The building boom in Williamsburg has gotten so crazy that a once-quiet intersection has become veritable deathtrap for pedestrians — a crisis so serious that workers nearby dispatch their own flagmen to avoid the inevitable disaster.
The sketchy intersection is Keap and Ainslie streets, where a perfect storm of traffic and pedestrian factors create a truly hair-raising experience. Ainslie Street, which is the first right turn for drivers taking the Metropolitan Avenue exit off the Queens-bound Brooklyn–Queens Expressway, serves as a lawless alternative to the more heavily-trafficked Metropolitan Avenue.
But Ainslie Street lacks a stop sign at its first intersection, so drivers tend to blaze through with reckless abandon on their way eastbound. And the intersection of Ainslie and Keap streets is also a direct path to the nearby Lorimer Street L-train stop, making for a daily commute fraught with terror.
And just to add a little more confusion to the mix, Keap Street changes directions at that intersection, meaning that drivers traveling in either direction face “Do not enter” signs.
“It’s insane, totally insane,” said Art Gin, the manager of a construction site near the intersection. “Drivers really don’t give a s— about pedestrians.”
Gin said that he sees near-misses on a daily basis.
“There are always kids walking to the subway in the mornings and at three in the afternoon,” he said. “I stand here holding my breath when they cross the street with their iPods on because it’s so easy to get hit. It’s like playing chicken!”
The construction manager finds the intersection so troubling that he has even dispatched his own employees to calm traffic down — only as a favor to pedestrians.
“I have my workers with flags out there slowing people down. It’s really for public safety, but the drivers still don’t pay any attention,” Gin said.
But Gin is far from the only one who crosses the intersection reciting his hail Marys.
Paris Lafaro, who lives on Keap Street, said that her daily walk to the train involves evading cars racing towards a green light at Union Avenue.
“When drivers coming off of the BQE [on Ainslie Street] see that there’s a green light at Union Avenue up there they speed through Keap and don’t look at all,” said Lafaro.
One local familiar with transportation issues said that a stop sign made sense.
Karen Nieves, the co-chair of the transportation committee for Community Board 1, said that the intersection is “a little scary for pedestrians trying to cross,” and that a stop sign on Ainsley Street made sense.
Nieves added that much of the development in the area has made the issue much more urgent, and that the time to act is now.
“Before, [the area] was in the midst of construction and it was a little chaotic,” Nieves said. “Now that a lot of it is built, it is a great time for [the city] to survey that intersection and come up with some calming measures.”
There has been only one cyclist nailed by a car in 1999 at the intersection, according to Crashstat.org, though the data only runs up to 2005 — before much of the development in the area began. Only a block away at Union Avenue and Ainslie Street — the goal of many of the speeding cars — two pedestrians were slammed, one in 2004 and the other in 2005.
A spokesman with the Department of Transportation added that one pedestrian has been injured in the last five years at that intersection, and pledged to work with the community to resolve any possible dangers there.