Not so fast, says committee of 86th Street traffic-calming plan

March 20, 2012 Heather Chin
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Anticipated changes to the 86th Street traffic corridor between Fourth Avenue and Shore Road hit a roadblock, as members of Community Board 10 voted to postpone a decision on the controversial proposal for no more than two months.

The 22 to 13 vote came after numerous area residents asked the board to salute the plan, created by the city Department of Transportation (DOT). It had previously been turned down by CB 10’s Traffic and Transportation Committee, which, in a vote of seven to four, recommended that the plan be rejected in its current form and then revised, taking into consideration a list of alternative traffic-calming measures that it drew up.

Among those who pleaded with the board to approve the plan was Stefania Vasquenz, a public member of the board’s Select Pedestrian Safety Committee, and the mother of two children attending P.S. 185, at 86th Street and Ridge Boulevard.

“We recognize the community board has to strike a balance, that you must keep drivers and pedestrians happy,” she told board members. “However, the reckless drivers are winning. We continued to be yelled at, struck by cars, have our children exposed to uncivil behavior, and harassed by drivers.”

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Nonetheless, noted Brian Kieran, the committee chair, the majority of calls received by the board office prior to the public hearing opposed the plan, and disagreement among board members as to whether the plan should be adopted in full or in part led members to agree to hold off a decision to allow time for additional debate.

The DOT plan had triggered mixed reactions amongst residents at a public hearing at Fort Hamilton High School on Wednesday, March 14. While the idea of adding a designated 86th Street parking lane and a painted center median with left turn bays appealed to some people’s desire for a less congested thoroughfare at Fourth Avenue, it also set off concerns about whether the changes would make the area less safe for pedestrians and drivers overall.

Board member Jean Ryan told DOT Project Manager Megan Quirk that she “won’t feel safe with a painted median [as opposed to a concrete median].” Quirk responded that the painted version has worked elsewhere in the city and provides enough room for pedestrians to stop in case they get stuck between lanes.

Urania Kypriotis was also concerned that such attempts to calm traffic would have the opposite effect, increasing congestion and decreasing public safety. “Traffic will be backed up [and it will be] dangerous for children,” said Kypriotis, a parent at P.S. 185, which sees a daily influx of double-parked cars on Ridge Boulevard.

However, fellow P.S. 185 parent Ian Richards said he felt the changes would actually make children safer. “I hear these dire predictions, but there will be changes in behavior, too,” he said. “Once you change lines, we will have different drivers making decisions that will breed better behavior.”

Still, Kypriotis and PTA President Tressa Kabbez maintained that a better idea to curb speeding would be to focus on traffic lights and stop signs. “Stagger the traffic lights so that drivers can’t [pass more than two at a time],” said Kabbez, who took the opportunity to note that parents have been pushing for a stop sign on Ridge Boulevard at 87th Street for six years to no avail.

“I understand [big changes at] Fourth Avenue, but it is extreme bringing it down to Ridge Boulevard,” where there are so many schools like Adelphi Academy and Stepping Stones Nursery School, she said.

The DOT proposal includes the removal of one travel lane on 86th Street in each direction from Shore Road to Fourth Avenue, in order to create room for designated parking lanes, wider lane lines and the wide painted median.

In response to audience doubts, Quirk and fellow DOT representative Ann Marie Doherty noted that DOT analysis shows that a single right turn lane from Fourth Avenue onto 86th Street is enough, that bringing lanes together does slow traffic, and that if you get stuck behind a garbage truck, the painted center median should be enough to get around it.

Ultimately, the committee members were skeptical, rejecting the overall plan while supporting the ban on left turns from Fourth Avenue to 86th Street and supporting the idea of timing lights, adding a stop sign on 87th Street, and considering the idea of a bus terminal on the avenue.

Additional reporting contributed by Helen Klein.

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