Our streets and sidewalks shape our lives every single day. Whether you're a pedestrian, cyclist, or drive a car, we need to make sure our public spaces work for everyone.
A few months ago, my office funded a transportation study for North Brooklyn Community Board 1. Since then, there have been several community input meetings as well as an online portal to receive feedback. Between these methods, we have collected over 400 comments and concerns from the community. The Department of Transportation is preparing to release the findings of the study. Before then, we would like to again invite the community to provide last minute input. We want to make sure this process reflects everyone's voices.
We have put together a simple form where you can submit your ideas. It can be reached at this link or at the button below.
To get a sense of what improvements may come from this process, take a look at previous DOT presentations and studies. For example, DOT has analyzed conditions on Jay Streetand Meeker Avenue in past years. These studies analyze existing issues in the community and then offer proposed solutions. Public engagement is key to providing a comprehensive view of conditions on the street. Residents know which streets and crossings are unsafe and have no shortage of ideas to make things better.
It can be helpful to know what factors are involved in street design. The National Association of City Transportation Officials (NACTO) provides a good overview of street design elements that shape our everyday experience.
The width of lanes often dictates what streets can and can't do. Parking, bus routes, truck traffic, bike lanes, and sidewalk width are all dependent on the minimum lane width and number of lanes. Some streets are narrow, some are wide. A street's width, and the accompanying lane width, determines the nature of street activity. When thinking about lane widths there are also safety considerations. There is a strong correlation between the space available on the road, and the average speed of vehicle traffic. Wide lanes lead people to step on the gas while narrow ones encourage traveling at a safe speed. For more reading, refer to The Influence of Lane Widths on Safety and Capacity: A Summary of the Latest Findings.
Sidewalks and Curb Extensions
Sidewalks provide the most personal way to interact with the city. They connect us to our neighbors and together form a rich tapestry that makes up our urban fabric. Sidewalks are the avenue through which we engage with businesses, entertainment, and each other. A healthy sidewalk promotes more than just mobility, they also affect health, culture, commerce, and mental well-being (Read Active Design, Shaping the Sidewalk Experience). We begin and end every journey on these strips of concrete—let's treat them with the attention they deserve.
Similarly, the shape and orientation of curbs is also important. In the figure above, these curb extensions serve to reduce the crosswalk distance. In doing so, pedestrian safety is improved. Less time on the street, better visibility, and the physical projection of the curb all go a long way to making this intersection a safer one.
The example above from a 2016 South Williamsburg Study from DOT show the crosswalk improvements in red. At this intersection, new crosswalks were marked, and raised concrete formed curb extensions to shorten the crossing distance.
North Brooklyn in particular has faced the challenge of environmental damage. Oil spills, industrial contamination, and an over concentration of waste transfer stations are just a few of the culprits. Our district also has a close relationship with the local waterways and it's our responsibility to prevent further damage. While we continue to advance a strong environmental agenda through legislation, there is no one perfect solution. Doing a lot of things right, even little things, will go a long way to making a difference.
This brings us back to the urban landscape. From a street design perspective, there are many approaches that improve the condition of our environment.
Trees are more than just nice to look at; they make our lives better in many other ways. Trees provide shade and lower surface temperatures by 20 to 45 degrees. They improve air quality, improve stormwater management, reduce building energy consumption, and remove air pollutants.
Besides the very tangible benefits of air quality improvement and water retention, trees also build a sense of community. Concrete and metal don't do much to ease the mind, but a hint of nature is something one can stop to admire. A study found that an additional ten trees on a block results in a one percent increase in feelings of wellbeing. In a New Yorker article, the researcher, Marc Berman, confides "To get an equivalent increase with money, you'd have to give each household in that neighborhood ten thousands dollars—or make people seven years younger." Luckily, we can plant trees for much less than that.
Another street design element that makes a difference in our environment are bioswales. These curbside landscape features remove pollution from runoff water as well as improve water infiltration into the soil. By increasing the amount of water that goes into the soil, bioswales reduce the strain on our sewage system. Rainfall as little as 1/20th of an inch can overload our sewer system. Every year, more than 27 billion gallons of raw sewage are discharged into New York Harbor.
Bioswales also filter out pollutants. They are often stocked with hyperaccumalator plants, vegetation that soak up toxins, to bolster pollution remediation. Other materials, such as mulch, soil, sand, and gravel, act as a secondary filtration level. Both elements combined greatly improve the quality of the water going back into our ecosystem.
Once again, make your voice heard! We will share your feedback and proposals regarding our urban landscape with the Department of Transportation. It is our hope the forthcoming North Brooklyn Transportation Study will reflect input from a broad cross section of the community.
Don't be afraid to get creative when it comes to changing the street landscape to everyone's benefit. Next time you walk around the neighborhood take a look with a critical eye. Ask yourself what problems you see and think about potential improvements. Beyond keeping roads and sidewalks in good repair, we can make better use of transportation infrastructure by being conscious of what's working and what is not.