Safety is ignored by design
by Emily Gallagher
Apr 10, 2019 | 2295 views | 0 0 comments | 142 142 recommendations | email to a friend | print
Last week, Community Board 1 requested that both the city and state Departments of Transportation (DOT) come to our Transportation Committee meeting to give a presentation on the pedestrian and bicycle lane that is being added to the new Kosciuszko Bridge.

Shockingly (I say that a bit sarcastically, because it is not a shock at all), the state did not send a representative, although the meeting had been planned for months. We were told he had a family emergency, but there seemed to have been no effort to send a replacement or even communicate that there had been a problem.

Regardless, the room was full of interested parties, and representatives from the city DOT showed up, so the meeting went on as planned. Because the state was not represented, the meeting focused on where the lane for the bikes and pedestrians would connect to streets in Greenpoint.

To give you a full picture, please remember that the Kosciuszko bridge is an interstate connection to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (I-278). One of the bridge overhaul's lauded results will be to diminish traffic clogs so people can drive at the speed they are accustomed to on the highway.

The bridge will have off ramps that will connect (as they always have) to our neighborhood in a residential and industrial zone. At the bottom of the ramp there will be a stop sign.

The pedestrian and bicycle ramp will curve away from the driving ramp, but will also end at a stop sign next to what's called a "slip road," which is for folks who want to turn directly onto one of the streets in the neighborhood instead of driving straaight on Meeker.

Everyone in the audience had roughly the same concern. How will these drivers, traveling at interstate speeds, enter the neighborhood at a reduced speed? How do you encourage a transition between 75 miles per hour and 25 miles per hour on a short roadway?

How will the bike lane be highlighted and lit so that drivers on the slip road do not hit pedestrians, parents with strollers going to the new park under the bridge, or the cyclists coming on either the neighborhood street or pathway?

There is no strong Meeker Avenue bike or pedestrian pathway, yet. To all of us, this was looking like a potential death chute.

When we questioned the city about how engineers intend to motivate drivers to slow down, there were no meaningful responses. City representatives said that what occurs on the bridge was the State's area of concern, and the state wasn't concerned enough to attend the meeting.

When we have planning presentations at the community board, there is one common theme: each of these presentations seems to be in a vacuum where common human behavior does not apply.

One has to suspect it is willful ignorance. Rather than plan to slow down cars, have lots of lighting, good warning signage, and create a culture of safety, we will instead wait for a few people to die at the entrance to the bridge and then determine if it is the pedestrian or cyclist's fault or the driver’s fault.

Not to spoil this mystery for you, but I guarantee that regardless of who is "at fault" the driver will not be held accountable.

I would like to suggest that we have a rare opportunity with the Kosciuszko Bridge: when someone is killed or injured at this entrance, we can in good faith hold the designers accountable. This is a well-known problem, and we need to start designing for it

Is this really what the planning process should look like? Wouldn't it be nice if there was collaboration between the city and state that seemed enthusiastic and proactive instead of hesitant and vaguely litigious?

Shouldn't advocates be welcomed into the room from the beginning, with examples of other bridges that work and don't work, so that we can make thoughtful plans that value human life over convenience and flash?

The planning process for this bridge has been going on for over a decade. A bike and pedestrian connection should have been as important as the planning for cars. It also should be focused on safety, comfort, ease and well-being.

I know it's easier to be critical than to be correct, and I was not inside the decision-making spaces for this project, but I cannot help being frustrated at the lackadaisical response when it comes to safe streets.

This is should be a common-sense battle, but for some reason it remains fraught.

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