Williamsburg residents castigated city transportation officials on Tuesday night, claiming that the changes that they made on Kent Avenue are not working.
The former two-way avenue has become the city’s second-most-popular bike route ever since it was converted to a one-way northbound street last August. The move delighted cyclists, but residents and business owners on Wythe Avenue, which has received some of Kent Avenue’s southbound traffic, are fuming.
“My wife and I have a 5-month-old, and we’re thinking about moving” because of the traffic, said Michael Reich, who also owns a business on Wythe Avenue and N. First Street and is concerned about safety, noise, and air quality.
A Department of Transportation official told Community Board 1 that new signals will be installed at N. Sixth Street, N. Fourth Street, Grand Street and S. Fourth Street to slow traffic. The official also suggested that there would be new signage on Wythe Avenue to prevent trucks from taking the route.
That did little to allay longtime business owners such as Susan Eisenberg, who said that trucks on N. 11th Street and other blocks nearby were being trapped in by narrow streets and forced to make awkward turns. Eisenberg, who owns a factory on N. 14th Street, accused transportation officials of not listening to community concerns and doing too little to rectify the traffic buildup on Wythe Avenue
“This is bulls—t,” said Eisenberg. “We’ve listened to your presentation year after year.”
One thing that has changed was new data released by the Department of Transportation, which showed that average bike ridership on Kent Avenue increased over the past two years by 64 percent, from 514 to 844, and by an astounding 324 percent on weekends, from 269 in 2008 to 1,141 this year.
The controversy over the Kent Avenue bike lane is certainly not new. Construction of the path and its supposed effects on traffic have created a rancorous debate among neighborhood residents, which has led to arrests and the removal of a popular community board member from her leadership position.
Opposition to the bike lane fomented at a Community Board 1 in 2008, when many residents questioned the need for a bike lane on Kent Avenue. Four months later, CB1 Transportation Committee Chairwoman Teresa Toro was deposed after a flap between community leaders over the bike lane.
Later, pressure from residents over the bike lane and the city’s transit adjustments began to mount when the city revealed plans to turn Kent Avenue into a one-way street last May.
After intense lobbying from South Williamsburg residents, city officials removed a section of bike lanes on nearby Bedford Avenue last December, which encouraged cyclists to repaint it. There were arrests and subsequent debates, and more debates — but the upshot is that we’re still talking about it.