Officials from the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) received an earful from local Downtown Brooklyn residents this week at a neighborhood transportation forum as part of an ongoing effort to get the public involved in traffic safety and transportation optimization in Brooklyn.
Assemblywoman Jo Anne Simon (D-Downtown Brooklyn, Carroll Gardens, Cobble Hill, Boreum Hill) hosted the forum at the NYU Tandon School of Engineering in Downtown Brooklyn to dispense information about several past, present and future transportation projects around the borough, and discuss aspects of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative.
DOT representatives included Kosciusko Bridge Project Director Robert Adams, Director of Pedestrian Projects Terra Ishee, Director of Construction Bruce Ogurek and Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Keith Bray.
The meeting began with Adams providing a detailed summary of the DOT process in replacing the Kosciusko Bridge, and explaining why the replacement was so imperative. The old Kosciusko Bridge was only built to support 10,000 vehicles each day, but it ended up having to carry much more than that when it joined the Interstate Highway System.
“The bridge opened in 1939,” said Adams. “The BQE didn’t come into existence until the 50’s. So you have a number of geometric deficiencies that an interstate would consider non-standard.”
After Adams finished his overview, Ishee went down a list of the improvements the DOT made to active areas in Brooklyn, such as the intersection between Tillary and Adams Streets. Most of the improvements involved making the areas more accommodating to cyclists and pedestrians: widening bike paths, widening sidewalks, widening medians, etc.
“The main goal of [the Tillary-Adams renovation] was to reduce the ‘highway’ feel of Adams Street… and to create a gateway to Brooklyn, especially from people coming off of the Brooklyn Bridge into Brooklyn,” said Ishee.
But several attendees were quick to point out – even before the scheduled Q&A session – there’s still a lot of work to be done. During the panel, Ishee was interrupted by an indignant audience member who claimed that, “Just walking here, [he] was almost hit by two buses.”
During the Q&A, attendees elaborated on the inconveniences they encounter during their commutes to and from Brooklyn.
“The foot traffic [on the Brooklyn Bridge] has nearly doubled,” said Brooklyn Heights resident Alan Posner. “It’s a disaster waiting to happen.”
This, said Simon, was the primary reason the event was planned in the first place: namely, to encourage public participation in the transportation reform process. It’s of utmost importance to get as many people involved as possible, said Simon.
“We’ve made a big difference, getting [traffic safety] on the public’s radar screen,” said Simon. “A lot of it is common sense, but sometimes we forget ourselves when we’re behind the wheel. Vision Zero involves all of us taking ownership of our streets.”
But as several speakers and attendees at the forum noted, getting “everyone” involved in the process will be much easier said than done. Bill Harris, Boerum Hill resident and husband to Jo Anne Simon, claimed that the population of the borough is growing at an alarming rate.
“We have the evolving traffic scene, which is requiring ever more study and revision,” said Harris. “We’ve got more cars on the road, the population is growing, and the people are acquiring more money.”
Regardless, the DOT officials said they are willing to rise to the challenge. Over the next few months, the department will continue to get as much of the borough involved in their projects as possible.
The DOT’s next outreach will feature an open house with the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway design team. It is slated for between 5:30-7:30 p.m., June 28 at the NYU-Poly-6 MetroTech Center in Downtown Brooklyn.