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Washington Ave to Get More Pedestrian Friendly, Maybe Bike Lanes, Too

Community Board 8 committee will vote next month on whether to also add bike lanes.

More trees, shorter crosswalks, a planted median on Atlantic Avenue, and, possibly, bike lanes are coming to Washington Avenue.

The changes are part of the Washington Avenue Safety Improvement Plan (See the NYC DOT’s powerpoint presentation on the plan.)

The goal is to make crossing the street safer at the Washington, Atlantic and Underhill and the Washington, Park and Grand intersections. The work will be done in conjunction with .

Deadly Corners

Washington Avenue is one of the most dangerous streets in the city, Kelley Sander, the safety plan's project manager, noted at a presentation given last week to merchants from the Washington Avenue Prospect Heights Association

In fact at the corner of Eastern Parkway and Washington Avenue just this morning in a three-car accident that included a police car.

Someone crossing Atlantic Avenue has to walk 103 feet while looking for cars turning in multiple directions; a typical crosswalk is about half that, Sander said.

Between 2005 and 2009, there were 111 injuries at the Washington, Atlantic and Underhill intersection: 8 pedestrians, 5 bicyclists, and 98 people in cars.  In addition, two people died in a car accident, Sander said.

And in September, after being hit by a bus at that intersection. A ghost bike in her honor remains.

At the Park/Grand/Washington intersection there were 19 injuries (4 pedestrian and 15 people in cars) between 2005 and 2009, according to Sander.

Planned Safety Improvements:

The new plan for the Atlantic Avenue intersection (see drawing in photo gallery) will have:

  • a planted median in the center of Atlantic Avenue
  • a “pedestrian refuge” on Atlantic Avenue added to the East side of Washington Avenue
  • an expansion of the Lowry Triangle between Underhill and Washington avenues
  • curb extensions, aka “neckdowns” on Atlantic and Pacific Street so pedestrians can better see oncoming traffic
  • a restriction on eastbound turns from Atlantic to Washington

There will also be changes made to the intersection Washington/Park Place/Grand intersection (See drawing in gallery).

Changes include:

  • a landscaped extension of the point of the triangle between Grand and Washington avenues (across from the police station) that will allow pedestrians to take a break between crossing Grand and crossing Washington avenues
  • a new landscaped median on the South Side of Park Place for the same reaon as above

Community Board 8 approved the plan in January, but the DOT is still tweaking the details. Those with comments should give them to the community board to give to DOT.

But what is likely the most important question to many is still to be resolved: bike lanes.

Washington Avenue is an unusual width, 50 feet, which is too narrow for four lanes, but too wide for two. This leaves drivers unsure of whether there are four lanes or not, Sander said.

To rectify the problem, the DOT proposes using the extra space for bike lanes (see drawing in photo gallery). The result would look the same as Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, which is the same width, Sander said, adding that when a car hits a pedestrian, it is 40 percent less likely to result in a death on a street where there is a bicycle lane.

The bike lane plan will be voted on by Community Board 8’s transportation committee meeting on April 24.

Reaction to the Plan:

While most business owners at last week’s meeting appeared to be in favor of the plan in general, Colin Raeburn, a business owner who also drives an ambulance, said doing so would slow down emergency vehicles.

DOT officials responded that cars could still move out of the way into the bike lanes, which would only be painted on the street.

Jerry Walsh, who owns Mayday Hardware on Washington near Sterling made a series of suggested tweaks to the plan including eliminating the first parking spot on each block to allow traffic to pass those waiting to make a left-hand turn and adding four metered parking spaces at every intersection on the side streets.

He also said he believed many of the Washington Avenue bus stops were as much as twice as long as what is required and should be cut to the minimum, providing more parking.

“Time will tell whether they will at least consider our suggestions or whether they will tell us what our opinion will be,” he said yesterday, adding that he was “optimistically hopeful.”

Asked about some of these suggestions, a DOT spokesman said the department would check the length of the bus stops and look into the other suggestions.

The changes were requested by the Pacific Street Block Association, spearheaded by Jeffrey I. Sherman, who started a petition last summer that was signed by 330 people.

“I’m really thrilled,” Sherman said.

When he moved to Pacific Street in 2000, he was shocked by how dangerous the Atlantic and Washington avenue intersection was.

“I kept waiting for someone to fix it,” he said. But finally Sherman, an architect, realized he would have to do it himself and drew up a proposal. He started the petition last summer.

With the help of Councilwoman Letitia James, the DOT took on the project a few months later.

“It’s a safety issue. I’ve heard all of the stories and I have my own personal ones,” she said, noting that she was once almost hit by a car there herself.

“I see seniors rush to the island. I can see the fear in their eyes,” she said.

She said she was glad the DOT picked up the project so quickly and added that she hoped they would also institute traffic calming measures for other Prospect Heights streets such as Underhill.

“There have been a lot of individuals using Prospect Heights as an alternative route and it’s just going to get worse,” she said.

Work will begin in June. The city hopes to finish it 12 to 18 months later. The street will never be completely closed and the DOT will try to avoid working during peak travel times, a spokesman said.

Jerry Walsh March 16, 2011 at 03:24 PM
If the DOT takes away precious limited parking spaces, provisions must be made to replace them. Reducing Alternate Side of the Street parking regulations from its present 4 days down to 2 will free up more than a thousand available spaces per week. And just as important is making the bike lane visible after dark. Lighting along the Washington Ave corridor is currently inadequate. Tandem or Siamese lighting attached to the few lighting poles that currently exist along the Avenue will at least double visibility and safety along the strip. Jerry Walsh
Mike Fagan March 16, 2011 at 06:20 PM
Sounds great. I'm glad more space will be freed up for non car drivers. Cars have had too much free on street parking for too long.
billyj March 17, 2011 at 02:10 AM
I have a car, and I park on the street, and even I can see how these intersections (Atlantic and Washington, Washington and Park Place) desperately need clarification. As a pedestrian, you have no idea where to walk, and no time to cross if you are at all slowed down (elderly, families, etc). This makes it harder to drive as well, as you have to constantly be aware of pedestrians from all sides.
Tyler March 24, 2011 at 07:54 PM
Yes Jerry... they are "precious limited parking spaces" -- precious, but you get them for free! I own a car, but I absolutely know that my neighbors who don't have a car, pay for MY parking.
billyj March 24, 2011 at 08:00 PM
Jerry from Mayday is right, many of the Bus lanesa are too long, and lighting would definitely improve safety from dusk til dawn, when spotting pedestrians and bicyclists is much harder.
Mike Fagan March 24, 2011 at 08:23 PM
It is also important to realize how many of Jerry's customers do not arrive by car. The more convenient the avenue is to pedestrians, the more likely we are to walk over to Mayday get our paint and schlep it home.

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