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Sunset Park residents are fed up with the safety failures of Third Avenue

Drag racing, double-parked cars and scattered debris — those are only a few of the hazardous conditions commonly found on Sunset Park’s Third Avenue, according to residents who feel the corridor is growing more dangerous.

“It’s like a second expressway,” John Delooper said on Wednesday at a Community Board 7 visioning workshop held to identify issues and potential solutions for improving the safety and accessibility of the strip for pedestrian, bicycle and vehicular traffic.

The roadway, which runs below the Gowanus Expressway, has a startling history of accidents. From August 2011 to August 2019, there have been more than 2,000 injuries and eight fatalities in the portion of Third Avenue that runs through Sunset Park, according to NYC Crash Mapper.

On July 29, a cyclist was fatally struck by a tractor-trailer on Third Avenue and 36th Street after she swerved to avoid a parked car’s opening door. The victim was the second cyclist killed on the roadway this year. (There are no bike lanes on Sunset Park’s portion of the avenue.)

A 27-year-old man was also killed by a hit-and-run driver in January on Third Avenue and 52nd Street.

The Department of Transportation announced on Wednesday that it would re-evaluate the safety along Third Avenue with the help of local officials and community groups.

Residents said they aren’t surprised at those grim statistics, given the dangerous habits of drivers and the lack of pedestrian safety measures. They cited massive tractor-trailers and police officers washing their cars in the street “as if the right lane were theirs.”

“When there’s a truck doing a delivery, they block intersections,” Amanda Beltran said. “The [B37] bus can’t go through, so it delays the bus route, and then buses are also blocked when people double park.”

A car crashed into a support pillar of the Gowanus Expressway.
Photo by John Delooper

With only a single on-ramp at Hamilton Avenue, massive trucks are forced to travel down Third Avenue, where they often cannot make narrow turns and subsequently get caught in intersections.

For pedestrians, it’s equally as dangerous. Residents argued that they do not have enough time to traverse the long crosswalks before the light changes, and the pedestrian islands often lack curb cuts and are frequently blocked by trash or debris from past car accidents.

In the vicinity of 60th Street, for example, there is a school, a daycare and a physical therapy office, but residents said the crosswalk there is particularly dangerous and cars routinely park on the sidewalk.

ttendees proposed several solutions for making the road safer, including adding traffic calming measures, installing additional on-ramps to get trucks off local streets and allowing pedestrians more time to cross the street.

“It doesn’t have to look the way it does under the BQE,” said Cynthia Vandenbosch, chairperson of CB7’s Ability and Access Committee.

She argued that with dramatic changes proposed for Sunset Park’s waterfront, safety improvements need to happen sooner rather than later.

“This is especially important at this time, as we anticipate an increased volume of traffic, bicyclists, and pedestrians with the proposed Industry City rezoning and other developments along the waterfront in the months and years to come,” Vandenbosch told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“As a community, we need to be thinking very seriously about what specific improvements can be made in both the short and long term to ensure that Third Avenue is safe and accessible for all people who work and live in the district.”

Residents proposed looking to other cities for solutions on how to convert blighted and dangerous areas into repurposed spaces.

In San Francisco, for example, a waterfront expressway was torn down more than 25 years ago and replaced with “a grand waterfront boulevard” known as The Embarcadero, according to the Toronto Star.

In Toronto, the city converted the abandoned underside of the Gardiner Expressway into The Bentway, a public trail lined with artwork.

(Sunset Park will be getting the Brooklyn Greenway, but it will run along Second Avenue.)

“I would love to have this community partner with the people in Brooklyn Heights, because they have been really radical about not wanting to have [the Department of Transportation] come in and build up the area,” Beltran said.

“Of course they come from more money, and as a result, they have way more of a say of how their community issues are being addressed.”

Debris from a past car crash sits on a pedestrian island.
Photo by John Delooper

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