DOT Proposes 25-Block Changes to traffic in heart of Sunset Park
Upset Sunset Park residents, elected officials and organizations were outside the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Hank Gutman’s home Thursday, Aug. 26.
The target of the protest was Gutman himself, but he was not in Brooklyn that evening. And the group was not protesting the man, so much as the plan.
The proposal would turn Seventh and Eighth avenues into one-way streets from 39th to 65th streets. Traffic would flow south on Seventh Avenue and north on Eighth Avenue, which is known as the “main street” of Brooklyn’s Chinatown. Safety improvements and a protected bike lane would also be added to each street.
Paul Mak, president of the Brooklyn Chinese-American Association, led the protesters, who believe the agency has had a lack of communication with the community. The attendees also alleged that installing bike lanes would only add to traffic congestion and lack of parking spaces, which in turn could hurt small businesses.
“All we want to do is talk to you so we can talk about our concerns,” Mak yelled outside the home.
One protester held a sign stating, “DOT, shame on you.”
The DOT later responded to the rally as well as the plan.
“This project is about saving lives on two main corridors in Sunset Park and how we are going to accomplish that,” said DOT representative Scott Gastel. “When children and seniors are being injured at a rate exceeding the borough average by 40 percent, action must be taken. Our proposal is guided by a robust community outreach process, including several multi-lingual public meetings.”
The DOT said that its representatives answered 100 questions at various forums and took nearly 400 surveys in the field last year concerning safety and mobility in Sunset Park.
They also said there have been 35 severe injuries (out of more than 500 injuries total) on the two corridors in a five-year period, including one fatality. In addition, pedestrian and cyclist injuries accounted for more than half of the total and severe injuries on the corridors, the traffic agency said.
Back in March, DOT representatives held a Zoom meeting to discuss the points behind the plan. They explained that Eighth Avenue is a “Vision Zero” priority corridor because of its high rate of pedestrian casualties. Vision Zero is a program created in 2014 step up safety improvements and traffic enforcement on streets that are plagued by traffic deaths and serious injuries.
DOT also says that Seventh Avenue has the same problem.
“We eliminate two-way traffic, and by doing that we are improving vehicle predictability, reducing possible movements and reducing conflicts between vehicles, cyclists and pedestrians,” Ben Schwed of DOT said at one of the public meetings in the area.
Eighth Avenue would also have a dedicated space for commercial loading zones under the plan, ensuring a place for trucks to park and make deliveries.
As for the demonstration, the DOT stated that “there’s an appropriate time and place for policy disagreements, and we’ve held three comprehensive and open public meetings so far for everyone to make their voice heard. That time and place is not outside a public servant’s home, when such discourse can occur much more productively elsewhere.”
The most frequent complaints made to DOT about the area around Seventh and Eighth avenues in Sunset Park are about congestion, speeding, double-parking and vehicles that refuse to yield.