Brooklyn Heights

OPINION: Way to Brooklyn Bridge Park shouldn’t necessarily be through ‘Narrow Streets of Cobblestone’

June 25, 2015 By Raanan Geberer Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Brooklyn Bridge Park. Eagle file photo by Lore Croghan
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By all accounts, Brooklyn Bridge Park is a smashing success. With its remarkable waterfront vistas, the park, which stretches from Pier 6 near Atlantic Avenue, to Jay Street in DUMBO, attracts huge numbers of people every year — both New Yorkers and tourists.

Among its features are active recreations, outdoor film showings, the historic Jane’s Carousel, a picnic area, a waterfront area, playgrounds, a walking/biking path, food vendors and more. In its northern end, the park incorporates the former Empire-Fulton Ferry State Park, which was extensively redeveloped after acquisition.

The park has entrances at Atlantic Avenue (Pier 6), Joralemon Street, Squibb Bridge (temporarily closed), Fulton Ferry (Pier 1), and multiple entrances in DUMBO, where the park is closer to local streets and not separated by the BQE, as in its lower portion.

However, as Steve Rothman, a governor of the Brooklyn Heights Association (BHA) and chairman of the Brooklyn Bridge Park Working Group, says, there is much more traffic leading up to the park, both pedestrian and auto, then was originally anticipated.

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“The park’s final EIS [Environmental Impact Statement] was based on a much lesser number of visitors to the park,” he said.  

Prompted by concerns over safety problems and traffic tie-ups, the Department of Transportation (DOT) made several traffic improvements in recent years to the streets leading up to the park. Among them are:

  • Changing Furman Street to a two-way street from Old Fulton Street to Atlantic Avenue in 2011.

  • Implementing several safety enhancements on Atlantic Avenue in 2012 to prevent illegal turns, eliminate red lights and shorten pedestrian crossings.

  • Implementing traffic-calming measures along Hicks Street in 2012 including shortened pedestrian crossings, new signals and stop signs, and easier access to merge into traffic from Atlantic Avenue and Hicks Street.

  • Enhancing pedestrian access to Pier 1 on Old Fulton Street in 2012 by expanding sidewalks, installing new markings and signals, constructing neckdowns (narrowing of streets to slow down traffic) and eliminating U-turns.

Overcrowding has particularly given rise to concern along narrow Joralemon Street, particularly the picturesque, cobblestone stretch between Hicks Street and the park. The city DOT’s website reveals that on an average weekday, the street sees 2,240 pedestrians and 1,310 motorists. On an average weekend day, it sees 2,833 pedestrians and 969 motorists.

One plan that has considerable local support would close the intersection of Joralemon and Furman streets to vehicular traffic, according to Rothman. This would force cars heading west on Joralemon to go south to wider Atlantic Avenue and head to the park from Atlantic instead.

In 2005, the BHA said in a statement, “This fragile, historic, cobblestone street must be protected from excessive vehicular traffic, both during the park’s construction, as well as once the park is open.”

The Willowtown Association, representing the southwest area of the Heights, also believes the current situation isn’t acceptable. Linda De Rosa, president of the association, said at a meeting of Community Board 2: “It’s our suggestion, as well as what we have seen from the DOT, that Joralemon Street should be a placid gateway for park visitors without the dangerous conditions that exists now …We sincerely hope DOT’s decision will be to close the end of the street.”

Indeed, DOT’s website says that the traffic agency is studying “closing Joralemon Street to through traffic” (meaning blocking the intersection at Furman Street). The DOT, however, also wants to open Joralemon Street to through bicycle traffic to the park. The website shows a mock-up of a granite-slab bike lane installed in the middle of the cobblestones.

In general, the wishes of the Willowtown and greater Heights communities are well known, and we hope the DOT will abide by their wishes. As for the bike path down Joralemon Street, it will be interesting to see what kind of response that gets, but it’s sure to get people’s wheels spinning.

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