As part of Mayor de Blasio’s mission to eliminate traffic deaths in New York City, his administration has committed $250 million toward its “Great Streets” initiative to redesign four of the city’s most dangerous arterial roadways: 4th Avenue in Brooklyn, Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn and Queens, Queens Boulevard, and Grand Concourse in the Bronx.
On 4th Avenue in Brooklyn—which is known as “the canyon of mediocrity” for its lackluster architecture—the Department of Transportation is making permanent a temporary road diet it put in place in recent years. Street adjustments like wider medians and banning left turns at certain intersections have paid huge dividends: On a 15-block stretch of the remade roadway, pedestrian injuries decreased 61 percent. The DOT did not include bike lanes in its road diet, instead opting for 13-foot-wide parking lanes.
Construction has also just begun on the DOT’s “Great Streets” remake of Queens Boulevard, a harrowing roadway dubbed the “Boulevard of Death.” This transformation has been widely lauded in transportation circles for its inclusion of pedestrian pathways and protected bike lanes. But now the DOT has unveiled its $60 million plan to remake two miles of Atlantic Avenue, and like many recent street-calming measures undertaken by the department (Queens Boulevard excluded) it does little—if anything—to protect the city’s cyclists.
On the dangerous section of Atlantic, most of which is in East New York—a neighborhood de Blasio wants to rezone to create affordable housing—the DOT plans to replace existing medians with longer and raised medians that have space for plantings and benches. The design would also implement left turn bays, high-visibility crosswalks, ban left turns at some intersections, and create mid-block crossings. The DOT says these strategies will calm traffic and reduce speeding.
“The design proposed by DOT will make Atlantic look nicer and probably yield a marginal improvement in safety,” wrote StreetsBlog, “but it does not fundamentally alter the geometry of the street.” As part of its Vision Zero rollout, the DOT had previously re-timed traffic lights on Atlantic Avenue, and stepped-up traffic enforcement. It was also one of the first streets to have its speed limit dropped from 30 miles per hour to 25.
The absence of any bike infrastructure in this “Great Streets” project is especially notable given the fatal bicycle crash that recently occurred just off Atlantic Avenue in Downtown Brooklyn. After the cyclist was killed, Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams held a press conference at the intersection calling on the city to fast-track a redesign of the dangerous intersection. Adams also brought reporters on a bike ride along Flatbush Avenue to underscore the harrowing conditions cyclists have to contend with on many city streets.
Last year, pedestrian fatalities in New York City fell to their lowest level in over a century, but cyclists’ deaths rose from 12 in 2013 to 20. The DOT says it will finalize this plan with the Department of Design an Construction by August 2016 and start construction the following spring. It remains to be seen what the department has planned for the Grand Concourse.