Scary Fourth Avenue: Are Park Slope Pedestrians Safe?

Home Brooklyn Life Scary Fourth Avenue: Are Park Slope Pedestrians Safe?

By: Nardos Mesmer


On November 5th, a 46-year-old woman tried to cross Fourth Avenue at Union street in Park Slope in the middle of the day. She didn’t make it. According eyewitness who spoke to DNAinfo, the woman was hit by a Hyundai Elantra that ran a red light. “She landed on its windshield, flew up in the air, and landed on the floor,” said Fraydie Liberow, who witnessed the collision with her husband, Levi Liberow. “The car just left.”

The unnamed victim was hospitalized for head trauma at Lutheran Medical Center. No arrests had been made by early December and the police said they are still searching for the Hyndai Elantra, with license plate number GRM8448, believed to have been stolen.

Safety on Fourth Avenue has been a big concern for the Department of Transportation: From Atlantic Avenue/Barclay Center to the Belt Parkway in Bay Ridge, Fourth Avenue stretches six miles—six lanes altogether—with two outer lanes used for parking. Running northbound and southbound, Fourth Avenue has three traffic lanes and one lane for left turns.

The Department of Transportation ranks Fourth Avenue as one of the highest “crash corridors in Brooklyn.” In early 2013, the NYC Department of Transportation conducted a Brooklyn Fourth Avenue Visioning Study and asked people in the neighborhood, “What Needs Improving on 4th Avenue in Park Slope?” in a blog-like survey. Fifty-four concerned residents responded about the area’s pedestrian safety.  A person with the username “Casey” wrote, “Left turn signals. I was hit by a car making this turn at Union and 4th. Luckily the car wasn’t going too fast, but many do to try to make the light.” Doug G. Gordon wrote, “Speeding drivers on 4th Avenue make high-speed turns onto side streets, endangering pedestrians in crosswalks.”

Other commenters, like T. Henderson, added, “Left-turn arrow needs to be installed from Union to 9th Street. 4th Avenue is dangerous for pedestrians, and turning vehicles frequently jam moving lanes on both sides.”

As drivers use Fourth Avenue as an alternative to the Gowanus Expressway, the expressway traffic passes through Park Slope. The chairperson of Park Slope’s Street Safety Partnership, Eric McClure, once wrote on the organization’s web page, “Though reminders about using caution as a pedestrian are always useful, it’s drivers, not pedestrians, who need reeducation.”

According to a 2014 Vision Zero action plan, some 4,000 New Yorkers are injured in traffic crashes and 250 are killed each year. “Dangerous driver choices are the primary or contributing factor in 70 percent of pedestrian fatalities,” says the report. People over 65 are 12 percent of the New York City population and account for 33percent of street fatalities.

So what improvements has the borough committed to? Neighborhood Slow Zones. Under the Department of Transportation, Neighborhood Slow Zones are created to reduce the speed limit from 30 mph to 20 mph to increase pedestrian safety in a particular neighborhood, an effort to change driver behavior. The reduction in speed limit to 20 mph happens when a community applies for the Neighborhood Slow Zone and a local Community Board approves it. According to the Department of Transportation, in “New York City areas where Neighborhood Slow Zones have been implemented there has been a 10-15 percent decrease in speeds, 14 percent reduction in crashes with injuries and 31 percent reduction in vehicle injuries.”

According to a 2011 AAA report, pedestrians hit at 31 mph are 50 percent likely to suffer severe injuries and 20 percent likely to die. At 23 mph, 25 percent are likely to suffer injuries and 12 percent are likely to die. AAA says that in residential neighborhoods and urban areas where pedestrians and vehicles are close to one another, traffic calming systems such as reduction of speed limits, speed bumps, and lane narrowing can reduce the number of fatalities.

To make pedestrian safety citywide, in January of 2014, Mayor Bill de Blasio adopted the Swedish model for Vision Zero, an initiative to reduce the number of fatalities caused by vehicle accidents. As part of that effort, the city reduced the city speed limit from 30 mph to 25 mph unless marked otherwise.

“If we are going to rally move toward Vision Zero, we need for there to be accountability for drivers who break the law and cause serious injury or death,” wrote City Council member Brian Lander.

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