Tweaks to a plan to reinvent Seventh and Eighth avenues in Sunset Park as one-way streets to improve safety along the strips have made the plan considerably more palatable to local advocates.
After area residents and merchants protested the proposal en masse, specifically decrying plans by the city’s Department of Transportation to add bike lanes to both Seventh and Eighth Avenues, the city has come back with a new plan – eschewing the bike lane on Eighth Avenue and instead creating a two-way protected bike lane on Seventh Avenue, in accordance with community requests.
Many other aspects of the original proposal are still going forward, says DOT. Included in the updated plan, which will turn the two thoroughfares into one-way streets between 39th and 60th streets, are expanded pedestrian areas along Eighth Avenue between 60th and 51st streets, including both neckdowns (which are added at intersections to shorten the crossing distance) and wider sidewalks, as well as curbside locations dedicated to deliveries.
According to DOT, the number of travel lanes in the project area will be reduced from two to one, with two parking lanes on each of the avenues.
“The motivation for the changes on Seventh and Eighth avenues was safety,” explained DOT Commissioner Hank Gutman. “These are Vision Zero priority corridors, and our top priority was to make sure they were safe. But we are also aware that Eighth Avenue is unique in its density of commercial activity and its role as the heart of Brooklyn’s Chinatown, so we listened carefully to the concerns of the community and their elected representatives, we went and made our own inspection of the relevant streets, and we revised the plan to be sensitive to all these concerns.”
Specifically, said Gutman, the numbers of people seriously injured or killed in collisions along the strip was a major motivating factor. “The numbers cry out for a solution,” he stressed.
Between 2014 and 2018, there were 233 pedestrian injuries along Eighth Avenue between 39th and 66th streets, with 17 people severely injured, and one killed. During that same time period, 32 bicyclists were injured, two seriously, and 242 people riding in cars were also injured, 15 severely.
Gutman, who toured the area with some DOT team members before the agency revised the proposal, described the unique nature of Eighth Avenue, where streets teem with pedestrians, many pushing shopping carts around sidewalk merchandise displays, and who too often cross streets by emerging into traffic from between parked and double-parked cars and trucks.
Lack of visibility was a major issue, he stressed, as was the need of businesses along the strip to be able to receive ongoing deliveries. “One of the biggest challenges was providing curb access,” Gutman told this paper, adding that putting a bike lane on the shopping strip actually interfered with it.
Because winter is just around the corner, the entire plan cannot be implemented in 2021, said Gutman. Instead, the agency is targeting its efforts toward improving safety at the most dangerous locations, among them the six intersections along Eighth Avenue that it says “account for 34 percent of total injuries,” as well as 68 percent of cases in which individuals are killed or seriously injured, by widening sidewalks and curbside delivery.
Assemblymember Peter Abbate, who had raised numerous concerns about the original proposal, lauded DOT and Gutman for responding to community objections. “DOT actually listened to the community, which hasn’t always been the case in the past,” he said, thanking Gutman for being “personally involved.”
While specific locations along Eighth Avenue will be re-engineered to make them safer for pedestrians this year, DOT, he said, is still listening to concerns being voiced by community members, elected officials and the three impacted community board, CB 7, CB 10 and CB 12.
Among the changes still to be finalized, said Abbate, is the number of parking spots to be included in the final plan, after community members expressed concern about the loss of nearly 200 parking spots engendered by the changes to the two strips.
“Progress is being made to listen to the community,” Abbate told this paper. “I think it’s important that each of the three boards have a chance to look at it and refine the project. If we can get a few more minor things changes, it will be much better.”