The city wants to make a stretch of Ninth Street safer by adding parking-protected bike paths, narrowing driving lanes, and installing pedestrian islands at intersections between Prospect Park West and Third Avenue, according to plans pitched on June 21 in response to the horrific crash that claimed the lives of two kids and an unborn baby on the road in March.
But those measures won’t do much to save lives in Park Slope unless officials also crack down on rogue truckers who use the street as an illegal thoroughfare into Southern Brooklyn, according to a local civic guru.
“We have a huge amount of trucks that come down Ninth Street illegally,” Community Board 6 board member Robert Levine said to Department of Transportation officials at a meeting of the panel’s Transportation Committee. “If you don’t address this problem, you’re going to do nothing about safety in terms of crossing the street.”
The city restricts truck drivers — including those for municipal agencies — to pre-established routes, unless they are making local deliveries, in order to protect pedestrians and other motorists from the big-rigs.
But one of Brooklyn’s main cross-borough thoroughfares for truckers, Atlantic Avenue, doesn’t allow drivers traveling towards the Gowanus Expressway to turn left on Third or Fourth avenues — two of their main ways for getting to Bay Ridge and beyond — forcing those drivers to rumble all the way to the expressway, a long and often heavily congested route for those making the relatively short trip to Gowanus, Red Hook, or Sunset Park.
And as a result, Gowanus Expressway–bound drivers on Atlantic Avenue continue to veer off their pre-determined path, according to Levine, who said they often illegally take Eastern Parkway or other forbidden streets to Prospect Park West, where they then turn onto Ninth Street in order to get to Third or Fourth avenues — an illegal shortcut a Transportation Department official acknowledged stems from a flaw in the agency’s truck routes.
“You pointed out a very big hole in our truck route, and we’re talking about this right now,” transit worker Ted Wright said at the meeting. “It is very hard to get down to Red Hook and Sunset Park going west on Atlantic, because left turns are banned on Third and Fourth avenues.”
Levine came to the session armed with photographic evidence of municipal trucks illegally using Ninth Street, including numerous Department of Sanitation vehicles branded with district codes other than BKS06, the only code allowed on local roads in Park Slope.
And the out-of-district city garbage trucks pose a serious safety hazard to pedestrians, who struggle to see around them when crossing the street, he said.
“When they stop it’s on the corner, and people can’t see around them,” Levine said.
One of Levine’s photos shows a Sanitation Department truck, whose district code isn’t visible in the shot, double-parked on Ninth Street near Smiling Pizza on Seventh Avenue, and another city big-rig veering into a right-turn-only lane to pass it — a huge no-no, according to Wright.
“Nobody should be double parking an eight-foot wide vehicle to get a slice of pizza,” he said.
Still, Wright defended his agency’s Ninth Street redesign. He claimed the narrower driving lanes will discourage double-parking and speeding, and the pedestrian islands will make crossing streets safer than ever, an argument that won the support of some of Levine’s board colleagues on the Transportation Committee.
“Overall, it’s a vast improvement to Ninth Street,” said Eric McClure, the committee’s chairman. “Robert is absolutely correct that the trucks should not be there. But the plan does address pedestrian safety with shortened crossings and refuges, and the narrowing of the corridor will I think slow traffic to some degree.”
And there’s only so much that a single street’s redesign can do to solve the larger issue of the inconveniently mapped truck routes, according to Wright, who said his agency’s freight experts are looking into better routes for the big-rigs.
The committee’s transit gurus ultimately voted to approve a draft resolution endorsing the Ninth Street redesign, but asked that Transportation Department and other city officials find a way to keep wayward trucks off local streets as they move forward with the safety improvements.