Portions of this text have been published on Streetsblog in the article: Entitled Drivers Seek to Undermine Bus Lanes, Safety on Church Avenue

On Tuesday evening, July 30th, NYC DOT presented the plan for safety improvements and dedicated bus lanes on Church Avenue to the members of Brooklyn Community Board 14 and the interested public. Church Avenue has been in the news recently due to two deadly crashes, and it’s known to be perpetually blocked due to traffic and double parked cars. The event was hosted at Beth Shalom v’Emeth Reform Temple on Church Avenue, a fact that became a significant factor in the Q&A discussion that ensued following the presentation.

The event was organized by Council Member Mathieu Eugene (District 40). The Church Ave Transit & Traffic Improvements presentation (initially presented to CB14 Transportation Committee on May 30th) was presented by two NYC DOT staffers and Brooklyn Borough Commissioner Keith Bray. Two officers from 70th Precinct were also in attendance. Council Member Eugene explained that he called this meeting because residents had concerns about losing parking if the DOT moves ahead with installing a dedicated bus lane. After his introduction, the DOT staff presented essential information about transportation conditions on Church Avenue and the plan for transit and traffic improvements:

  • The B35 is the 3rd busiest route in Brooklyn, with nearly 30,000 rides per day. 
  • Bus speeds at peak times average only 4.25 mph
  • Bus riders make up 72% of travelers on Church Ave during the AM peak
  • Only 7% of people get to Church Ave using cars
  • 72% of illegally parked cars are personal cars
  • 73% of drivers parking illegally do not attempt to find a legal metered space

DOT’s plan consists of turning curbside parking between Ocean Parkway and 16th Avenue into dedicated bus lanes between 7am – 7pm, Monday through Saturday. The proposal includes additional loading zones and metered parking on side streets. The section between 16th Avenue and Flatbush, referred to by DOT as a “typical commercial core”, would have some metered parking turned into loading zones, while remaining metered parking would change from 1 hour to 30 minutes. The goal of these changes is to allow faster deliveries to businesses and to prevent double parking which is rampant on Church Avenue.

Before the DOT could finish the presentation, a few audience members started loudly complaining and booing at the mention of lost parking. The two DOT staffers handled the hecklers with respect and restraint, moving into the Q&A session moderated by Commissioner Bray, who read the questions submitted by the attendees. The questions were almost exclusively focused on parking, and the few loudest attendees tried to provoke and insult the DOT staff. Particularly unpleasant was a bad faith question about how many people with disabilities were included in DOT’s questionnaire (per DOT personal information was not collected but accessibility organizations were consulted). The attendee would not let the DOT staff answer the question and interrupted them multiple times as they tried to speak. The same attendee later went on a rant about cyclists (the DOT’s proposal doesn’t include bike lanes or any explicit bike safety improvements), complaining that the hardworking men and women of the 70th precinct waste time ticketing double parked cars because cyclists break laws (the logic of the argument was unclear). While the DOT made the best effort to pacify and appease the rowdy audience, the Q&A was getting out of control until Council Member Eugene, who had previously left the event, suddenly showed up. He proceeded to appeal to the audience concerned about parking, and promised to speak to City Council and Commissioner Trotenberg on their behalf. Most of the audience was not convinced.

The second attempt at reading audience questions was derailed after a question regarding parking for the synagogue congregants. Rabbi Heidi Hoover, who hosted the meeting, said that the congregation was not included in the DOT questionnaire that formed the basis of the data included in the presentation. Commissioner Bray answered that the DOT received the congregation’s letter and included their concerns in the proposal. A few members of the audience accused the DOT of discriminating against the congregation. There were calls for religious exemptions for metered parking. The final 15 minutes of the meeting dissolved into a mostly one-sided shouting match accusing the DOT of taking away parking and ignoring the needs of the community. There were a few members of the audience who tried to counter the  accusations aimed at the DOT, repeating that statistically only 7% of people on Church Avenue use cars, but they were mostly drowned out. Eventually, the group concerned about parking started chanting in unison “Is this a done deal?”, to which Commissioner Bray answered “We are implementing this plan”. A loud clap and a few cheers could be heard from parts of the audience. Soon afterwards the meeting ended, and Council Member Eugene grabbed the microphone and tried to speak to the audience about what he is going to do about the parking situation. Almost no-one stayed to listen.

Despite the almost absolute dominance of loud and aggressive calls to scrap the plan and keep the status quo, the unequivocal commitment by the DOT to move ahead with the plan suggests that Church Avenue will be getting the much needed transit and safety improvements. Hopefully the other dangerous thoroughfares in the neighborhood like Coney Island Avenue will be getting some attention from the DOT soon.