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The Fourth Avenue fix! • Brooklyn Paper

The Fourth Avenue fix!

This design, by Rogers Marvel, would create "flex streets," which would change lane configurations depending on volume.

The chaotic intersection of Fourth Avenue and Ninth Street, where 70 bikers and pedestrians have been hit over the last decade, would become an urban oasis filled with plants, playgrounds and picnic areas — oh, and maybe room for a few cars, too.

That sylvan vision is one of the three finalists in a design competition to reimagine one of Brooklyn’s most-dangerous places. More than 100 ideas were submitted.

A leading contender, designed by the Philadelphia-based design firm Levon, would transform all but the parking lanes on each side of the busy boulevard into public open space. The remaining single lanes in each direction would be cobblestoned to further retard speeds (pictured).

The two other finalists — one by the Rogers Marvel architecture firm and the other by Steven Nutter — would include special bike lanes and trees.

“Safety is definitely the most important part of the competition — if you don’t do that, nothing else will work,” said Transportation Alternatives spokesman Wiley Norvell, whose group sponsored the conceptual competition.

“Things are so dangerous and so inhospitable — this is really about reinvigorating public life and really putting New Yorkers in the center of their streets.”

Of course, not every design could be a finalist. One vision included installing a huge mirror in the middle of the intersection that would force drivers to slow down because they would be tricked into thinking that another speeding car was heading right for them.

The intersection is so dangerous because vehicles use both particularly wide streets as speedways. The six-lane Fourth Avenue moves cars north and south between Park Slope and Bay Ridge and is especially busy when the Gowanus Expressway is backed up (which is pretty much all the time).

And Steven Nutter would wall off the bike lane from other vehicular traffic.

There was at least one fatality at the intersection, and 55 pedestrians and 15 cyclists struck and injured by vehicles between 1995 and 2005, according to CrashStat data.

“Those numbers are really high,” Norvell said. “It’s obviously the most dangerous intersection in the neighborhood.”

The Department of Transportation is unlikely to implement any design that puts a clog in Brooklyn’s main north-south artery. But last year, the city changed the light intervals to give pedestrians a few extra seconds to cross the street without any vehicular traffic, said agency spokesman Scott Gastel. Soon, DOT will extend sidewalks at all four corners — a configuation called a “neckdown” — to better protect pedestrians.

But it’s still not enough, Brooklynites said this week.

“I’m in favor of changes,” said Greenwood Heights resident Valerie Vigoda. “The lights change too fast, and I have to drag my toddler across the street.”

For Gowanus resident Mary Hagele, who must cross Fourth Avenue just to get to a subway, something must be done about the treacherous bike paths.

“It’s too scary to ride a bike here,” Hagele said. “My husband commutes to work every day on a bike, and I’m always scared for him.”

Or, you could just put up a mirror so that drivers think another fast car is coming towards them — as designers Michael Langeder and Griet Deporter suggested.
Michael Langeder and Griet Deporter

The winning designs will be on display at an event at Galapagos Art Space (Main Street at Water Street in DUMBO) on Dec. 9. For information, visit www.21stcenturystreet.org/press.— with Evan Gardner

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