Primeggia: One-way or the highway
(photo by Jonathan Barkey)
Say what you will about the Bloomberg administration’s sweeping development plans, they’re done wonders for civic involvement. Last night, more than 400 Park Slope residents turned out for a meeting of Brooklyn Community Board 6’s transportation committee to discuss the thrill-a-minute topic of one-way streets—specifically, a proposal by Bloomberg’s Department of Transportation to change 6th Avenue and 7th Avenue, the neighborhood’s central thoroughfares, from two-way to one-way.
The DoT plan, as presented by deputy commissioner Michael Primeggia, would include a whole host of changes, including narrowing 4th Avenue from six lanes of traffic to two to allow for more functional left-turn lanes, and installing one-per-block Muni-Meters along commercial 7th Avenue to allow for more efficient use of curb space. It was the proposed switch to one-way streets, though, that brought the standing-room-only crowd to the Methodist Hospital auditorium. (About 150 people squeezed inside, with the rest listening via loudspeaker in an adjacent waiting room, or even standing outside in the rain hoping to catch word of what was transpiring within.) Primeggia insisted that one-way streets are safer than two-way, primarily because fewer pedestrians need to watch for turning cars (or, in DoT-speak, “half of all pedestrian crossings become conflict-free”); opponents countered that one-way streets see 30 percent more cars, which in turn
drive faster without the “friction” caused by an opposing traffic flow, creating more noise and more pollution—and further charged that the real motivation for the DoT’s plan was to make it easier for out-of-towners to speed through the Slope en route to Bruce Ratner’s new Nets arena.
And on this night, it was all opponents—and that means all. Councilmembers David Yassky and Bill de Blasio, state senator Eric Owens, assemblymember Jim Brennan, and even the community relations director of Methodist Hospital itself all spoke vehemently against the plan, arguing that it would disrupt bus routes and lead to more vehicles circling the block on residential streets to get where they needed to go. “Let me state the obvious,” began de Blasio, a South Slope resident, “a lot of us are profoundly uncomfortable with this proposal”—only to be interrupted by a tremendous cheer filtering in from the overflow crowd next door.
“This community has come together over this in a way that is truly astounding,” said Lydia Denworth, president of the Park Slope Civic Council. Her organization, she said, had received more calls, with more unanimity, on this issue than any other in its history, including Ratner’s Atlantic Yards project itself. Denworth further noted that the most frequent traffic complaint she heard was about cars speeding down the neighborhood’s two existing one-way arteries, 8th Avenue and Prospect Park West, suggesting that perhaps they should be changed to two-way—prompting another roar from the peanut gallery.
What looked like it would turn into a long evening—doubly so for Primeggia—was cut short when the CB’s transportation committee passed a pair of motions urging DoT to withdraw its plans until they could be revised to accommodate community concerns. (The only dissenting board member quickly clarified that she was holding out for an even stronger rejection of the plan.) While community board votes are only advisory, a DoT spokesperson had previously declared that “if the community doesn’t support these proposed changes, we will not move forward with them.” Would that make this the death knell for the plan, Nets fans and inexperienced street-crossers be damned?
It was a question that Primeggia clearly wanted to duck as the meeting dispersed into the night. After looking baffled by a question about the noise impacts of the proposed changes (“I don’t study noise”), he parried questions about the plan’s future with the declaration that “our commissioner said she will be guided by the community board’s letter.” If he was trying to be reassuring, he probably picked the wrong verb.