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Downtown Bklyn packed with traffic - In case you didn’t know it, there’s too much congestion on nabe streets, report states

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Is the city’s Department of Transportation (DOT) doing all it can to analyze traffic patterns in such places as downtown Brooklyn? Not necessarily, according to Transportation Alternatives (TA), a not-for-profit advocacy group which promotes increased bicycling, walking and use of public transportation instead of private automobiles. According to a recently released study, Traffic Information in NYC: What We Know, What We Need to Know, which was prepared for TA by Schaller Consulting, there are “large gaps” in what we know about city traffic patterns, especially in the outer boroughs. In particular, according to the study, there is a dearth of information about traffic volume, particularly for “congested corridors outside Manhattan.” This includes key arteries in downtown Brooklyn, including Flatbush and Atlantic Avenues, which are frequently traffic nightmares. There is also a lack of data on traffic speeds and delays, except for what is collected as part of what the Schaller study calls “ad hoc studies.” Furthermore, according to the study, there is “no data on the reliability of travel times, no travel cost data (and) no indicators of comfort, convenience or overall attractiveness of alternative modes.” Available Info What then do we know about travel in Brooklyn and from Brooklyn to Manhattan? According to the study, which TA released on January 23rd, “Two-thirds of Brooklyn-based trips are by public transportation, walking or other nonmotorized modes.” Indeed, there has been an increase in the use of public transportation within the borough, says the report, though, “For travel between Brooklyn and Manhattan,… travel volumes and subway ridership grew at about the same pace both in the 1990s and in recent years.” The increase in the use of public transportation for intra-borough travel has been largely reflected in subway use. While traffic volume, according to the study, dropped two percent between 2001 and 2005, subway ridership grew by three percent; during that same period, there was no overall change in bus ridership. Overall, according to the study, travel between Brooklyn and Manhattan remains below pre-9./11 levels: Traffic volume is seven percent below what it was in 2000. Similarly, subway ridership, “Remains five percent below the peak in 2000,” the study notes. Finally, “Bus ridership between Brooklyn and Manhattan, although relatively small, increased modestly in the past several years.” Legislative Push As well as TA, some city councilmembers would like to see DOT’s approach to data collection change. To that end, Councilmember Gale Brewer last year brought out legislation, Intro 199, that would require DOT to “modify… performance targets and indicators towards the goal of reducing traffic congestion citywide.” Brooklyn City Councilmembers Sara Gonzalez, Letitia James, Michael Nelson, Domenic Recchia, Diana Reyna and Al Vann have all signed on as co-sponsors of the measure, which aims to have the agency revamp the way it measures performance. Rather than tracking such items as “the number of traffic lights repaired and the number of potholes filled,” the legislation would have the agency focus on indicators, “that can inform comprehensive policy solutions to problems such as traffic congestion and pollution.” Thus, the legislation has, “The aim of assessing and reducing the amount of traffic citywide and within each borough,” as well as, “reducing commute time citywide; reducing household exposure to roadway emissions…; reducing the proportion of driving to the central business districts and increasing the proportion of walking, biking, and the use of mass transit to the central business districts; increasing the availability of on-street parking; increasing the efficient movement of commercial traffic; and optimizing to no higher than full capacity the usage of existing transportation infrastruc­ture.” For downtown Brooklyn, said James, this translates into nuts and bolts questions such as, “How could we better support bike lanes and mass transit?” It also has the potential to correct what James asserts is an inaccurate depiction of traffic in the area as seen in the Atlantic Yards Environmental Impact Study (EIS). “A lot of the assumptions they made were outdated,” James contended. The EIS, she added, “Didn’t really reflect what’s happening in downtown Brooklyn. What we need is a more accurate picture as to what’s happening in the city of New York and especially in downtown Brooklyn. Now, we don’t have it.” New Commuters What residents and their elected officials do have is the evidence of their eyes, as well as the limited studies that do exist, that traffic in the city and borough is on the rise. Councilmember David Yassky believes that it is necessary, “To cut down on traffic in New York City, and downtown Brooklyn in particular,” noted spokesperson Evan Thies. Of special concern to Yassky, said Thies, is the constant stream, “Of new commuters coming through Brooklyn to get to Manhattan and the other boroughs. This is a troubling trend.” Also troubling, Thies added, are the results of a recent study that indicate that, “Most of the traffic in Manhattan is from city-based commuters who don’t use mass transit, and instead use personal transporta­tion.” Beyond traffic problems, Thies suggested, the increase in vehicles has another significant side effect – an impact on residents’ health.. “The city continues to have one of the worst asthma rates in the world,” he noted. “Nearly one in eight city residents has asthma, and this is exacerbated by the congestion we face everyday. The only way to solve the problems is to increase access to mass transit and increase the use of mass transit.” Lack of Info Paul Steely White, executive director of TA, said both the study commissioned by the group and Intro 199 are inspired by a real lack of knowledge on how people are traveling in the city. White said it’s embarrassing that the city doesn’t have a grasp yet of how people get to downtown Brooklyn and travel on key streets like Flatbush Avenue on a regular basis. “We do have certain snapshots for certain projects, but what is required is annual data so they [the city] can get a time series perspective on what the trend is,” he said. In particular, White said traffic on the Flatbush Avenue corridor needs further study to determine what percent of people travel by car, compared to mass transit, and how many passengers are in each car. This is particularly important as the number of commuters grows. “As downtown Brooklyn becomes more of a destination, there are more trips and according to DOT, the number of people working in downtown Brooklyn will be the equivalent of the population of Boston,” White said. Another area where more data is needed is traffic patterns as they relate to parking. To that end, White said TA is doing a study in Park Slope looking at what percentage of traffic is on the road just looking for a parking space. A recent such study in a Manhattan neighborhood revealed that 28 percent of the vehicles on the road were doing just that, he said. Looking for Solutions How can the city improve traffic conditions and make its streets more user-friendly? White stressed that other cities are opening discussions on what needs improvement to encourage the public to take more mass transit. What is needed, according to White, is improved bus service on some routes, and wider sidewalks. White also contended that downtown Brooklyn could benefit from some form of congestion pricing or parking reform programs such as residential parking permits. White said another idea is for local BIDs (Business Improvement Districts) to manage curbside parking. “There are a whole host of innovative reforms working in other cities,” White said. Stephen Witt contributed to this article.

Posted 7:03 pm, October 10, 2011
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