Bay Ridge residents wanted a solution to lawless drivers. They got yellow paint.

October 2, 2019 Meaghan McGoldrick
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“You think a little paint is going to make everyone safer?”

BAY RIDGE — At night, a four-block stretch of 86th Street becomes a track for drag racers and stunt drivers pulling donuts. Locals demanded the Department of Transportation reconfigure the roadway to make that impossible. What they got was yellow paint.

Officials say the project — which includes the installation of painted center medians, speed cushions and a bike lane in each direction from Shore Road to Third Avenue — was first introduced years ago, and was repeatedly sent back to the DOT by the local community board and area reps with suggestions.

As work gets underway, neighbors and elected officials are calling it a non-solution.

“I fell off my seat when I heard that one of the reasons [the DOT is] looking to do this has anything to do with the drag racing,” Matthew Daus, a longtime resident of 86th Street between Colonial Road and Narrows Avenue, told the Eagle. “I’m woken up every other night by drag racing. Putting lines on the street to stop it is the most ludicrous thing I’ve ever heard.”

Councilmember Justin Brannan and State Sen. Andrew Gounardes said the agency needs to do more.

“The residents of 86th Street went to DOT hoping they could help them with a very clear problem: drag racing and cars doing donuts at night. This plan will not solve that problem,” said Brannan.

“Anyone who lives along this corridor knows that some yellow paint in the street is not going to stop reckless driving, drag racing or drivers doing donuts and burning rubber after dark.”

The councilmember, who slammed the city agency on Twitter on Tuesday for similar painted medians near Poly Prep, said he was hoping for a design mirroring Manhattan’s Park Avenue, which features concrete pedestrian islands and plantings.

“DOT says they don’t have the money to talk about concrete pedestrian islands, so we’ll just have to settle for a few cans of paint,” Brannan told the Brooklyn Eagle.

A representative for DOT said the same design, when implemented in other areas throughout the city, has led to reductions in speeding and injuries.

Part of the problem with this solution, according to Brannan, is that one-size-fits-all approach. Putting nighttime stunt driving in the same category as typical speeding prevented them from considering more tailored solutions.

“While I appreciate DOT’s commitment to making our streets safer, to an agency with only a hammer, every problem starts to look like a nail,” Brannan said.

The redesign proposal appeared in its most recent form in front of Community Board 10 in September 2017, according to a DOT spokesperson, at which time the board penned a letter asking the agency to hold off until the agency could provide updated data, address residents’ concerns and provide information on light sequencing.

The agency never fulfilled the board’s requests, CB10 District Manager Josephine Beckmann said on Wednesday. Two years later, without any additional notice, DOT began preparing to lay down paint.

Daus, the 86th Street resident, said the offense of the bad solution is compounded by the lack of notice given to residents.

“The city has no problem letting people know when they owe money, but we don’t even get to know what’s happening on our own street,” he argued. “Frankly, I don’t know what to think of the work, but what I do know is that everyone is out on their stoops wondering what the hell is going on.”

State Sen. Gounardes told the Eagle that he, too, begged the DOT not to rush the plan.

“After three phone calls with DOT in which we pleaded with them to take seriously the concerns of residents and CB10, they have moved forward with their plan that will not sufficiently address the needs of 86th Street,” he said. “Night after night, residents worry about illegal drag racing and speeding cars, which this plan will fail to actually stop. DOT must come back to the table with the community to address long-standing concerns and work with us on a plan that will make our streets safer —not just for show.”

Brian Hedden, co-founder of Bike South Brooklyn, told the Eagle there are two main issues at play.

“One is the overall traffic environment .. and the other would be the drag racing and the donuts,” he said. “I think what the DOT has come up with is an okay plan to address the first issue, and that it’s better than just leaving the streets as is.”

The new bike lanes, Hedden contended, create the “best uphill link” for cyclists coming up from Shore Road. “But, of course, I think anyone who bikes would prefer to have protected lanes that are physically separated from moving traffic,” he said. “And no one should feel like they have to settle for what the DOT is implementing.”

Brannan said he plans on keeping DOT’s feet to the fire.

“DOT has become so used to community opposition that they are now just ignoring local voices altogether — even when they are supportive,” he said. “The residents who live here know what they are talking about, and I’m tired of City Hall ignoring their input. It feels like they don’t see us as a community but rather a box that needs to be checked in their overall mission.”

“Is this plan better than nothing? Sure,” Brannan said. “But why are we being forced to settle for ‘better than nothing?’”

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