The Q at Parkside

(for those for whom the Parkside Q is their hometrain)

News and Nonsense from the Brooklyn neighborhood of Lefferts and environs, or more specifically a neighborhood once known as Melrose Park. Sometimes called Lefferts Gardens. Or Prospect-Lefferts Gardens. Or PLG. Or North Flatbush. Or Caledonia (west of Ocean). Or West Pigtown. Across From Park Slope. Under Crown Heights. Near Drummer's Grove. The Side of the Park With the McDonalds. Jackie Robinson Town. Home of Lefferts Manor. West Wingate. Near Kings County Hospital. Or if you're coming from the airport in taxi, maybe just Flatbush is best.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

DOT Looking at the Flabenue This Spring

A couple years ago the Q caught wind of a program from the DOT designed to relieve congestion from the worst corridors in the City. Our chunk of Flatbush Avenue made the cut, though it wasn't on the first round to get looked at (perhaps, as I've remarked before, there's no one or group in the neighborhood clamoring for attention? No wheels a-squeakin'...). My fear was that after the DOT studied and addressed streets like Church Avenue (McDonald-Utica) the program would die and we'd be left crying in our sour sop.

Here's all you need to know about the program Congested Corridors.

So I wrote to Keith Bray at the DOT and asked what's up? I mean, it's not like things are getting better along double-parking Dollar Van terror-ridden Flatbush between Empire and, I dunno, the Junction. I was prepared for a non-answer, but surprisingly he told me that they would start the project in earnest in the Spring.

I don't know what the DOT can do to create a sane and safe passageway along one of the most chaotic streets in the USofA, but I've got plenty of opinions. I'm sure you do too, so share them with us! The most radical, and yet oh so reasonable, idea I can think of at the moment is this:

Flatbush Avenue is simply not wide enough to handle two way traffic, parking on both sides, insane levels of double-parking, and buses and dollar-vans. Make it one-way a la Nostrand or Rogers. There. I said it.


Anonymous said...

One way would be great. Or even just reclaiming one of the parking lanes with some of that nifty paint they used in Times Square, a few concrete planters, and voila! Room for tables outside Mangoseed

Anonymous said...

How about some traffic light enforcement? They could fund the city government if they gave out tickets for going through red lights. You take you life in your hands crossing at Winthrop and I'm sure that's true elsewhere.

Camera enforcement works!

Anonymous said...

Aggressive ticketing of double parking would be an easy solution and a good start. Don't know what could be done about the dollar vans, unless there could be dedicated stops at less congested areas (away from intersections).

babs said...

Most urban and traffic planners now believe that one-way streets actually encourage speeding (a la Rogers Speedway) and that two-way traffic slows things down, and Park Slope actually rejected a proposal to convert Sixth and Seventh Aves to one-way streets in 2007: (all in a Robert-Moses-worthy plan to spped traffic to and from Brucie the Rat's carbuncle of an arena).

Flatbush should probably remain a two-way street, but with appropriate traffic calming measures in place, including reclaimed parking lanes and enforcements against double parking and running red lights (which we could also use on Bedford, Rogers, and Nostrand!).

In terms of the dollar vans, if the buses were more reliable and cost $2 instead of $2.50 I think you'd see the disappearance of dollar vans, but I'm not going to hold my breath on that one.

Anonymous said...

Q, I know that making Flatbush one-way feels instinctually like it would be helpful, but Babs is right on this one - one-way streets encourage the very type of driving that you are trying to prevent. It's counter-intuitive, but that's the nature of most of traffic planning.

In terms of street design, the best way to calm traffic is to force drivers to slow down by keeping lanes narrow - think 5th or 6th avenues in Park Slope, or Church avenue. The problem with Flatbush as it's currently set up is the extra width in the parking lane, which functions as a quasi-second lane that also allows for double parking and for speeding in the leftmost traffic lane. It's a very inefficient set-up whose inefficiencies are only magnified by the lack of enforcement of red-light running, speeding, and double parking.

Having said that, an optimal design for Flatbush would include bus lanes for SBS, ala what's coming to Rogers/Nostrand later this year (although here some loading zones for places like Associated, etc. would need to be included). Just looking at the MTA's ridership stats, ( the B41 moves about 36-40 thousand people a day, so SBS would go a long way to speeding up trips for a lot of people and, to answer Babs's point, would make bus service more reliable. It would probably also decrease dollar van usage, since one reason people take dollar vans is that they are much faster than the B41.

Clarkson FlatBed said...

Thanks for the thoughtful comments! But 6th Ave and 7th Ave in Park Slope? Not even in the same ballpark. 5th Ave maybe, but still not comparable in volume. Recent traffic calming measures on Livingston in the downtown area have done wonders. They reflect the thinking of Anon 4:57.

What we're looking at is one of the biggest arteries of Brooklyn. The fact that it's on an "angle" to the rest of Brooklyn's patchwork grid makes it an attractive route. I do think that speeding is a problem, but I also think that congestion is a HUGE problem, so slowing things down is not the answer I'd be looking for. Think of Manhattan's Avenues...all one way, and very efficient, but not particularly unsafe in my opinion. Personally I find the regulated on/off of the synchronized lights quite soothing...though the streets are pretty massively wide!

I'm way into stopping the fiction of Flatbush being two-lanes each way. With double-parkers, sometimes 3-4 per block, there's not two lanes - just video game inspired vans darting in and out of the fast lane. It's the unpredictability of Flatbush that I most fear - not just speed. In fact, when driving Flatbush, it's actually hard to reach the max of 30 MPH til you hit Lincoln, at which point everyone hits the gas! We'll see what DOT says, though I suspect their proposal will look something like what we saw on Livingston...

babs said...

That said, I would LOVE to see Nostrand and Rogers turned into two-way streets - and Manhattan avenues are pretty unsafe: I know this article is old, and that there have been more recent ones that say the same thing, but I didn't have the time to search for them.

Additionally, the grid pattern of most of Manhattan lends itself to one-way avenues - if you want to go the other way all you have to do is go around the block.

Flatbush is probably most akin to Broadway in Manhattan in terms both of its diagonal path for most of its length and its volume - quite unlike Livingston.

Anonymous said...

Anon 4:57 here.

Thanks for elucidating your thoughts a little more, Q. Here are a couple of quick points in response, in no particular order:

1) You're right that one-way streets, like Manhattan's avenues, need not necessarily be unsafe - it all depends on the specific design of the particular street. In the case of Flatbush, its current width, coupled with the long spaces between stoplights in certain spots (e.g. Winthrop to Fenimore to Midwood), would almost certainly turn it into a dangerous one-way speedway; you may remember that it was the exact same concerns that led to the installation of the PPW bike lane on the other side of our fair park. Also, note that in Manhattan, the trend has been towards narrowing the space for drivers and providing more space for other users - see 1st, 2nd, 8th and 9th avenues, plus Broadway, all of which now have parking-protected bike lanes (on top of 1st and 2nd's SBS lanes).

2) A more complicated question is the issue of congestion. Unfortunately, moving cars down Flatbush faster will not decrease congestion. If you think about how traffic works, you'll see that faster speeds will only entice more drivers to Flatbush, bringing even more traffic to our neighborhood. This concept is known as induced demand, and is outlined pretty well on Wikipedia:

Unfortunately, the sad truth is that because Flatbush is on a diagonal through much of Brooklyn, it will always remain attractive to drivers, and thus always congested - even if it was made 10 lanes wide in one direction, all that would happen is that it would look like the LA freeways at rush hour, while every other north-south route in Brooklyn would get whisper-quiet. Therefore, short of dead-ending Flatbush at Empire, the best approach should be to cut down on driving itself by making other forms of transportation more accessible (e.g. public transportation, bikes).

Of course, congestion pricing or East River bridge tolls would go a long way as well.

Anonymous said...

Just to respond to Babs: Although some streets in Manhattan are quite unsafe, Manhattan has the most pedestrian fatalities simply because it has the most pedestrians. Comparing Brooklyn to Manhattan is not really an apples-to-apples comparison.

As far as two way streets go, check out pg. 21 of the following study:

Two-way streets accounted for 12% of the road network but 47% of the fatalities in Manhattan.

Note that this is not an endorsement for or against two-way streets. The crucial issue is that two-way streets can be just as problematic as one-way streets if designed poorly (e.g. Canal and 14th streets in Manhattan).

Anonymous said...

This is all good stuff but I'm kind of tired of always hearing about all these elaborate proposals when our biggest problem is we have a police department that won't enforce the law. No plan will do enough if the NYPD does not enforce speed limits and constantly not once in a blue moon. Running red lights is not the only danger. Racing to make the green or yellow light is an even bigger problem. I see it constantly, cars speeding up often insanely fast to make it through the light. The study in NYC last year showed crosswalks at intersections were where pedestrians got hit the most often by far, because of cars speeding to make the green light then turning into a crosswalk too fast and recklessly. For drivers who say pedestrians only get hit because they jaywalk -- eeehhhhh (buzzer sound) WRONG. The facts say otherwise. The one person I know hit badly by a car was crossing in the crosswalk on the UES with the walk sign. His right of way. Luckily he survived but he was very lucky with how hard he was hit. My friend's life is far more valuable on this earth than the douche who hit him in his black mercedes then sped off. Hope that driver is getting his karmic payback somewhere somehow. Because law enforcement isn't punishing him; the NYPD didn't even look for the guy and they had a make, model and partial plate from witnesses. My friend didn't die so maybe they didn't consider it a priority. NYPD hates going after drivers, to all appearances.

diak said...

I'd like to second Anon's comment above re the lack of enforcement. Seems NYPD has completely washed their hands of any moving violations. (But don't be 5 minutes late moving your car to the alternate side!)

I like to say, if I walked quietly down Flatbush Ave displaying a six-inch knife I'd probably have 3 squad cars around me inside of a minute. But direct 2 tons of metal down the avenue at 60mph and no cop is likely to even put down his or her coffee.
NYPD likes to boast about how safe the streets of NYC have become and they have a right to when it comes to crime. Too bad they don't have the same passion when it comes to traffic safety...

Anonymous said...

Lack of enforcement is a huge problem. I've seen cops basically watch someone run a red light without doing anything. I have also seen them drive by vehicles parked on sidewalks without doing anything.

I would love to see traffic calming measures on Flatbush. It could help our neighborhood grow immensely. A redesigned intersection at Flatush/Lincoln/Washington would be outstanding.

Expect some of the community boards to balk against this stuff, btw. Their opposition to this kind of thing can be rather shocking.

Andrew said...

First, I just want to jump in and throw my commenting weight behind those who have highlighted the perils of one-way traffic, induced demand, and increased vehicle speeds. I was going to write an argument for why one-way traffic flow is exactly what we don't need on Flatbush, only to find that a number of you had already made quite eloquent and well supported arguments. Bravo!

I would also like to respond to Q's comment about not being able to travel faster than 30 MPH on Flatbush with the observation that keeping peak speeds lower than 30 MPH is exactly what we should be asking from DOT when it comes to the corridor. As anyone who has walked up and down Flatbush on a Summer afternoon will tell you, it has some of the busiest pedestrian traffic in the borough, if not the entire city. A pedestrian struck by a car traveling at 30 MPH has a 37-45% chance of dying, but when the speed is reduced to 20 MPH, the pedestrian's chance of dying decreases to 5% (source). With Flatbush being such a busy pedestrian corridor, their safety has to be taken into account. Traffic planning has to be for everyone's benefit, not just drivers'.

I would love to see a few things on Flatbush from Empire Blvd to Church Ave:

• Installation of a wide median with left turn bays and pedestrian islands at crosswalks, a la Vanderbilt Ave
• Reduce width to one lane in each direction
• Widen sidewalks
• Increased traffic enforcement. This is so crucial.

These changes would:

• Eliminate the three-point u-turn
• Solve the double parking problem. People double park because they think they can get away with it without blocking traffic. Make that impossible, and I believe you'll see double parking become much less of an issue
• Make it a much less stressful corridor to drive through. You'd either be moving, or stopped. There would be no need to worry about jockeying for lane position, swerving around double parkers, or vehicles driving in your blind spot.
• Make it markedly safer for pedestrians and residents.

It's encouraging that these are generally the kinds of changes that the DOT has been implementing city-wide. If the Flatbush Ave I describe above was reality, I think I'd find myself making the trip over far more often.

Anonymous said...

Wouldn't that just push more traffic onto ocean ave, which is a residential street compared to Flatbush?

Clarkson FlatBed said...

I'm so pleased by the lively conversation. Thanks y'all!

I'll continue to play devil's advocate and say that yes, I've watched the trend towards turning urban streets back to two-way, and sometimes it works and sometimes it just creates more idle traffic. Flatbush is tricky I think, with so many buses and dollar vans. And the point about Ocean taking up the slack if Flatbush in any way gets slower (is that possible?) is a good one. Ocean shouldn't suffer as a result of the changes. There are a lot of trucks on Flatbush, as it's a local truck route, and their idling is a major polluter, so flow is important, not just reducing speed. But I agree we've got to keep speeds down in such a densely packed neighborhood.

I'm looking for some sort of electric shocking system for double-parkers. Nothing lethal of course, just a good jolt of juice.

I came across this most-curious statement when researching the resurgence of two-way:

"The boom in one-way streets began with the Cold War in the 1950s, when cities planned quick routes out of town for evacuation in case of nuclear attack, says John Norquist, one of the first vocal advocates of two-way-street conversion. Norquist was mayor of Milwaukee from 1988 to 2003 and now runs the Congress for the New Urbanism, which promotes the revitalization of cities."

Andrew said...

That's the funny thing about traffic flow...the goal is to reduce peak speeds while improving average speeds. When driving, you feel like you're going faster when you can get up to 35 or 40 every now and then, but your average speed will end up being slow if every 100 ft you have to slow down or stop for double parked cars, people making illegal u-turns, or dollar vans. To illustrate my point, compare the two hypothetical trips:

• You spend 50% of the time going 20, 10% of the time going 30+, and 40% of your time stopped waiting for lights or dealing with traffic obstacles due to the presence of two lanes. Your average speed is 13 MPH.

• You spend 70% of the time going 20 and 30% of your time waiting for lights. You don't have to worry about wild drivers, going around cars, etc. Your average speed is 14 MPH.

In the second scenario, you're actually getting where you're going more quickly, but psychologically it might not feel that way because the fastest you go is 20 MPH. So, ideally, traffic is flowing better, but peak speeds are slower, and everyone wins.

I also want to point out that making Flatbush one-way would be the worst thing you could do if you're concerned about the impact on Ocean Ave, because all of a sudden half of the traffic has to find a different north or southbound route.