Perhaps no city agency has expended more resources to improving life in Prospect Heights than the New York City Department of Transportation. From the Vanderbilt Avenue median and bike lanes, to traffic calming improvements at Grand Army Plaza, the reconstruction of Eastern Parkway, pedestrian islands on Washington Avenue, and the planned remodeling of Flatbush Avenue triangle parks, the last five or six years have seen a bumper crop of projects that increase safety and enhance the streetscape. Heck, even though DOT turned down Prospect Heights’ application for a Slow Zone, it has since worked diligently with neighborhood block associations and CB8 to install several new speed bumps where requested. What more could we ask for?
A lot, actually—including much that can’t be done by DOT alone.
First, let’s remember that Prospect Heights is not an island. Many of the vehicles that flow through the neighborhood on Flatbush and Vanderbilt Avenues neither start their trips in Prospect Heights nor will end them here. This “through traffic” is a problem not just in Prospect Heights, but throughout northwestern Brooklyn, where trucks and other vehicles avoid tolls coming from outside the City to reach Manhattan via the Verrazano and East River bridges. Contention for our streets caused by drivers from outside the borough is an issue that only seems to get bigger every year.
Second, consider the pace of new residential development at the edges of our neighborhood and beyond. The Department of City Planning rezoned downtown Brooklyn and Fourth Avenue to allow for high-rise apartment buildings to go up (and go up they have). The Atlantic Yards project simply overrides City zoning, which may eventually result in the densest residential development in the United States. New residents moving in to these areas will put a tremendous burden on not only our streets, but also buses, subways, even bicycle lanes.
Finally, keep in mind that many types of changes to transportation policy in New York City must be enacted through legislation passed in (gulp!) Albany, and certain large projects (like highway repairs and transit improvements) have to be funded through the State budget. When you put it all together, it’s easy to see why nearby Community Boards are waiting on repairs to the BQE promised years ago, residents in downtown Brooklyn and near Barclays Center continue to howl for residential parking permits, and congestion pricing programs that would reduce the level of “background” traffic never get off the ground. Let’s not even get into the subject of funding improvements to public transit.
Since 1980, the population of Brooklyn has grown by 14%, to 2.5 million, and it shows in transportation statistics. Subway ridership at stations in northwestern Brooklyn has soared between 2007 and 2010. The number of riders grew 5% at the 7th Avenue B/Q station, 7% at the Atlantic Avenue station (that’s prior to the opening of Barclays Center), 13% at the Franklin Avenue C/S station, and an incredible 28% at the York Street F station. And bicycle commuting has skyrocketed 154% since 2000, with most of the increase coming after 2007.
It’s clear that even with the best of intentions, the City’s transportation network can’t keep up with development in the borough through separate, disconnected efforts of multiple agencies. What’s needed is a comprehensive transportation plan for Brooklyn’s most heavily-trafficked and fastest-growing areas that defines strategies for effectively managing motor vehicles, public transit, cyclists and pedestrians. The plan would align the efforts of New York State and New York City Departments of Transportation, the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, New York City Transit, and the New York City Department of City Planning. And it would address initiatives long-championed by Community Boards, civic associations, and transportation advocates, like congestion pricing and residential parking permits.
Launching such a planning effort requires exceptionally strong community support, and even more importantly, the political support from City, State and Federal elected officials necessary to fund it. That’s why the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council, the Park Slope Civic Council and the Boerum Hill Association, in cooperation with Council Member Letitia James and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, have joined to launch the BK Gateway Transportation Vision. BK Gateway calls for a holistic plan for transportation in the region of Brooklyn between the East River, Nostrand Avenue, Empire Boulevard and Ninth Street. The effort kicked off in the spring of 2012 with a community charette to discuss challenges in parking, traffic congestion, public transit, and cyclist and pedestrian safety that resulted in a report announced last month outlining proposed solutions for further study.
BK Gateway provides an opportunity to look beyond the bounds of Prospect Heights and work with neighboring communities, elected officials and our City agencies to take transportation in Brooklyn to the next level. But moving the dialog forward will take all of our voices. You can learn more, hear from elected officials, and join the call for a comprehensive plan on Saturday, February 9, at 10:00 AM, when there will be a public presentation and panel discussion on the BK Gateway Transportation Vision at the YWCA of Brooklyn, 30 Third Avenue (corner of Atlantic Avenue). Invited panelists include Congressman Hakeem Jeffries, State Senators Eric Adams and Velmanette Montgomery, Assemblyman Walter Mosley, and Council Members Letitia James and Brad Lander; the panel will be moderated by Ron Schiffman, Professor of Urban Planning at Pratt Institute. (Space is limited; please RSVP to Ryan Lynch at Tri-State Transportation Campaign at firstname.lastname@example.org.) You can also follow the progress of the BK Gateway initiative at http://www.facebook.com/BKGateway.