Changes Coming to Deadly Church Ave. In Hopes of Increasing Bus Speeds

Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says she'll help make buses run faster. Photo: MTA/Flickr
Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg says she'll help make buses run faster. Photo: MTA/Flickr

One of the most deadly streets in Brooklyn is slated for upgrades this summer as part of the city’s campaign for safer streets and faster bus service, transportation officials announced on Monday.

The Department of Transportation will redesign a stretch of Church Avenue — including the notoriously high-crash intersection with Ocean Parkway — as part of its so-called Better Buses Action Plan, a multi-route scheme to reduce crashes and increase the our current slowest-in-the-nation bus speeds by 25 percent by next year.

Currently, drivers block bus lanes and double-park with near impunity because of poor road design and limited enforcement. Illegal livery drivers and trucks making legal deliveries to the commercial strip also clog the streets, causing so much congestion that buses cannot go any faster. Action by the DOT and NYPD — in the form of creating more loading zones, raising parking rates to create more turnover, writing more tickets, etc. — is long overdue, though not simple, said DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg. 

The city plans to make changes to the dangerous intersection of Church Avenue and Ocean Parkway as part of a citywide plan speed up bus service.
The city plans to make changes to the dangerous intersection of Church Avenue and Ocean Parkway as part of a citywide plan speed up bus service.

“Church Avenue is a bustling corridor, where keeping buses moving is a persistent challenge — as we try to strike a balance among the needs of commuters, shoppers,  merchants and delivery trucks in one of Brooklyn’s densest neighborhoods,” she said.

Now DOT plans to change that. Officials from the agency, plus its MTA partners, stood at the corner of Ocean Parkway and Church Avenue — where 102 people have been seriously injured and one person has been killed since 2014 — to announce the upgrades coming to the street and intersection, as well as the formation of a new advisory group to help improve service along other critical corridors throughout the city.

At Church Avenue and Ocean Parkway, DOT will install curb extensions, widen the concrete medians to expand pedestrian islands, install new turn restrictions, and extend the amount of time pedestrians have to the cross Church.

Four buses with a daily ridership of 45,000 passengers traverse the roughly one-mile stretch of Church Avenue between Flatbush Avenue and Ocean Parkway. The buses, including the B35, B103, BM3, and BM4, are some of the slowest in the city and often travel the stretch at average speeds of four miles per hour during the evening rush hour, and less than five MPH during the morning commute.

The improvements will not only improve bus speeds but will also calm traffic and get people out of their cars to hopefully reduce the number of crashes on the thoroughfare — 481 people have been seriously injured and two people have been killed along that stretch of Church Avenue over the last five years, according to DOT.

The city is also considering other improvements to the high-crash corridor, including a dedicated — and red! — curbside lanes for buses, and implementing new curb regulations along Church Avenue and side streets to better accommodate deliveries and businesses.

The new 15-person and 13-organization committee doesn’t go so far as to let DOT bypass the often-controversial and argument-prone step of seeking approval from community boards, which have regularly gotten in the way of the city’s swift ability to implement life-saving street redesigns and has previously deprived another Brooklyn route, the B82, of more dedicated bus lanes.

But Jaqi Cohen of the NYPIRG Straphangers Campaign and one of the members of the advisory group, said the committee is a step in the right direction for trying to muster up needed support from those in the community.

“I don’t know that one group solves all potential issues we might come up against. Winning better bus service is hard. I think it needs broader buy-in when we talk about improving bus service — it’s not just a transit issue, it’s an equity issue,” said Cohen. “It’s helpful to have people who aren’t simply policy and transit wonks in the room and getting their support.”

Who else is on Mayor de Blasio’s “Better Buses Advisory Group”?:

  • Public Advocate Jumaane Williams
  • Senator Alessandra Biaggi
  • State Senator Leroy Comrie
  • State Senator Andrew Gounardes
  • State Senator Brad Hoylman
  • State Senator James Sanders Jr.
  • Assembly Member Walter Mosley
  • Assembly Member Nily Rozic
  • Council Member Diana Ayala
  • Council Member Joseph Borelli
  • Council Member Fernando Cabrera
  • Council Member Laurie Cumbo
  • Council Member Daneek Miller
  • Council Member Donovan Richards
  • Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez
  • NYC BID Association
  • Association for a Better New York
  • 1199 SEIU
  • Transport Workers Union
  • Amalgamated Transit Union
  • Rudin Center
  • Center for an Urban Future
  • Riders Alliance
  • Transit Center
  • Straphangers Campaign
  • New York League of Conservation Voters
  • Community Service Society of New York
  • AARP