PSCC Requests Meeting with DOT to Discuss Traffic Congestion

One of the most common problems the Civic Council gets complaints about is traffic. Construction, water main projects, increased car ownership, and more delivery trucks have caused an exponential increase in congestion in and around Park Slope. Several months ago PSCC began talks with the Department of Transportation regarding traffic safety issues at Grand Army Plaza. Building on that relationship, the Council recently wrote a letter to DOT Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Keith Bray requesting a meeting to discuss traffic congestion and offering possible solutions to what has become a serious issue.

Below is the full text of the letter.

December 16, 2021

Mr. Keith Bray
Brooklyn Borough Commissioner
New York City Department of Transportation
16 Court St., Suite 1620
Brooklyn, NY  11241

Dear Commissioner Bray:

We write to request a meeting with you and others at DOT to discuss the extreme traffic congestion we are currently experiencing in Park Slope, particularly on 5th, 7th and 8th Avenues, and what actions can perhaps be taken to mitigate what we consider to be a serious problem.

The most obvious and immediate negative impact of traffic congestion is on drivers and bus riders.  But the entire Park Slope neighborhood and many individual constituencies are negatively impacted by this problem in a variety of ways.

  • Pedestrian and cyclist safety is compromised by extreme traffic congestion as impatient drivers cut off pedestrians in crosswalks, speed up to make a light, seek dangerous shortcuts, swing into the wrong lane for a left turn, cross an intersection after the light is red, block intersections, or slide through a stop sign.  The recent incident we discussed with you previously in which a Civic Council Trustee and her baby in a stroller were struck by a car (narrowly avoiding serious injury) is an example of exactly this safety concern.
  • Fire trucks and ambulances responding to 911 calls find our avenues and streets so crowded that drivers cannot readily get out of their way despite their sirens, and response times for fires and sick or injured individuals are compromised as a result. 
  • Bus schedules are thrown into havoc, and commuters using mass transit (who aren’t driving and contributing to the congestion) risk arriving late for work as buses must wait for two or three traffic-signal cycles to cross an intersection. 
  • Our small businesses lose customers who live in other neighborhoods who would previously drive to Park Slope and park at a meter to shop at our excellent local stores.  Congestion and lack of parking send these customers elsewhere.
  • Plumbers, electricians, contractors and other tradespeople, for whom time is quite literally money, lose income because of time wasted due to congestion.
  • Delivery vehicles bringing product to our local stores similarly waste tremendous amounts of time due to congestion.  This is bound to lead to price increases for our storeowners that they will have to pass on to consumers.  
  • Services for home-bound elderly and disabled individuals such as Meals-on-Wheels, Visiting Nurse Service and Access-a-Ride must factor in time wasted due to traffic, reducing their capacity to provide their needed services.

Aside from these specific impacts, congestion degrades the quality of life for everyone in the community due to excessive vehicle exhaust, as well as sirens, honking horns, occasional shouting and other confrontations, more frequent fender-bender collisions, and so forth.

As we will detail below, there are many contributing factors to the current congestion crisis, but we believe the most significant is the City’s BED798 Water Main Project, which has led to the long-term closing of 6th Avenue (at Union St.) to northbound (actually northeasterly bound) traffic and the sporadic closing of 8th Avenue at various intersections.  These closures have forced two lanes of northbound traffic on 8th Ave to use the already very busy single northbound lane on 7th and have forced the northbound lane on 6th to merge into single lanes on either 7th or 5th

Although the BED798 Project is a multi-year effort, it will not last forever.  We wonder whether there may be interim steps DOT could take to mitigate the congestion impact during this temporary period.  We are not traffic experts and do not pretend to have the knowledge and experience in traffic management that are possessed by DOT.  But it occurs to us to ask whether any of the following ideas might be realistic:

  • Restoring northbound lanes on 8th and 6th as quickly as possible.  We wonder whether it is absolutely necessary for all three northbound lanes on 6th and 8th to be closed at the same time, and whether, for example, the 6th Avenue one-way closure may extend over a greater number of blocks and for a longer period of time than absolutely necessary.  Perhaps the Department of Environmental Protection might be able to sequence closings in a way that would permit freer flow of traffic.  We are copying this letter to DEP Commissioner Sapienza and intend to communicate with him further on this topic. 
  • Assigning Traffic Enforcement Agents or possibly auxiliary police officers to control key intersections.  We would be happy to consult with you on the priority intersections for locating these agents.
  • Lengthening the green-light period at signal-controlled intersections on the avenues and/or rebalancing the signal timing between the avenues and the side streets.  It appears to us that traffic is not as often backed up on the side streets as on the avenues, unless a vehicle on the avenue blocks the intersection.
  • Sequencing the timing of signals along the avenues with the signals at Flatbush.  Perhaps it would be possible to synchronize these signals in such a way as to facilitate the maximum possible traffic flow on the avenues.
  • Finally, because three northbound lanes are often eliminated and none in the opposite direction, creating an unusually severe problem on 7th Avenue, is there a possibility of temporarily turning around a southbound lane.  Would it perhaps make sense to temporarily make 7th Avenue one-way northbound from Union to Flatbush, at least during the hours of peak northbound traffic?  This would require careful consideration of temporary, removable signage and the assignment of traffic agents to enforce unfamiliar traffic patterns, but it might make a significant difference. 

In addition to asking whether immediate steps can be taken to alleviate the situation, we are also curious about whether the likely impact on congestion is a factor when various City and State agencies make decisions that have traffic impacts.  The current congestion crisis has many contributing causes, but some of them are due to the decisions and actions of governmental agencies.  These include lane restrictions on the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, the aforementioned BED798 Project, the Open Streets Program, occasional street resurfacing, and scheduled subsurface infrastructure maintenance, among others.  Moreover, the realignment of on-street parking spaces for multiple other purposes in recent years has caused Park Slope residents to cruise the neighborhood looking for legal parking spaces much more than previously, which also contributes to congestion.

All of the above-listed actions and programs were and are implemented for good reasons, and the Civic Council has not opposed any of them.  However, we do wonder whether the agencies making these decisions are considering the impacts on congestion and whether there is any attempt to consider the cumulative impacts of multiple agencies’ decisions.  Such consideration might lead to advance planning and early adoption of mitigation strategies, and it might lead to different decisions around when projects should start and during what hours they should be implemented. 

In just one small example, the recent resurfacing of Garfield Place between Polhemus Place and 7th Avenue and between 7th Avenue and 6th required the complete removal of all parked cars on two days—both weekdays—initially for the removal of the existing surface and again two weeks later for the resurfacing itself.  In both cases, notice of the block closure was posted only one day earlier, and the tow trucks and loud announcements began at 7:15 or so on the day of the work.  This meant that as many as 94 cars had to move off Garfield to look for scarce parking on nearby streets, right at the height of morning rush hour. 

We do find the current congestion alarming and hope that DOT will take this inquiry seriously.  We look forward to the opportunity to meet with you on this matter and stand ready to be of assistance in any way we can. 

Very truly yours,

Timothy Gilles

Kenneth Stevens, Chair
Livable Streets Committee     

John Ciferni, Chair
Small Business Committee

cc: Borough President Eric Adams
Borough President-elect Antonio Reynoso
Council Member Brad Lander
Council Member-elect Shahana Hanif
Vincent Sapienza, Commissioner, NYC Department of Environmental Protection
Capt. Frantz Souffrant, Commanding Officer, 78th Precinct, NYC Police Department
Michael Racioppo, District Manager, Brooklyn Community Board