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NYC wants to hear from you about Brooklyn Heights’ ‘Public Realm’

DOT, BHA, Montague BID and CM Restler working together on project

September 12, 2023 Mary Frost
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BROOKLYN HEIGHTS — Signs have been popping up around Brooklyn Heights asking people to fill out the “Brooklyn Heights Public Realm Community Planning Survey.” 

“NYC Department of Transportation is looking to hear from you!” the sign says. DOT, the Montague Street BID, Councilmember Lincoln Restler and the Brooklyn Heights Association are listed as sponsors. 

So what is the purpose of this survey, and what is the “public realm?” 

It’s a phrase bandied about frequently by community planners, but may not be familiar to the folks who actually use the public realm daily. The term simply means public streets, sidewalks, bike lanes and accessible open spaces like public squares. The public realm belongs to everyone. 

News for those who live, work and play in Brooklyn and beyond

In the survey, DOT says it would like to better understand the level of community interest in adding public realm amenities and traffic calming elements for pedestrians and cyclists in Brooklyn Heights. The survey area encompasses a section of the Heights from Clark Street to State Street, and Furman Street to Court Street. These parameters were partially determined based on where Open Streets and play streets are currently operational — such as the Montague Street Open Streets events — or have been located in the past.

Besides Open Streets, other elements under consideration include seasonal “street seats,” low-speed “shared streets,” pedestrian plazas, safer crossings, bike lanes or bike parking spaces. (A separate merchant survey is also being conducted.)

This dog’s tail was set to wagging at an Open Streets event with amenities for man’s best friend on Montague Street. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Builds on Brooklyn Heights Association’s efforts over the years 

This survey builds on the work the Brooklyn Heights Association has been doing for years to improve the Montague Street experience for pedestrians, bikers, shoppers and shop owners, BHA Executive Director Lara Birnback told the Brooklyn Eagle.

“In early 2021, we released the results of a survey conducted during the pandemic lockdown period asking what kinds of new retail and dining people wanted to see on Montague. It got less attention, but we also asked some public realm questions in the same survey — trying to understand the appetite for reducing cars and implementing more of a shared-streets approach. People were pretty excited about this,” Birnback said. 

BHA and the Montague BID also together worked on a Montague Street traffic survey, and took the results to DOT and Councilmember Lincoln Restler to see if they would support an effort to implement some new ideas for Montague Street, Birnback said. 

Signs have been popping up around Brooklyn Heights asking people to fill out the “Brooklyn Heights Public Realm Community Planning Survey.” Eagle photo by Mary Frost

“They were supportive, and DOT is taking the lead with the community engagement piece. It was DOT’s idea to expand the study area to what it is now,” Birnback said — adding that she supports the idea.

The issue of improving the public realm is so important to BHA that the organization has a committee dedicated to the effort.

“The gravity of the climate crisis coupled with the demonstrated importance of shared public spaces means that we must do everything in our power to clean our air, make our streets safer and more welcoming for all ages and abilities, help our local businesses thrive, and generally promote the best possible quality of life for residents and visitors,” Cindy McLaughlin, chair of BHA’s Public Realm Committee, told the Eagle. 

“As such, the BHA is excited about the opportunity to collaborate with DOT on a planning exercise to rethink how we use our public realm to further these goals,” she said.

Restler said that he was eager “to partner with BHA, the Montague BID, DOT and our neighbors to craft ideas to rethink the design of Montague Street and expand pedestrian space to make it more accessible, dynamic and enjoyable for our community.

“Based on feedback from the survey, we will help organize a more robust community engagement process in the months to come. This is the first step of the process, and we’re appreciative of DOT’s partnership and leadership in moving this forward,” Restler said.

Kids covered the street with colorful chalk artwork at an Open Streets event on Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights. Eagle photo by Mary Frost

Answer how you want!

People should feel free to go beyond the parameters of the Open Streets and bike lane concepts in answering the survey, Birnback said. 

“If people want to suggest more or better lighting, trees, etc., that’s great. In my opinion it’s all connected. And if people want to say they want more cars and parking they are free to do so — I expect as in every neighborhood where these kinds of changes are happening there are supporters and detractors,” she added.

Feedback will be kept confidential and used to inform future project development, DOT said.

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