that poses significant danger to young, old, and everyone in between.”

The new designs are a response to resident complaints about speeding, narrow medians, double parking, and hazardous pedestrian conditions, which the agency heard at a Feb. 12 public workshop in the neighborhood. Groups such as the Fourth Avenue Task Force and the Park Slope Civic Council’s Fourth on Fourth Avenue Committee have long pushed for safety enhancements along the thoroughfare.

The city also plans to add planters to the pedestrian island between Pacific Street and Atlantic Avenue, and to extend the curb on the corner of Pacific Street near the subway entrance. In addition, the proposal includes the installation of on-street bike corrals and Muni-Metered parking along the avenue.

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

Gene Aronowitz, a resident of 45th Street in Sunset Park, said that as a driver, bicyclist, and pedestrian, he has been satisfied with the changes.

“Left turn prohibitions took some getting used to, but now are not a problem, and help to keep the traffic moving,” he said.

Transportation officials were unable to provide statistics on the Sunset Park stretch that was redesigned last year, but Mintz-Roth said that the changes have been effective.

“If the goal is crash reduction, then every type of crash is down,” he said.

This isn’t the only part of Fourth Avenue up for a pedestrian-friendly makeover. The city is moving forward with a similar plan in Bay Ridge.

The only portion of the roadway that will retain the existing three-lanes will be the Downtown-bound lanes from Union Street to Atlantic Avenue, which the city says requires the extra lane during the busy morning commute.

Community Board 6’s transportation committee signed off on the plan. However, it asked that the DOT come back before the board with the locations for the proposed bike corrals and the installation of metered parking. The plan will go to the full board next month.

The city will present the plan to Community Board 2’s transportation committee Tuesday night.

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

MEAN STREET: The city wants to make Fourth Avenue in Park Slope more pedestrian-friendly.
The Brooklyn Paper / Claire Glass

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