Unwilling to Wait for DOT, Neighborhood Residents Pitch Design for ‘Apolline’s Garden’

The proposal would bring safety to an area of great carnage. Graphic: Street Plans
The proposal would bring safety to an area of great carnage. Graphic: Street Plans
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Members of the grieving community still mourning the death of a 3-month-old baby girl in a crash caused by a reckless recidivist driver in September have put forward a plan to calm traffic and create a tribute to the killed girl — and the Department of Transportation might just go ahead with it.

The Discovery Pitstop, the child-care center at the Fort Greene corner where Apolline Mong-Guillemin died, worked with the urban planning firm Street Plans to create a car-free plaza at the western terminus of Gates Avenue that would not only prevent drivers from accessing the one-way street, but also serve as “a children’s play space in memory of Apolline.”

“The design provides attractive, budget-friendly street fixtures and curb extensions that both enhance public safety and community enjoyment,” Discovery Pitstop Director Linique McCoy wrote to the DOT’s Brooklyn Commissioner Keith Bray on Tuesday. “The loss of six parking spaces seems well worth the price of creating a safe public amenity for many more residents.”

The design uses the DOT’s existing “toolkit” for a plaza block, which calls for hard barricades, planters, seating and paint treatments to show drivers that this is no longer space for their cars (though there is an opening in so that emergency responders can still access the block, which runs west from Vanderbilt Avenue to Fulton Street, pictured below).

The intersection of Vanderbilt and Gates avenues in Fort Greene. Photo: Google
The intersection of Vanderbilt and Gates avenues in Fort Greene, as it is currently. Photo: Google

As such, the DOT expressed initial support.

“The death of 3-month old Apolline Mong-Guillemin was a horrific tragedy, and I speak for the entire Department when I say we want to honor her memory,” said agency spokesman Seth Stein. “We agree that this street should be closed [to car traffic], and are looking forward to discussing possible options with the community.”

How Streetsblog covered the Baby Apolline story.
How Streetsblog covered the Baby Apolline story.

It’s not clear if the DOT will adopt the proposed design or an in-house version — the agency has created many such plaza blocks, including two in the very same neighborhood — but Commissioner Hank Gutman has reached out positively to the group circulating a petition in support of a car-free street to offer the agency’s support.

The letter to DOT comes a month after neighbors quickly coalesced around the idea of honoring Baby Apolline’s loss in the only logical way: making sure what happened to her — a reckless driver speeding the wrong way on one-way Gates — could never happen to anyone else.

Of course, the Department of Transportation had the opportunity to seal off the squib end of Gates Avenue years ago when it renovated the existing Gateway Triangle a decade ago — but left a one-way street and a handful of parking spaces.

“That small portion of Gates Avenue has [remained] dangerous,” former Democratic District Leader and petition circulator Renee Collymore told Streetsblog last month. “Even after the city made it one-way, people still drive against traffic, just like in the crash that killed Apolline. So by creating Apolline’s Garden, the city would be making a long-overdue investment in safety for our health and kids, plus also creating a beautiful space.”

The design put forward by Street Plans is fairly standard — similar to other pedestrian areas created by the DOT in Fort Greene and neighboring Clinton Hill — though there is some question whether the DOT will go along with narrowing Vanderbilt Avenue to give priority to a bus stop (and thereby reducing southbound car throughput at the congested intersection with Fulton Street).

But Mike Lydon of Street Plans said the plan was a “win” because it stuck mostly to the existing DOT toolkit.

For now, it’s on a glide path with incoming electeds.

“Amazing work laying out the vision on this project,” Hercules Reid, an aide to Brooklyn Borough President (and Mayor-elect) Eric Adams, responded in McCoy’s email chain. “Looking forward to assisting anywhere we can be of further support.”

Incoming Council Member Crystal Hudson also shared her support.

“My team and I are prepared to help move these plans forward,” she wrote to Bray, asking for an “initial conversation” soon.

Until the plan is in place, the corner remains unchanged from Sept. 11, when cops say Tyrik Mott, an unlicensed driver with close to 100 moving violations attached to his Pennsylvania-plated Honda Civic, raced the wrong way up Gates Avenue, struck another car and killed Apolline. He is facing a manslaughter charge.