Today’s news:

Congestion sticks in Flabush’s craw

Residents of Flatbush joined with representatives of the City’s Department of Transportation (DOT) to discuss the omnipresent congestion on Church Avenue.

The discussion was a step in the agency’s efforts to revamp traffic patterns along the 2.7 mile strip, between McDonald and Utica Avenues, which has been classified as a “congested corridor” by DOT.

In particular, the focus is on how to “reduce vehicular congestion and improve air quality, and make the road usable for everyone,” said Mike Salatti, of Greenman Pedersen Inc. (GPI), the consultants hired by DOT to analyze the congestion issues along Church Avenue.

The feedback sought from area residents and merchants, he told the group, reflects the fact that, “You are on the corridor everyday. You can help us find solutions.”

Among the issues identified by residents and merchants – who gathered together in small groups around maps of the area to hash out the issues — was double parking along the strip.

“This is a new generation, a diverse country, the old stuff has to go,” opined Shyrl Beckford. “They have to cut out double parking. If there’s no place to park, you wait. You go around in circles. That’s it.”

The double parking causes other problems, she added – because of the width of the street, “ambulances and ire trucks can’t come through,” Beckford said.

Munimeters might help relieve the problem, suggested Akeno Lopez, who attended the meeting on behalf of the Church Avenue Merchants Association. In addition, he suggested, “creating parking spaces on the side streets.”

Another issue is the dollar vans that ply the street. While residents said they were necessary, serving as backup transportation, supplementing city buses and subways, they, “Create accidents too,” noted Beckford. What they need, she added, are guidelines. “Where are the rules for them?” she asked. “There are no rules for them being enforced.”

“When they pull over to pick somebody up, it’s an instant stop for everybody behind them,” Lopez added.

It’s not just the roadways, said Beckford. “I use Church Avenue almost every weekend,” she noted. “I’m always bumping into someone’s shoulders or stroller. There’s a lot of noise, honking and music. And the vendors on the street cause problems, too. They are holding up traffic, too.”

James Henning agreed. In the portion between East 16th Street and Ocean Avenue, he noted, “The sidewalks are congested. It’s mostly vendors.”

It’s sometimes hazardous, acknowledged Henning, when questioned by DOT staffer Andrew Linton, who was facilitating at that table. “When you want to cross the street, you have to walk out from behind double-parked trucks,” Henning said.

The congestion is particularly bad between Brooklyn and Flatbush Avenues because of the cross streets, opined Lopez. “Between Brooklyn and Schenectady, it’s lighter, where you have the cemetery (Holy Cross) creating a barricade, so to speak.”

Also problematic, said Henning, is Church Avenue’s intersection with Ocean Parkway. “There’s a bad wreck there about once a month,” he stressed. “All DOT has done is give 10 seconds extra for pedestrians to cross. The cars go around the corner like nobody’s business. You take your life in your hands.”

Bicyclists have a particularly tough time on the strip, said Lopez. “With the combination of buses, double parking and cabs, bicycling on Church Avenue is suicidal,” he opined.

While adding buses might take cars off the street, they “are victims of the congestion,” too, said Lopez. “When someone double parks, the bus can’t get around it so everything behind it stops. Buses run on a regular basis, but if you’re walking fast you can beat them when you’re going from point A to point B.”

Speeding is not an issue along much of the corridor, Lopez contended, at least during business hours. “After 9 p.m.,” he noted, “you could get up to 30 MPH.”

The reconstruction of a portion of the roadway, between Rogers and Flatbush Avenues, is scheduled for 2010, said Salatti.

“This is not supposed to interfere with that,” he stressed. Rather, he noted, “If any improvements are suggested, they can be incorporated.”

DOT is expected to return to the community in September to report. Following that, the agency, working with its consultants, will develop recommendations for mitigating the problems that have been identified.

The meeting was held at Erasmus Hall High School, 911 Flatbush Avenue.

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