The Department of Transportation (DOT) completed several changes last week on Sheepshead Bay Road to make the area more orderly and address some of the safety concerns raised by neighbors about the controversial new traffic plan.
Residents will notice LED lights added under the train trestle on East 15th Street. After the bus stop was moved in April from outside the subway station to Avenue Z, some commuters said dim lighting made it feel unsafe to walk under the trestle. The agency also finished repaving Sheepshead Bay Road to angle the street so water flows into the catch basin at the corner with East 15th Street. (During Sunday’s heavy rains, the usual pools of water were nowhere in sight.)
DOT also set up a taxi stand to clear away cabs that clogged the entrance to the subway station and installed new muni meters for additional parking.
The extra lighting, parking and street repaving was advocated for by City Councilman Chaim Deutsch. He pressured DOT to quickly make the changes after constituents hammered the agency for ignoring community input when it rolled out the Vision Zero project on one of the neighborhood’s main thoroughfares.
“I’m happy DOT jumped on these issues, but they should have been implemented before they rolled out the project,” he said.
Commuters waiting for the B36 bus Tuesday night approved of the additional lighting. Michele Anish said she preferred having the bus stop outside the subway station, especially during winter because she could stay warm waiting in the station, but she appreciated the extra light.
“Of course the lighting is much better. There’s a big gap now between the station and the bus stop and its no fun walking in the dark,” she said.
Another B36 bus rider, Jennifer Naftelowitz, said she approved of the bus stop’s new location, but was glad the city had added the extra lighting.
“I think it’s better over here because people were getting killed by the B36 bus when it had to turn down East 17th Street,” she said. “But it’s good they put up more lights because people can see you.”
The DOT rushed to implement the new traffic plan, which moved the bus stop, turned part of Sheepshead Bay Road into a one-way and closed traffic on East 15th Street and Jerome Slip, after a 62-year-old woman was fatally struck by a B36 bus while crossing the street at East 17th Street and Avenue Z.
The agency introduced the plan last year to make the area safer. Between 2007 and 2013, there were 74 injuries from motor vehicle collisions in the area, seven of which resulted in serious injury or death, according to DOT. However, the community board rejected the plan, arguing it created more problems than it solved.
Community board member Maurice Kolodin said the latest changes to the traffic plan — like the new lighting and the street repaving — are improvements. However, the fact that they were only made after an outcry by the community demonstrated how little thought DOT had given to the project.
“These things should have been considered before implementing the project. By definition, that doesn’t constitute a plan,” he said. “If you’re reacting to the fact that everyone is verbally assaulting you, that doesn’t mean you have a plan. That’s simply protecting yourself.”
Kolodin, along with other community leaders, sent letters last month asking DOT to abandon the project until neighbors and stakeholders were able to give more input. He also noted the taxi stand was something the community board requested long before DOT introduced their Vision Zero project
The new taxi stand is just to left of the subway station. During evening rush hour, seven or eight cabs waited by the curb — quickly getting passengers and then pulling out so the next car could move to the front of the line.
Sarwar Quader, who’s been catching fares outside the Sheepshead Bay station for about a year and a half, said the taxi stand eliminated a lot of chaos.
“Before, we were all jumping for customers,” he explained. “Now everyone follows the rules and it eliminates some of the confusion.”
Deutsch had originally proposed putting the taxi stand on the north side of Sheepshead Bay Road in order to have parking meters in front of business that reported a drop in sales because of the new traffic plan. However, after consultation with DOT, they agreed to place the taxi stand closer to the station so people wouldn’t have to cross the street to hail a cab.
Deutsch and other community leaders have pointed out that an estimated 600,000 B36 riders will be crossing Sheepshead Bay Road every year to reach the new bus stop on Avenue Z. Because of the increased foot traffic, the councilman is introducing a resolution calling on the state to determine which agency is responsible for clearing snow from the sidewalks under the train trestle.
“I have concerns about who is going to be shoveling the sidewalk [on East 15th Street]. When you talk about the streets underneath the train trestle, the city doesn’t even really know who is responsible, if it’s MTA or DOT,” he said.
“This is part of Vision Zero,” Deutsch said of new traffic plan. “They are assuring me this will be safer than it was before. I still have concerns about how they are doing it, but time will tell.”
Update [June 9, 1pm]: An earlier version of this article stated DOT rejected Councilman Chaim Deutsch’s proposal that the taxi stand should be on the north side of Sheepshead Bay Road. Deutsch said he and the agency came to an agreement that the taxi stand should be on the south side of the street.