Atlantic and Washington Gets Fixes, Now What About the Rest of Atlantic?

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo talks about the latest changes to the intersection of Atlantic, Washington and Underhill avenues. Photo: Stephen Miller
DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo talks about the latest changes to the intersection of Atlantic, Washington and Underhill. Photo: Stephen Miller

The multi-leg intersection of Atlantic Avenue, Washington Avenue, and Underhill Avenue has received its second round of street safety improvements in four years. Adding to a 2011 project that expanded pedestrian space, this latest set of changes includes new turn restrictions, crosswalks, and larger median islands [PDF]. Advocates welcomed the changes, but want DOT to think bigger when it comes to overhauling Atlantic Avenue, one of the city’s most dangerous arterial streets.

The intersection has two new crosswalks and larger sidewalks and medians, among other changes. Image: DOT [PDF]
The intersection has two new crosswalks and larger sidewalks and medians, among other changes. Image: DOT [PDF]

When Atlantic was named the city’s first Arterial Slow Zone last year, DOT noted there were 25 fatalities along its 7.6-mile length, including 10 pedestrians, from 2008 to 2012. The area near the intersection with Washington and Underhill had 99 injuries, including two severe injuries, from 2009 to 2013.

In 2011, DOT added pedestrian space along the edge of Lowry Triangle, a pocket park between Washington and Underhill, and banned left turns from eastbound Atlantic. That project also included a road diet and bike lanes on Washington Avenue [PDF].

After the project was implemented, total crashes decreased 31 percent and pedestrian injuries fell 44 percent along Washington between Lincoln Place and Dean Street — but the intersection with Atlantic remained a danger zone.

This latest redesign is focused solely on the intersection. The median on the west side of the intersection has been lengthened, reducing potential conflicts between turning drivers and pedestrians while providing a direct crosswalk for people walking between the triangle and the north side of Atlantic. Other sidewalk extensions and crosswalks reduce crossing distances and provide more direct routes for pedestrians.

The only legal way for drivers to access Underhill now is to turn right from eastbound Atlantic, though plenty of drivers were ignoring the new rules this morning. Drivers turning left from Washington onto westbound Atlantic now wait at a red arrow while pedestrians cross, until getting a flashing yellow arrow indicating they can turn with caution. Pedestrians also have eight additional seconds to cross the intersection.

“This left turn arrow is a huge help,” said John Longo, a local restaurant owner who was injured while walking across the intersection by a turning driver in December 2013.

“I think everyone feels scared crossing a major thoroughfare,” said Council Member Laurie Cumbo, who represents the area near Atlantic and Washington. “So anything we can do to make it smaller, to shorten the crossing distances, that’s good.”

But what about the rest of Atlantic Avenue?

Atlantic is one of four dangerous arterial streets that will be redesigned with $250 million in capital funding from the administration’s Vision Zero Great Streets initiative. But DOT’s underwhelming plan in East New York consists mainly of raised medians, with no major changes to the street’s geometry, and the agency has yet to announce other major changes along the corridor.

Asked about improvements to the length of Atlantic, DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo pointed to the 25 mph speed limit and signal timing changes after the street was named an Arterial Slow Zone last year. I asked if DOT was planning to do more along the length of Atlantic, instead of just at this particular intersection.

“I think today we’re talking about what we did here,” Russo said at the press conference.

Advocates pressed for more. “While this is a great first step… it makes it seem as if the DOT is just looking at intersections and doing it in a patchwork way, as opposed to treating a street like Atlantic Avenue as a whole,” said Transportation Alternatives Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro, whose organization has led advocacy for improvements to Atlantic.

“[We’re] looking for DOT to make good on that promise of Vision Zero on Atlantic Avenue,” Samponaro said, “and we’re not going to get there if we look at it one intersection at a time.”