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Welcome to Brooklyn: Increased Traffic, Longer Commutes

In Brooklyn native Woody Allen’s most revered film, “Annie Hall,” there appears a scene relevant to the state of Brooklyn today. The popular scene shows a depressed young boy and his mother at a doctor’s office in Brooklyn. The neurotic boy tells the doctor he is afraid of the world ending because “the universe is expanding.” His mother responds: “What has the universe got to do with it? You’re here in Brooklyn. Brooklyn is not expanding.” However Brooklyn, in some ways, is expanding, according to the Southern Brooklyn Transportation Investment Study (TIS), which predicts significant increases in traffic and congestion by the year 2025. The study is an effort to assess both the current and future travel conditions in Southern Brooklyn and is being conducted by the New York Metropolitan Transportation Council (NYMTC)—a not-for-profit organization. Another goal of TIS is to develop solutions to improve transportation in this area. Under review are the areas of Southern Brooklyn as far south as Coney Island; as far west as Shore Parkway; as far north as Linden Boulevard, Caton Avenue, Fort Hamilton Parkway and 66th Street at Owls Head Park; and as far east as the Queens border. These areas are represented by Community Boards 5 and 9-18. The most recent TIS presentation, Community Liaison Meeting 10, addressed study results of traffic data and offered some recommendations, yet left many community liaisons longing for more information. More than 20 liaisons attended the January 19 meeting at the Borough President’s Conference Room at Borough Hall. Those in attendance included: the Port Authority, EMS and Fire Department, the Department of City Planning, the Brooklyn Borough President’s Office and approximately six people from Concerned Citizens of Bensonhurst. An analysis of the data presented in the TIS report showed that traffic is on the rise and congestion and longer commutes are to be expected. Vehicle trips throughout all of Brooklyn are expected to rise 7.6 percent during the morning peak period (6 a.m. to10 a.m.) by 2025, according to Irving Perlman, senior engineering manager for Parsons, Brinckerhoff, Quade and Douglas, Inc. His company is leading the TIS consulting team. The base year for this study is 2002 and the future baseline year for all data is 2025. Nighttime trips throughout Brooklyn are expected to increase 6.4 percent, less than the morning commute. However the nightly peak period (4 p.m. to 8 p.m.) averages close to 190,000 more vehicle trips than the morning peak period. The study also accounted for Alternative Land Use (ALU)—the application of additional growth in downtown Brooklyn to Southern Brooklyn—though the results of ALU for the increase in vehicle trips countywide are nominal. Brooklynites will see a dramatic increase in truck traffic, according to TIS data. While the number of vehicle miles traveled in the Southern Brooklyn study area will increase 7.5 percent (totaling 1,336,785 miles) during the morning peak period, the number of truck miles in the same area at the same time is expected to rise by almost 24 percent (totaling 73,953 truck miles) by 2025. The nightly commute will see the number of truck miles increase by almost 30 percent (totaling 28,514 truck miles). Truck vehicle hours of travel in the study area are expected to rise by at least one-third during morning and nighttime commutes, according to the TIS report. In the morning commute, truck vehicle hours of travel will increase 33.7 percent (totaling 4,934 hours) and the hours will increase nightly by 36.7 percent (totaling 2,002 hours). Comparatively, all vehicles will see a 20 percent spike during the morning commute (totaling 82,343 hours) and close to 16 percent (totaling 119,902 hours) during nightly rush hours. The report also indicated the average vehicle speed will drop about 10 percent (from 18.1 to 16.2 m.p.h.) during the morning commute and about eight percent (16.3 to 15 m.p.h.) during the nightly commute. Though no specific improvements were offered in the report or during the presentation, Perlman said that the TIS can be used as an indicator of future traffic problems. “[The TIS] is telling us that there need to be improvements on our system,” said Perlman. “It tells us what the problem is and what the magnitude of the problem is.” The TIS report did not include information about pollution increases. When asked about pollution by a community liaison, project director Larry Malsam said that pollution was not part of the scope of the original study but would be a next step to the TIS. The TIS website says that “the findings and recommendations of the TIS will be used for environmental studies (either an Environmental Impact Statement or Environmental Assessment) prepared subsequent to completion of the study.” Many recommendations of the TIS involve access to mass transit, including bicycle and pedestrian access to mass transit and other points of interest. Transit planner Stuart Geltman of Urbitran Associates, which is part of the consultant team, suggested the city prioritize the following subway stations for improved pedestrian access and safety: Church Avenue (B,Q); Canarsie/Rockaway Parkway (L); Bay Parkway (D,M); Church Avenue (2,5); and 86th Street (R). Geltman also suggested bicycle parking at: Flatbush Avenue/Brooklyn College (2,5); Sheepshead Bay (B,Q); Coney Island/Stillwell Avenue (D,F,Q); and Bay Ridge Avenue (R). Other suggested improvements include bicycle and pedestrian access to points of recreation, connecting existing bicycle routes to one another, improving bicycle and pedestrian access to the southern end of Ocean Avenue and including bicycle and pedestrian access to the Verrazano Bridge. Carolyn Konheim, the chair of Community Consulting Services, presented an overview of travel in downtown Brooklyn at the meeting, said that she would like to work with the MTA to better manage travel in Brooklyn. “We really need to involve the MTA,” she said. No MTA representatives were present at the January 19 meeting. Konheim also said better bus routes were needed. “We need to design bus routes to serve customers,” she said, citing that many buses do not currently go to major shopping areas. “We’ve reached a choke point.”

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