Locals Ambushed and Angered by DOT Plan for ‘South Street Greenway’

Posted on: April 23rd, 2015 at 5:00 am by
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Call it an ambush of sorts.

When the Transportation subcommittee of Community Board 3 met last night, one of the agenda items referred to the “South Street Greenway” and status of signal improvements at nearby intersections. But this was a proverbial Trojan Horse laden with other project updates not properly relayed to the community.

Indeed, what was billed as a plan to address safety concerns along South Street between Rutgers and Montgomery was really a three-pronged effort to “normalize” the street geometry. Meaning, a change to the whole traffic dynamic in the area.

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South St. changes

South Street

This was the marquee component of the plan – improving the overall South Street Greenway by tending to this “substandard” link. The DOT considers these few blocks to be aesthetically inferior compared to other sections along the thoroughfare. And, frankly, unsafe, considering there is no physical separation between pedestrians, bikers, and motorists. Plans call for a six-inch concrete median to protect bikers, a narrowed travel lane for motorists, and dedicated parking lane to collectively calm traffic.

The new median would also serve as a canvas of sorts for some future art installation, similar to what went down on the Bowery last summer.

Rutgers Street

Heavy foot population, wide roadways, and irregular alignment at Cherry Street create a potent mix for danger. Not to mention, Rutgers Street is deemed by some as a northerly shortcut to the Williamsburg Bridge from South Street. Proposed solution is to flip the traffic pattern from one-way northbound to one-way southbound. Doing so would eliminate cut-through traffic and allow for a possible plaza space near Straus Square, according to the presentation. Opponents noted that it would just displace the cars to Pike and cause further congestion.

This part of the plan is what most angered the public. Several resident associations from the housing complexes in the area voiced frustration about being left out of the loop. The DOT did not conduct the necessary outreach – not even to CB3 – and so most in attendance had zero time to prepare.

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Clinton St. changes

Clinton Street

The southernmost leg of Clinton Street also acts as an offramp from the FDR. Moreover, its wide berth (50 feet across) encourages speeding. DOT calls for changes that include a two-way bike line on the west side of the pavement and the conversion of parking from parallel to angled. Collectively, these measures would effectively reduce the width, and therefore act as traffic-calming measures.

The conversation, however, repeatedly returned to the issue of a mid-block crossing between East Broadway and Grand. With Fine Fare and Seward Park Co-op on either side of the street, the wide stretch of pavement sees plenty of jaywalking. Seriously, who’s gonna walk to either corner only to walk back? The community – led in part by disgraced Assembly Speaker Silver’s office – has been trying to install a signal and crosswalk for years. CB3 even requested as much in a resolution from January 2015.

The DOT, however, all but shut the door on the mid-block signal. Based on current guidelines, the patterns here didn’t warrant such action (i.e. not enough cars and pedestrian flow). Of course, this finding touched off a nerve and responses of “how many people have to die” for safety to be implemented.

The CB3 subcommittee ultimately voted in favor of the plan, but with some important caveats. Their resolution supports both the South Street and Clinton Street components; the latter was approved with the stipulation that DOT include the mid-block crossing in the overall plan and return with future updates. Rutgers is a major change, and since few in the community were previously informed, the panel recommended that DOT conduct further outreach and return at a later date to discuss (they were amenable to separating as a separate project).

The DOT, for its part, is planning to begin the rollout later this summer.

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