Much of the congestion that has caused problems for residents living near or commuting along Meeker Avenue, Metropolitan Avenue, and Grand Street in Williamsburg is a result of shipping trucks moving in and out of the waste transfer station located on or near Vandervoort and Metropolitan avenues.
Residents of the surrounding areas have long complained of loud, noisy trucks that pollute not only through engine exhaust, but from loosely held waste material that often falls out of shipping containers. They also describe the streets as particularly dangerous for pedestrians, especially during the morning commute hours.
At a special joint meeting between Community Board 1’s Environmental Protection and Solid Waste Management and Transportation committees, DSNY representatives put forward their Routing Alternatives Study, which seeks to relieve Metropolitan Avenue and Grand Street of some of the heavy truck traffic through a variety of methods, including rerouting trucks, alternative modes of transportation, and stricter enforcement of existing road laws and truck routes.
DSNY representatives acknowledged that Williamsburg has one of the largest concentrations of waste transfer stations in the city, but as part of a 20-year reform program, many in the area have already been shut down for failing to comply with regulations, and a cap has been placed on the North Brooklyn area, preventing any future waste transfer stations from opening in the neighborhood.
Another part of DSNY’s long-term goals is the use of alternatives to truck traffic. By taking advantage of New York City’s water and railways, they were hopeful that traffic could be reduced throughout the city. The recently approved Gansevoort Marine Waste Transfer station in Manhattan will allow waste to be moved by boat, clearing up congested truck routes in Williamsburg and across New York City.
To address the congestion problem in the short term, DSNY is currently installing smog traps in waste transfer trucks that will greatly reduce emissions. Many trucks currently have these traps, and every truck in the DSNY fleet will have them by 2012.
But the most controversial plan proposed by DSNY was a change in the truck route. Though DSNY has little say over the routes used by incoming trucks, they can regulate the routes of traffic leaving waste management stations. Currently, outgoing trucks use Metropolitan Avenue as the route to get to the Williamsburg Bridge or to enter the Brooklyn Queens Expressway.
At the meeting, DSNY proposed changing the outgoing truck route to Meeker Avenue, which they said is closer to the BQE, wider, and less of a residential neighborhood. The department studied the three critical turns that would be required for trucks exiting the BQE and turning onto Vandervoort Avenue, and found that, with a few improvements to the transportation infrastructure, including lengthening street lights and lowering sidewalks, a truck route on Meeker Avenue would have far less impact on congestion than it would on Metropolitan Avenue.
DSNY would also urge waste management stations to post maps outlining the Meeker Avenue route and urge drivers to use it, although they cannot force incoming trucks to travel in a particular direction.
The proposed route change was met at the meeting with a fair share of criticism, with many residents alleging that even without the truck route, Meeker Avenue is already congested.
“Meeker Avenue has too much traffic already,” shouted one woman, who identified herself as a parishioner of St. Cecilia’s Church. Other residents of the neighborhood surrounding Meeker Avenue described trucks unable to make existing turns on the street and using the sidewalk as a third lane.
A representative of DSNY admitted that there was no perfect solution that would make everybody happy, but that with the road changes and proper enforcement, Meeker Avenue was the most viable alternative to Metropolitan Avenue.
“There are fewer residences along the route, and it is the greatest use for the greatest good,” the representative stated.
Despite assurances that traffic along the new route could be properly enforced, CB1 Environmental Protection and Solid Waste Management Committee Chair Evan Thies remained unconvinced that the new route would be successful.
“We don’t have enough traffic enforcement agents enforcing these roads as it is,” Thies said.
Thies suggested that Flushing Avenue would make a better truck route than Meeker Avenue, a suggestion that DSNY representatives did not rule out.
“We came to this meeting to hear community feedback,” said one rep.