Members of a local panel reversed course and shot down a major city plan to slow traffic on a dangerous stretch of Fourth Avenue in Park Slope on Wednesday night, calling the proposal “radical” and “ridiculous.”
Community Board 6 voted 18 to 9 to reject a Department of Transportation’s plan that would reduce the number of lanes from three to two in each direction of the speeding-prone boulevard in order make room for wider parking spaces and fatter pedestrian islands on a 28-block stretch between 15th Street to Atlantic Avenue.
Four members abstained from the vote, which flew in the face of the recommendation of the panel’s traffic experts, who unanimously approved the changes last month.
But some members reconsidered after concerned residents and the board’s transportation committee chairman Tom Miskel met with city officials and Councilman Brad Lander (D–Park Slope), demanding the city drop plans to ban left turns at Third and Ninth streets — something agency representatives refused to consider.
Hence, even Miskel changed his mind on the changes.
“We better understood the plan,” said Miskel, explaining his “No” vote.
If the plan comes to fruition, left turns would be banned for Bay Ridge-bound traffic at Dean Street, Third Street, Ninth Street, and 14th Street. Downtown-bound traffic would no longer be allowed to turn left onto Butler Street, Degraw Street, Eighth Street and 13th Street. At those intersections, the existing turning bays would become part of wider pedestrian islands — something some members of the board thought was too much.
“It’s a pretty radical solution to take away almost half of the turn lanes on a mile-long stretch of Fourth Avenue,” said CB6 member Matthew Silverman, who voted against the plan, at the public forum at John Jay High School.
The shocking vote was a complete turnaround from last month, when the committee signed off on the plan after a public hearing where Department of Transportation officials presented the plan. Most residents at that meeting applauded the plan, saying that Fourth Avenue needed to be made safer.
From 2007 to 2011, 53 people were killed or severely injured along the 1.4-mile stretch, according to the city.
But opponents said they fear the left turn bans, especially at Third and Ninth streets, would funnel traffic onto narrower thoroughfares such as Fifth, First, and Seventh streets, which they say would simply move the pedestrian dangers nearer to schools and playgrounds, not to mention increasing traffic congestion across the neighborhood.
“You have to take a left on Third Street and Ninth Street,” said James Bernard, a board member who lives in Park Slope, and made the motion to reject the entire plan.
“It’s ridiculous on its face to not utilize Third and Ninth [streets] when originally they were meant for increased traffic,” said Bernard, adding that those thoroughfares are wider than most. “All of those cars are going to go up those narrow streets.”
A group of Fifth Street residents who recently got wind of the proposal showed up to Wednesday’s meeting with signs urging the community board to vote against the redesign.
“We think it’s a bad idea,” said Sonya Baehr, one of the residents who also attended the meeting at Lander’s office.
The redesign is a response to resident complaints about speeding, narrow medians, double parking, and hazardous pedestrian conditions, which the city 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.
CB6 members in favor of the plan were stunned by the rejection.
“Fourth Avenue is a dangerous place where you have people getting maimed and killed,” said transportation committee member Gary Reilly. “This is something that could have made it safer. I’m incredibly disappointed.”
The community board vote is advisory, and the city can still move ahead with its plans.
Under the plan, only the Downtown-bound lanes from Union Street to Atlantic Avenue would retain the existing three-lanes.
The city also wants 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.
At another public forum on Wednesday night, Community Board 2, which covers nearby Boerum Hill and Fort Greene, overwhelmingly endorsed the city’s plan with a unanimous vote of 27-0.
This isn’t the only stretch of Fourth Avenue up for a pedestrian-friendly makeover.
In Bay Ridge, Community Board 10 faced a similar dilemma as CB6, with vocal constituents blasting certain parts of the city’s plan after it was approved by the panel’s transportation committee. But instead of rejecting the entire proposal outright, CB10 voted on it piecemeal, approving most changes while voting down plans for a center island and pedestrian fencing at the 86th Street intersection.