Everyone wants safer streets, it seems, yet almost nobody wants to change too much about how they get around.
In Coney Island and Brighton Beach, pedestrians complain of cyclists flying down the boardwalk and cars not yielding. Cyclists cite cars and trucks double parking in bike lanes and aggressive drivers. Drivers lament people texting while jaywalking, bikers weaving in and out of lanes, and parking that is increasingly difficult to find.
“It can be the Wild West out here,” said Allen Adler, an eyewear salesman born and raised in the area who mostly walks and takes public transportation. “You can’t expect people to always do what they need to do. And you gotta stay alert.”
On a recent afternoon, a crossing guard shuffled schoolchildren and teenagers across the intersection of Neptune Avenue and West Fifth Street. Older residents pushed their grocery carts as fast as they could to get across. Drivers heading straight honked at others attempting unprotected left turns.
“It’s very dangerous,” Randy White, an avid biker and Coney Island resident, said as he unlocked his bike near the intersection. “I’ve almost gotten hit twice and I’ve seen a person hit here too.”
The perilous intersection will be getting a safety enhancement in the form of two left-turn signals within the next few weeks. The Brighton Beach-Coney Island community board also has approved installation of curb extensions and additional street lighting along Brighton Beach Avenue—an initiative proposed by Craig Hammerman, a Brighton resident and former district manager of Brooklyn Community Board 6.
Curb extensions, also known as neckdowns, shorten the crossing distance for pedestrians and slow down cars and trucks. The proposal, along with the community board’s other spending requests, still needs to go through the city’s capital-budget process. (The final city budget is voted on every year in June.)
“Curb extensions are one of the best ways to improve pedestrian visibility, with the added benefit of narrowing the roadway and slowing drivers,” said Joe Cutrufo, spokesperson for the street safety advocacy group Transportation Alternatives.
Since the start of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s safe-streets plan Vision Zero, the city has reported a steady decline in traffic-related deaths. The Department of Transportation has installed “safety treatments” at almost 90 percent of priority corridors and intersections since February 2014, according to a recent update.
After a citywide surge in cyclist deaths this year, Council Speaker Corey Johnson pushed forward his “Streets Master Plan,” which aims to add 250 miles of protected bike lanes and 150 miles of protected bus lanes over five years.
“There’s a lot of tension between vehicles, pedestrians and cyclists,” said Peter Tuckel, a professor of sociology at Hunter College, who has researched motorist and cyclist patterns and behavior. “Pedestrians were shunted aside, literally, for many years…reluctantly [motorists] are having to relinquish some of that space.”
Large avenues in southern Brooklyn such as Ocean Parkway and Coney Island Avenue have been the site of multiple deadly crashes this year, including accidents that killed cyclist Jose Alzorriz in August and cyclist Yevgeny Meskin earlier this month.
Cars are not the only cause of traffic-related injury. There were 303 reported crashes citywide between cyclists and pedestrians in 2018, according to a DOT report. Cars and trucks, however, still accounted for far more traffic deaths in 2018.
Brooklyn has the most pedestrian fatalities and injuries in the city, according to the latest Police Department motor vehicle collision report. In October alone, there were five pedestrians killed and 304 injured. By comparison, there were 222 injured and three killed in Queens and 187 injured, with one death, in Manhattan. There were no deaths in the Bronx, which saw 155 injured, or Staten Island, where 33 were injured.
The Coney Island and Brighton Beach boardwalk provides a refuge from car traffic. Still, accidents can happen when bikers ride too fast or pedestrians don’t pay attention.
“The issue of safety is an issue of everyone working in unison,” said Justin Rivera, a maintenance worker at the MCU Park stadium on Surf Avenue. “They made nice crosswalks here, but people still have to follow the rules. Everyone wants to point the finger at someone else.”