Thursday, August 18, 2011

New Bike Racks Installed At One Of Smith Street's Most Dangerous Corners

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Lets face it. Now that we have designated bike lanes all over Brooklyn, we need more bike racks. This morning, NY DOT crews were busy installing 16 racks at the corner of Smith and Sackett Streets in front of the Smith Street Deli.
That's cool, but why would the city choose to install new racks in a current No Standing Zone, right near one of the most accident prone corners of Smith Street?
For a long time now, neighbors have been complaining about that corner and about the lack of visibility for cars turning onto Smith Street from Sackett Street. Quite a few accidents have happened there recently, like the one involving an overturned SUV in June 2010.
That turn is problematic for bigger vehicles and especially fire trucks. The No Standing zone was supposed to help alleviate the problem.
Apparently, the idea was first proposed by the Sackett Block Association. Community Board 6 Transportation Committee gave the idea its full recommendation back in July 2011.


What do you think? Is it a good idea to add the racks to the No Standing zone of this already problematic corner?

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June 2010 accident at that corner.
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17 comments:

Michael Brown said...

I'm sorry Katia, but you could not be more wrong (although, yes, more racks at the train station would be nice to reduce the number of bikes locked and eventually abandoned to fences and poles).

Sackett and Smith is a very dangerous corner for three reasons, two of which this project addresses. The first is daylighting, or the visual field a driver has as he or she creeps up Sackett out into the intersection. Much like another accident prone corner, President and Columbia, this corner is often subject to illegal parking in the daylighting zone, which makes drivers inch out into the intersection even further to see traffic coming down Smith. By placing a physical barrier there, illegal parking will be reduced, while the nature of the barrier will allow visual penetration so that oncoming traffic can be seen.

The second issue that makes this intersection dangerous is the speed of traffic coming down Smith Street. This is addressed, as many traffic calming projects try to, by introducing different users to the streetscape. When drivers see bikers and pedestrian, they slow down, which creates a safer environment not only for the pedestrian, as in this case, but for the drivers themselves.

The third issue, which is not addressed, is the width of Sackett Street. Drivers are encouraged to take the wide, fast turn, by the width of the street, along with the lack of parked vehicles up to the crosswalk. This is obviously a policy still in place for the old B71 route. Although I do want to see the B71 come back, I also think that the DOT could enhance pedestrian safety there as they have done on Bergen and Clinton Streets, with a small bulb-out on the Southwest corner, which would not only reduce the travel distance for pedestrians, but would slow down vehicular traffic. Without the corresponding bulb-out on the opposite corner, this would probably leave enough room for a bus to turn, but that is a question for traffic engineers, not us.

All in all, this is a small positive step for pedestrian AND vehicular safety in the neighborhood. Projects such as this should be encouraged, not critiqued.

Katia said...

Hi Michael,
I agree with you on all of your points regarding the problems at that intersection. The No Standing Zone was a good solution to the lack of visibility.
But maybe a few planters instead of bike racks would have discouraged illegal parking on the No Standing strip in a safer manner?
The bike racks could have been moved to the middle of that street to keep bikers safe.
As you mention, Sackett Street is very narrow. Any wide vehicle such as a fire truck making the turn could swipe its rear into the bike rack area.

I am more than glad that the city is taking steps to calm traffic on our busy streets. I am just concerned about this corner in particular. I have seen way too many accidents right there and would prefer if we did not put anyone in harm's way.

fred said...

Katia, there is enough room for a truck to make a left turn as both sides of Sackett st corner. Don't think the racks will be a problem and as Michael said, it will avoid delivery trucks to park there. This is a great improvement.

Michael Brown said...

The problem with the no standing zone is that it is unenforceable; the physical nature of the racks solves the enforcement issue (although I bet we will see parking in front of the racks now).

The paradox of transit planning is that you need to force uses together to make them coexist; bikers in the sight lines of drivers might seem more dangerous at first, but it forces the bikers and drivers to be attentive, and puts the fact that they are SHARING the road into a drivers mind.

Moving the racks to the middle of the street, while preferable to no racks at all, would not help the corner traffic situation.

Sackett Street is actually one of the widest one way streets in the neighborhood, which is what creates the speed element that causes so many accidents.

Sackett said...

The addition of these bike racks is all good -- Michael and Fred have it exactly right, Katia. The creation of the No Standing zone had nothing to do with making it easier for big vehicles to make turns from Smith onto Sackett -- the sadly-departed B71 bus made that turn for years and years, back when cars were legally allowed to park in these 2 spaces on Smith. (The No Standing zone on Sackett, in front of Bar Great Harry, is needed for that, but not the one on Smith).

The No Standing zone on Smith was created by DOT, as you said, after years of lobbying by neighbors and the Sackett St. Block Association, who were concerned about the danger to pedestrians and drivers, as evidenced by repeated crashes at that corner. We tried for a traffic light, but DOT said that was not possible.

Unfortunately, as Michael points out, the No Standing zone was unenforced, and probably unenforceable. It just became great short-term parking for delivery trucks for the deli on the corner and for people (often off-duty cops) getting dinner at Vinny's. The bike racks are now being installed, thanks to continued pressure from Sackett St. neighbors and fantastic, creative responsiveness from DOT, as a way of making sure that the 'daylighting' of the corner cannot be violated. And the additional bike parking is a great bonus!

Dave 'Paco' Abraham said...

Katia, I too agree with Michael and Fred 100%. NYPD does almost nothing to keep our streets safe from illegal driving, so it;s up to DOT to physically limit the speeds that cars will take. Racks on the corner is highly visible for bikers, peds, and driver alike, and will ensure that more people know about it than if they were tucked into the middle of a block (where cyclists would essentially dart out into the street like jaywalkers). I hope you keep a close eye on this installment as I think it will work out fantastically in the long run... and with my fingers crossed, it will be a new part of DOT's toolkit.

Will said...

I used to live right near their and I think it's a great idea! My girlfriend was hit by a car at that intersection not long ago. The area has also suffered from a lack of bike parking.

Anonymous said...

Katia,

The DOT consults with FDNY and NYPD on any project like this. If the configuration didn't allow a fire truck to get through safely and quickly, they wouldn't allow it.

This is great news! This corner needed a way to prevent people from blocking views with illegally parked SUVs and trucks. Low bike parking is just the ticket - and it's already full as of tonight!

Anonymous said...

All great observations. I've never see bike racks on the street for any reason. More around both subway entrances would have been better. I see why they put them there but
Sorry cars speed down smith all the time. Kids, babies in strollers, bikes. New Yorkers dont slow down for much of anything. That corner is bad and thanks for all those textbook observations. Years ago a woman lost her leg after being slammed into a telephone booth that was near BGH corner. Cars come speeding down Sackett and roll right into the crosswalk every single day. So sackett street why not rally for a speed bump? People will double park anywhere. If you glued a wall of elephants on that corner people will still try and park. anyway. People need to learn how to drive.

mikeweb said...

I live about 5 doors up Sackett from here and that has always been a horribly dangerous intersection for peds, drivers and cyclists, especially when a delivery van or SUV parks right on that corner by the stop sign. Last night I asked a friend who has a car and parks in the neighborhood if he was pissed about this and he said "no on the contrary I think it''s a great idea and makes it much safer". I hope it will be permanent, but something tells me that the short sighted anti-cycling backlash will win out on this one...

Admittedly a sidewalk 'bump-out' would also improve safety, but trust me, bicycle parking is in heavy demand on busy commercial streets such as Smith, so why not create bicycle parking AND create the equivalent of a bump-out at the same time?

Anonymous said...

Hi Katia,

I have a related question for you and your readers.

I've been yelled at on several occasions for locking my bike to a city street-cleaning signpost on my street. There is no other place within the vicinity of my street to lock, and my landlord disallows bikes in my building. One neighbor scolded me and said I was "bringing the neighborhood property value down" (I'd like to tell her how incredibly much my rent has been raised over the years, but I don't think it would make a difference to her). And another neighbor just fashioned her own cardboard sign that states, "DO NOT LOCK YOUR BIKE HERE," and hung it on another city street-cleaning signpost.

My question is, are people allowed to limit bike parking on city-owned signposts? I'm assuming the answer is no, but maybe I'm wrong. I figure if the woman has claimed that signpost has her own, well then, my bike can equally share the space with her! Regardless of whether it is right or wrong, it's a shame that I need to worry about my neighbors giving me dirty looks and scolding me. And please, dear readers, don't assume I'm a 'newbie' and bikes are ruining the neighborhood! I would just like some clarification. Thank you!

Michael Brown said...

Anon -

Fortunately or unfortunately, depending on your viewpoint, it is illegal to lock a bike to city owned fences and signs. Also, the landlord is under no obligation to give you bike parking, although that is changing for new developments.

Anonymous said...

Hi Michael,

Thank you for the clarification. Though it is unfortunate for me, as there is no bike rack within a several block radius of me! I was hoping that, as long is it wasn't obstructing the sidewalk, it was legal.

natalie said...

this is NYC! walk or take mass transit--or go live in amsterdam!! enuff already with all of the blah blah blah.

Anonymous said...

After reading the posts, I now understand how this new addition to the neighborhood could be a positive thing. I was shocked to see how many bikes were parked there the next morning! I only wish that more bikers would follow the rules of the road since pedestrians are very much at risk when they go through red lights, or travel down streets or bike lanes in the wrong direction.

Angie said...

I agree with 9:18. Most bikers don't stop at red lights, and it doesn't matter if you are a pedestrian and have the Walk sign, they go ahead like they have right of way. I also hate when bikers ride on sidewalks - some go really fast. Bikers also feel like they can go the wrong way on one way streets.

Timothy Reed said...

I was surprised to see the new bike racks today. I don't think they will block the view for drivers entering the intersection from Sackett - in fact, should improve it, since it's impossible for a car to park there now, even illegally, and any vehicle that double-parks in front of it will block all traffic on Smith, freeing up the intersection entirely for the duration :)

I think there's always room to improve a project or approach to solving problems, but in this case I think the city is doing the right thing.