OPINION: I wouldn’t bike on Atlantic Avenue, but you should be able to do so safely
When a Chicago-based personal injury and workers’ compensation law firm, Rubens Kress & Mullohand, recently rated Atlantic Avenue between Flatbush and Pennsylvania avenues as the most dangerous stretch in New York City for cyclists, most Brooklynites were certainly not surprised
Transportation Alternatives, the well-known NYC organization that seeks to encourage bicycling, walking and public transportation, has warned Brooklyn cyclists about Atlantic Avenue for years.
The intersection with Flatbush Avenue, seen as a boundary by both TransAlt and Rubens Kress, is particularly problematic — not only do three major avenues intersect here (Flatbush, Atlantic and Fourth), but Barclays Center is on the south, the Atlantic Center and Atlantic Terminal malls are on the north.
This is a recipe for disaster, and has already resulted in a crash involving three vehicles that killed a cyclist and injured six others in 2015, the Brooklyn Eagle’s Mary Frost reported at the time According to reports at the time, the driver who was responsible may have suffered a seizure after he took his medication. Although this isn’t a normal state of affairs by any means, fewer people would have been impacted at a less busy intersection.
When you go east on Atlantic, the picture doesn’t get much better. According to Transportation Alternatives, on the stretch of Atlantic Avenue that goes through Clinton Hill and Fort Greene within the 88th Precinct, “There were 23 bike accidents between Jan. 1, 2015 and Dec. 31, 2017, data shows.” And east of Bedford Avenue the Long Island Railroad becomes elevated, with its pillars adding to the general traffic problems on the street.
Another reason Atlantic Avenue has been so unsafe for cyclists and pedestrians alike is that it has been designated by the city as a “through truck route,” meaning that large trucks on long-distance rides often zoom through it. By contrast, most of the big streets that intersect it, such as Nostrand Avenue, Utica Avenue and Empire Boulevard, are “local truck routes,” designed for trucks making local deliveries only.
Truck drivers, Brooklyn neighbors often say, sometimes illegally “cut corners” on narrow streets and often exceed the speed limit. Huge trucks that are heavier than normally allowed wreak havoc on city streets, creating potholes. NYPD does have a Truck Enforcement Unit, but, as the Eagle reported some years ago, “what many people don’t understand is that the city has 500,000 trucks and only 40 agents assigned to truck enforcement.”
All in all, according to Transportation Alternatives, “The problem [on Atlantic Avenue] is particularly acute for non-motorists, who are forced to contend with Atlantic’s immense width, high speeds and heavy car traffic, in otherwise residential areas. This congestion makes Atlantic Avenue a dividing line, separating and marginalizing otherwise thriving communities.”
Trying to alleviate the situation, the city has included Atlantic Avenue as part of its “Great Streets” program. Ground was broken in May for a $37 million revamp of one of the avenue’s the most dangerous segments, a 1.2-mile stretch between Logan Street and Georgia Avenue where more than 1,180 injuries and three deaths were recorded from 2010 to 2014.
The renovation will expand roadway medians and extend curbs at several intersections to shorten the distance for pedestrians to cross the street, install new left-turn bays to help drivers make left turns while decreasing the risk of lane-change crashes, and modify traffic signals to help limit speeding. In addition, new sidewalks and high-visibility crosswalks will be added, as well as new traffic markings to eliminate several dangerous left turns.
However, cycling and walking advocates feel the plan doesn’t do enough to help them. “Many of these interventions are designed to protect pedestrians from dangerous drivers, instead of implementing changes that would fundamentally after dangerous driving behavior, such as protected bike lanes, widened sidewalks and medians, decreased traffic lane width and other complete street innovations,” said Transportation Alternatives on its website.
It so happens that raised median bike lanes and a green center island are being included in Phase II of the Atlantic Avenue renovation project, which is slated to break ground next year. Such a design is already in place on Allen Street in Manhattan. Atlantic Avenue’s Phase II, rather than going further west in central Brooklyn where it’s equally needed, proceeds east over the Queens border, covering the stretch between Logan Street and Rockaway Boulevard in Queens.
According to Streetsblog, Councilman Rafael Espinal (D-Brownsville-East New York) supports the plan, although some board members at a Queens community board meeting felt that a bike lane on Atlantic Avenue would be too dangerous.
If I were an everyday cyclist, I would avoid Atlantic Avenue. The three east-west streets south of Atlantic, Pacific, Dean and Bergen streets, have bike lanes for long stretches of their routes. If you’re merely a recreational biker, Eastern Parkway to the north has a built-in bike path that is separate from traffic except at intersections.
However, I know that Brooklyn has many diehard bikers who insist on pedaling everywhere they go. And even those who don’t want to bike ON Atlantic Avenue may have to deal with it at intersections.
For all these reasons, a bike path on Atlantic Avenue may be a good idea.
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