The city must take steps to mitigate the impact of construction and street closures planned for parts of Surf Avenue to keep Coney Island’s traffic nightmare from getting even worse, demanded Coney Islanders at a July 26 Community Board 13 meeting with city reps.
One local said the neighborhood is already so congested that it’s dangerous for pedestrians, and that she can’t see how the city could complete the Surf Avenue project safely.
“Even when there’s traffic agents, the cars are moving when the people are moving — I just can’t even picture this,” said Ida Sanoff.
A rep from the Economic Development Corporation — a quasi-governmental agency tasked with growing the city’s economy — presented the city’s plan to raise four blocks of Surf Avenue, plus parts of three nearby side streets, in a three-phase project.
The work is a product of the neighborhood’s 2009 re-zoning, according to a senior project manager at the agency, Wil Fisher, who told locals at the meeting that the city will raise the street and sidewalk in the blocks between West 16th and West 21st streets. From West 16th Street, the avenue will begin sloping upwards until it reaches a height of three and a half feet above than the street’s existing grade at West 17th Street. The avenue will then level off until West 20th Street before sloping back down to grade by West 21st Street. West 17th, West 19th and West 20th streets north of the Surf Avenue would slope down to normal grade before reaching Mermaid Avenue.
Fisher said that the purpose of the project was to both facilitate better drainage of storm water and support a major development along that stretch of Surf Avenue.
“Raising the street will allow a better pitch for the storm water sewer, so it’ll make it easier for the storm water to get out of Coney Island,” he said. “Additionally, the higher street will allow those buildings to be constructed higher making them more resilient for any future flooding.”
Fisher came to the board seeking a letter of recommendation, which his agency needs to obtain a permit for the project from city Department of Transportation’s Office of Construction Mitigation.
Fisher also asked locals if they would prefer that the city complete the three phases of the project back to back and finish all the work in nine months, or instead space out the three-month work phases over the next three years.
Under the nine-month timeline, the first phase of the project would close Surf Avenue between West 16th and 19th streets — as well as half of West 17th Street between Surf and Mermaid avenues — from mid-September until mid-December.
The next phase would close the block between West 19th and 20th streets — as well as half of West 19th Street and most of West 20th Street on the block between Surf and Mermaid avenues — from mid-December until mid-March,
The third phase would close the block between West 20th and 21st streets, and finish up the project by the mid-May deadline imposed by the city due to the neighborhood’s status as a summer destination.
Locals told Fisher that they didn’t want any part of Surf Avenue closed, since current closures on Mermaid and Neptune avenues for repaving and water-sewer repairs already make traffic a nightmare in the neighborhood.
But CB13 chairwoman Joann Weiss said that she doubted the board could do anything to stop the construction, and that she would rather the city do it in one fell swoop so that it’s finished by next summer rather dragging on for years.
“My feeling is we don’t have a choice, so we either go with the nine-month issue, or we back this out for three years,” Weiss said.
But board members and Councilman Mark Treyger (D–Coney Island) demanded the board only signal its approval if the Economic Development Corporation agreed to regulate the construction, traffic flow, and other concurrent local development projects.
Hesham Kotby of Haks Engineers, the company tapped to carry out the construction, assured locals that the work on Neptune Avenue would be done by the time of the Surf Avenue project.
But he conceded that construction on Mermaid Avenue would not be done by the time the Surf Avenue project started, prompting one resident to demand that the city guarantee that it would finish work on Mermaid Avenue before starting on Surf Avenue, saying that she feared the street closures would make the neighborhood a death trap for locals trying to evacuate in the event of a natural disaster.
“Finish Mermaid and then you can do all this,” said Wanda Feliciano. “If there’s another Sandy, we’re dead.”
The 23 board members present eventually agreed to give the agency the approval letter — but attached stipulations that the city commit to finishing the Neptune Avenue work first, bring in traffic agents to manage traffic, assure adequate signage and local notification about the road closures, suspend alternate-side parking in the affected areas, and place a moratorium on any new developments on the affected block of Mermaid Avenue during the construction period.