Deadly Brooklyn roadway gets lower speed limit

BOROUGHWIDE — One of Brooklyn’s most dangerous roads, which saw six deaths last year, had its speed limit reduced on Tuesday as part of the mayor’s ambitious Vision Zero campaign to eliminate all traffic fatalities and injuries on the streets of the five boroughs.

The city’s Department of Transportation lowered the speed limit from 30 to 25 mph on Third Avenue (as well as Hamilton Avenue), bringing the two roadways in coherence with the citywide speed limit that’s been in place since 2014.

A reduction of just 5 mph may not seem like a lot, but it can make a significant difference in whether someone dies. A pedestrian is about 70 percent more likely to be killed if they are hit at 30 mph versus 25 mph, according to data from Brian Tefft, a researcher at the AAA Foundation for Traffic Safety.

“We have grieved at the loss of life on our streets this year,” DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said in December. “The Mayor has asked DOT and NYPD to take aggressive action on this corridor with its challenging mix of residential and industrial uses and heavy traffic on and off the Gowanus Expressway.

“We believe that lowering the speed limit along Third and Hamilton avenues, coupled with strong enforcement, will help calm traffic in the burgeoning neighborhoods of Gowanus, Red Hook and Sunset Park.”

The new limit is in effect along Third Avenue from Prospect Avenue to 62nd Street, and on Hamilton Avenue from Luquer to 18th streets, for a total of 4.2 miles.

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

The speed limit on all New York City streets was reduced to 25 mph in 2014, unless otherwise posted, as was the case along Third Avenue. Some residents, however, say the change should have come sooner given the high number of fatalities along the corridor.

The roadway, which runs below the Gowanus Expressway, has a startling history of accidents. From August 2011 to January 2020, there have been more than 2,000 injuries and eight fatalities on the portion of Third Avenue that runs through Sunset Park, according to NYC Crash Mapper.

There were six fatalities on the roadway last year, up from two in 2018, according to Vision Zero data. Four of the six deaths took place in the Sunset Park portion of the street.

Residents have said they are not surprised at the grim statistics, given the dangerous habits of drivers and the lack of pedestrian safety measures.

“The Third Avenue corridor is in crisis,” said Zachary Jasie, chair of Community Board 7’s Transportation Committee. “We have had too many deaths along this roadway in the past year.”

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.

Pedestrians face dangers as well. Residents argue 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, 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.

DOT announced in August that it was committed to reevaluating safety along Third Avenue.

Jasie said the lowered speed limit — as well as increased enforcement from local police — comes as welcome news, but far more still needs to be done to truly make the roadway safer.

He argued that there still need to be surface improvements and repairs, and he proposed that the road be reduced from three to two lanes, which would shorten street crossings and create safer parking and loading zones.

Brooklyn Greenway’s forthcoming protected bike lane, which will be installed on the avenue for roughly 12 blocks, is also aimed at making the corridor more secure.

“New schools are going to be opened along the avenue and it is imperative that these changes happen immediately for the safety of these children and their caregivers,” Jasie said. “The Third Avenue corridor needs to be made safer for pedestrians, cyclists and vehicles alike. We have been talking about it for too long. The time for change is now.”

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