The city is pushing a “radical” proposal to convert traffic-choked Seventh and Sixth avenues in Park Slope into one-way thoroughfares and removing a lane of traffic from each direction of highway-like Fourth Avenue.
“Off the record? Holy f—!” said a usually sober elected official when The Brooklyn Paper called with the bombshell news.
“That is huge!”
The Department of Transportation did not publicly announce the proposal — which would change Seventh Avenue, between Flatbush Avenue and Prospect Avenue, into a southbound one-way, and Sixth Avenue, between Atlantic Avenue and 23rd Street, into a northbound one-way — but slipped it onto the agenda of a previously scheduled March 15 Community Board 6 meeting.
The board’s district manager, Craig Hammerman, had few details — but is already scouting a really large auditorium where he can host the meeting, which is expected to draw a big crowd.
“This represents something radically different, so there will be a lot of people asking questions,” he said. “It would represent a huge adjustment, so we need to hear what the positives and negatives are, and then, hopefully, DOT will let us weigh in.”
Councilman David Yassky (D-Brooklyn Heights), who has been active in street parking and traffic flow issues, said the specter of Atlantic Yards was looming over the DOT proposal.
“The state approved the project, but the city is left holding the bag to remedy the tremendous traffic it will cause,” Yassky said.
As proposed, the mega-development will house 15,000-20,000 people — and bring 19,000 screaming basketball fans to the streets around Park Slope every game night and thousands of office workers every day.
“[The proposal] will have many benefits including simplifying the turning movements at intersections to make it safer for pedestrians … and narrowing the travel lanes on Seventh Avenue to encourage vehicles to travel within the existing speed limit,” said agency spokeswoman Kay Sarlin.
Yassky said residents should greet the proposal with an open mind.
“No one likes change, so there will be some resistance to the idea, regardless of its merits,” Yassky said, citing inevitable confusion over re-routed buses and opposition from local businesses.
“My main fear is that DOT is doing this in the hope that Seventh and Sixth avenues become thoroughfares rather than what they actually are: local residential streets.
“Those avenues should not be thought of as ways of moving large numbers of commuters through Park Slope,” Yassky said.
Eighth Avenue is already a two-lane, one-way street running northbound from the Prospect Expressway to Flatbush Avenue.
It has also turned into a mini-highway, thanks to well-timed lights, many residents complain.
Councilman Bill DeBlasio (D-Park Slope) was critical of the DOT proposal.
“It sounds to me like it will put more cars on the side streets,” he said.
Converting busy two-way streets into one-way boulevards has a long track record in the city.
When Fifth Avenue in Manhattan was made one-way in 1966, travel time decreased by 37 percent, despite a 19-percent increase in volume, according to a 1992 study by the Institute of Transportation Engineers.
At the same time, accident rates on neighboring Madison Avenue declined by 44 percent and by 32 percent on Fifth Avenue.
Then again, converting Seventh Avenue would buck a nationwide trend. Since the early 1990s, hundreds of cities nationwide have converted existing one-way streets into two-way streets to improve commerce through their downtowns, according to USA Today.
The goal of the cities was “taming the automobile,” the newspaper said.
“The city [is] more important than the road that runs through it,” said former Milwaukee mayor John Norquist, who now heads the Congress for the New Urbanism.
The proposal to remove one lane in each direction on Fourth Avenue is expected to draw less fire than the Seventh and Sixth avenue conversions, Hammerman said.
“The left-turn lanes on Fourth Avenue already back up because they’re badly designed, so effectively, that lane of traffic is lost anyway,” he said. “This could make it safer so that cars aren’t jumping in and out of the turn lanes.”
Hammerman pointed out that the agency, which did not return calls, could simply make the change without going through a public review process.
“I give them credit,” Hammerman said. “If they didn’t want to hear from our community, they would’ve just sent us a letter saying it’s effective on such and such a date.”
The Community Board 6 agenda addition was first reported by streetsblog, a transportation Web site.
Community Board 6 transportation committee, March 15, 6:30 pm. Location to be determined. Call (718) 643-3027 for information.