November/December 1996, p.8-9
Reclaiming the Streets
Lynn Derails Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming
A series of traffic calming demonstrations in downtown Brooklyn this fall finally persuaded local politicians to act. After years of community groups' pleading for relief from overwhelming traffic, Brooklyn Borough President Howard Golden stepped for- ward this September with a $24 million proposal to install traffic calming solutions in downtown residential and commercial areas. City Councilmernber Ken Fisher quickly backed the proposal, which involves working closely with businesses and community groups to come up with the best strategies.
However, in early October, NYC DOT Commissioner Christopher Lynn pulled the plug on Golden's plan, announcing a major shift in objectives. Most striking, Lynn's plan eliminates the community participation and education elements of the Borough President's proposal. He also has abandoned efforts to reduce traffic, focusing instead on "improved traffic now on major arterials," and unspecified traffic calming. Third Avenue and Furman Street would be designated as high-volume arterial streets, endangering the neighboring residential communities with vastly higher levels of traffic. Fourth Avenue, already the most hazardous street to cross in West Brooklyn, would be altered to carry even more traffic.
Brooklyn officials and citizens' groups are appealing to Lynn and his boss, Mayor Giuliani, to reinstate the original plan. In fact, the Borough President has told Lynn that he would withhold funds unless the proposal was returned to its original form.
Lynn has repeatedly expressed his disdain for working with community groups. If downtown Brooklyn's transportation crisis is to be solved and community quality of life rescued, plans must go forward with broad-based community support. The Mayor may find that his new commissioner's plan to increase traffic and ignore communities will leave him bogged down in opposition-in communities that are home to many Giuliani voters.
TA's Union Square Committee continues to pressure the Mayor and Community Board Five (CB5) to expand Union Square by pedestrianizing Union Square West. The business community is fighting the idea, but has yet to make a rational case for their argument. CB5 avoided the question recently by experimenting with banning left turns at 14th St. and Union Sq. West-an experiment that was cancelled less than a week later when cops failed to properly enforce the rule and businesses complained. Because of the fiasco, departing CB5 Chair Nick Fish even went as far as suspending the transportation committee chair, but conflict of interest questions have been raised because Fish's lavish going-away party is being paid for by one of the expanded park's biggest opponents. T.A. will call on the new chair to stop the board's waffling by either taking a vote on reiterating the board's support for the plan, or for a full-scale experimental closing of Union Sq. West.
As an experiment in pedestrian safety, the city modified traffic patterns in Mulry Square (7th Ave & W. 11th St.) last December. The DOT reversed West 11th Street, installed temporary corner sidewalk extensions and added an all-pedestrian phase to the traffic lights. To voice their views on whether the experiment worked, West Village residents will come out to Community Board Two's (CB2) traffic strategies subcommittee meeting on November 28. If the board votes in favor of the changes, DOT will make the experiment permanent, replacing paint and plastic with concrete and steel. Some residents are concerned that the West 11th Street reversal has shifted traffic to West 9th and West 13th Streets, two Village streets already overwhelmed with cars. Reducing traffic on those two streets and the whole area should be next on the Board's agenda. T.A. members are encouraged to come out and stand in favor of retaining the Mulry Square pedestrian safety improvements.
Fax a letter of support to CB2 at 212-254-5102.
Neighborhood Streets Network members and DOT Commissioner Christopher Lynn agree that speed humps have solved some speeding problems in communities across the city. 'This is fantastic--we have a ton of kids on our street," says Joy Rousso of the James/Ful/Gates Block Association in Clinton Hill. "I wish they'd put in more."
At a recent City Club meeting, the commissioner offered to install a speed hump at F.I.T. on 27th Street, and crews began work the next week. Although the humps do seem to be working, they still need refining. By State law, the humps have been designed for 30 mph traffic, a speed much too fast for most of the city's residential streets. (Someone hit by a car going 30 mph has a 40 percent chance of dying. At 15 mph, that risk drops to 7 percent). DOT needs to enhance the effectiveness of the speed humps with 15 mph residential speed limits. DOT has yet to put its weight behind State legislation that would do just that.
Write to: DOT Commissioner Christopher Lynn, 40 Worth St., NY NY 10013. Ask him to get behind 15 mph speed limits so that DOT can really reduce speeds on local streets.
Summertime evening and weekend pedestrianization of Little Italy's Mulberry Street is an unqualified success, with restaurants reporting a 20-50 percent increase in business. New York needs more places to stroll and eat without honking horns and exhaust fumes.
Write to: Mayor Rudolph Giuliani, City Hall, NY NY 10007. Thank him for helping make the Mulberry Street mall happen In the first place. Tell him that his Office of Special Events should be encouraging Mulberry Streets all over the city.
The Department of Transportation has installed twelve additional red-light cameras--the high-tech spies that catch scofflaws running lights. Although the DOT has the green light to put in twenty more, (for a total of 50), the agency seems to have lost enthusiasm despite their huge success. Since December, 1993, the $50,000 a piece cameras have brought in over $1.2 million each in violations revenue. They have also saved lives.
Perhaps our new "get it done" DOT Commissioner can look into why the next 20 cameras haven't yet been ordered, and why the department isn't asking the state legislature for permission to buy hundreds more.
Write to: Christopher Lynn, DOT Commissioner, 40 Worth St, NY NY 10013. Ask him to move forward aggressively with this successful program.
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