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Fourth Avenue Could Become 'Brooklyn Boulevard'

By Alan Neuhauser | August 16, 2012 6:12pm

SUNSET PARK — One of the city's deadliest thoroughfares is about to get a long-awaited makeover.

Starting Monday, a 2.5-mile stretch of Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park, between 15th and 65th streets, will receive wider medians, fewer lanes, greater signage, and maybe even a new name: "Brooklyn Boulevard."

Nearly 100 pedestrians, drivers and passengers have been killed or severely injured in motor vehicle crashes on Fourth Avenue since 2006, putting it in the top-10-percent of the most dangerous roads in New York City, according to figures compiled by the city's Department of Transportation and the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, a nonprofit that monitors traffic safety.

"It is just riddled with pedestrian fatalities," said TSTC associate director Ryan Lynch, a Windsor Terrace resident who also serves on Brooklyn Community Board 7 and the Brooklyn Borough President's traffic safety committee.

"This is an issue we've been looking at for years."

Fourth Avenue in Sunset Park is densely packed with schools, stores, churches, libraries and community centers. It is also located in one of the most heavily-walked neighborhoods in New York City: roughly 20 percent of Sunset Park residents stroll to work, the city's Economic Development Corporation found, more than twice the citywide average.

Fourth Avenue between 15th and 65th streets, however, is designed for truck traffic: Widened from two lanes to three in the 1970s to relieve congestion on the nearby Gowanus Expressway, its median narrows from six feet to barely 20 inches at many of the crosswalks — forcing people with strollers, dogs, walkers, wheelchairs or bicycles who get marooned on the median to wait in the intersection.

Meanwhile, as many as 1,400 vehicles an hour barrel down Fourth Avenue, according to a DOT traffic study. The road's left-turn lanes, however, are barely long enough to fit two cars, and double-parked vehicles frequently block the right lane.

"It functions like a default highway," said Sabrina Terry, policy and transportation justice coordinator at the United Puerto Rican Organization of Sunset Park. "It really is an unsafe route for pedestrians and cyclists."

The DOT's renovation project, funded by federal money, is a "soft" improvement that requires virtually no construction, Terry, Lynch and a DOT spokesman explained.

Workers will paint a yellow-lined buffer around thoroughfare's concrete medians and install narrow white bollards similar to those used in the Brooklyn Battery Tunnel. Traffic will be reduced to two lanes in each direction, and left turns will be prohibited at "pedestrian-heavy" intersections near schools and subway stops.

On weekdays between 7 a.m. and 10 a.m., northbound drivers will be allowed to drive in the parking lane between 38th Street and Prospect Expressway, effectively creating a third lane to accommodate the morning rush hour.

The project will be completed in two phases, the DOT and Community Board 7 District Manager Jeremy Laufer said, with the first expected to be completed in a matter of weeks. The agency will then look to expand the renovation project to Park Slope, then Bay Ridge, to overhaul the entire six-mile stretch of Fourth Avenue.

Once the entire project is complete, Borough President Marty Markowitz's office hopes to rebrand the avenue Brooklyn Boulevard.

"This is the thoroughfare that runs through Brooklyn that people remember. To have that name, Brooklyn Boulevard, really brings it together," press secretary Mark Zustovich said.

"It symbolizes all of Brooklyn. It goes from Downtown through Park Slope to Bay Ridge. We say it goes from Atlantic Avenue to the Atlantic Ocean."

The new moniker would be what's known as a co-name, similar to the "Avenue of the Americas" label for Manhattan's Sixth Avenue. It must go through the City Council to be approved.