Brooklyn CB 2 Committee Says Yes to Lafayette Avenue Shared Lane

Last night, Brooklyn Community Board 2’s Transportation and Public Safety Committee voted 8 to 1 (with one abstention) to support DOT’s proposal to install sharrows on Lafayette Avenue between Fulton Street and Classon Avenue. The vote comes after DOT abandoned a bike lane concept in 2010, spurring neighborhood residents to gather 1,400 signatures seeking a solution to improve safety on the busy one-way street.

Hilda Cohen of Make Lafayette Avenue Safer speaks at last night's CB 2 meeting. Photo: Stephen Miller

The DOT plan includes two major components. First, it would slow the timing sequence of Lafayette Avenue’s traffic signals from 25 mph to 20 mph. By doing this, DOT hopes to reduce speeding by drivers who are trying to catch lights before they turn red. Presently, 39 percent of drivers on Lafayette Avenue are exceeding the 30 mph speed limit. Signal retimings for 20 mph have already been put in place on Eighth Avenue in Park Slope and Court Street south of Atlantic Avenue. “You don’t notice it as a motorist,” explained DOT’s Preston Johnson, “but the experience for pedestrians and cyclists is much improved.”

Second, DOT will install sharrows on the left lane of Lafayette Avenue, leading cyclists to ride outside the path of B38 buses in the right lane. As on First and Second Avenues in Manhattan, the sharrows will be accompanied by signage informing motorists that passing cyclists within the lane is prohibited.

At last night’s meeting, DOT explained that Lafayette Avenue handles 769 cars per hour during the evening rush. Removing a general travel lane for a bike lane, the agency said, would affect traffic flow too much for it to consider the option.

The neighborhood group pushing for improvements, Make Lafayette Avenue Safer, welcomed the sharrows as an improvement that will clearly indicate where cyclists belong on the street. But the group also called on DOT to be more innovative with its plan to protect bike riders.

At last night’s meeting, Make Lafayette Avenue Safer’s Hilda Cohen presented sharrow enhancements in Boston, Salt Lake City, and Long Beach, California, such as painted pavement or dashed lines bracketing the bike stencil, that she said would be effective on Lafayette Avenue. Cohen also noted after the meeting that most of the route on Lafayette Avenue is uphill, making it difficult for slow-moving cyclists to assert their place in the middle of a lane.

“I will be happy for Lafayette Avenue sharrows,” said Ali Loxton, a member of Make Lafayette Avenue Safer who rides a cargo bike with her children. “And I will be aware of the cars coming behind me.” The group isn’t giving up on the goal of a bike lane on Lafayette.

Surprisingly, the committee decided to hear public input last night only after it had voted on all of the items on the agenda. Although most public feedback was directed at DOT’s plan for Lafayette Avenue, some agency staff had already left before it came time for comments. Many in attendance, including committee member Ken Lowy and former Manhattan Community Board 2 transportation committee vice chair Ian Dutton, expressed their confusion at the committee’s decision to vote first and listen to feedback later.

Three other livable streets projects came before the transportation committee last night, each receiving a vote in favor.

The committee unanimously supported DOT’s proposal for a bike corral on the east side of Court Street, south of Atlantic Avenue. Although the location is currently designated as a no parking zone to improve visibility and safety, drivers continue to stand in the space. A bike corral would not only address the demand for bike parking from Trader Joe’s and other retailers, but also help maintain visibility at the corner. Because street sweepers would no longer be able to reach the curb, the Atlantic Avenue BID has signed on as a maintenance partner.

The committee also voted 8-1-1 to support a proposal from the DUMBO Improvement District to create a pedestrian plaza on Anchorage Place, which runs between Front and Plymouth Streets beneath the Manhattan Bridge. Although the plaza would remove 24 parking spaces, DOT’s Brooklyn borough engineer found that 20 to 30 additional parking spaces could be added on existing streets in the area to make up the difference. The concept already has letters of support from Anchorage Place businesses. “Pedestrians in the neighborhood treat this as if it’s already a pedestrian plaza,” DUMBO Improvement District executive director Alexandria Sica told the committee, since it connects two existing plaza spaces. The plaza is a precursor to a capital construction project that would build a permanent pedestrian area on Anchorage Place. Design work on the permanent plaza is slated to begin this summer.

Finally, the committee gave its unanimous approval to the Park Avenue Safety Project’s concept plan, an initiative of the Myrtle Avenue Revitalization Project Local Development Corporation. The result of a public process that included community planning workshops and previous presentations to the committee, the plan seeks to improve safety and the pedestrian environment on the surface street beneath the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.

The plan includes proposals to close slip lanes (shortcuts that let drivers cut between two other streets) at Navy Street; add turning lanes to ease westbound traffic at three Park Avenue intersections; and sharpen corners at Grand Avenue, where Park Avenue separates from the BQE. Cyclist Stefanos Tsigrimanis was killed by a driver at that location in 2010. “Highway-like geometries equal highway-like speeds,” explained MARP’s Dan Scorse. “It’s dangerous to cross.”

After seeking support from community boards and elected officials over the summer, Scorse explained that the next step is to present the findings to DOT. “We’re interested in doing something here,” DOT’s Chris Hrones said, reassuring committee members that specific plans produced by DOT for Park Avenue would be run by them first.