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Stops are a go: Activist says signs not lights will tame Boerum streets

The Brooklyn Paper

Swapping all of Boerum Hill’s traffic lights for stop signs would curb reckless drivers and facilitate a more efficient traffic flow, according to one longtime resident of the brownstone enclave.

Bergen Street resident Howard Rubinstein fired off a letter to Department of Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan calling for the installation of four-way stop signs throughout the neighborhood to stop drivers from treating residential roads as if they were Atlantic Avenue.

“Traffic lights are wildly overused,” said Rubinstein, who wants lights to be removed at every intersection on Hoyt, Bond, and Nevins streets between Warren and Schermerhorn streets — with the exception of bustling Atlantic Avenue. “They are a reasonable thing to do on a street like Atlantic Avenue, but when you have these residential streets traffic lights are just moronic.”

The 60-year-old retiree claims all of those stoplights lead motorists convince hasty drivers to floor it in hopes of catching the next green.

A mandatory stop at every intersection would put an end to that.

“All-way stop signs means that everybody stops at every corner, so you have to do a little dance and figure out who goes first but no one will speed through the intersection,” he said. “It’s safer for pedestrians and it makes all these streets not really useful for through streets.”

Stop signs tend to slow down traffic, but the purpose of the octagonal placards is to control the right-of-way at an intersection, “not traffic speed,” according to the Department of Transportation’s website.

But agency spokesman Nick Mosquera said his department will review any request for an intersection study that it receives.

“When conducting studies, [the Department of Transportation] observes volumes of pedestrian and vehicular traffic, as well as other factors such as the presence of school crossings,” he said. “The installation of any changes to controls such as stop signs and signals are determined based on federal guidelines.”

Boerum HIll Association president Howard Kolins said the city replaced stop signs with stoplights at Hoyt and Dean streets and Nevins and State streets at the request of neighbors in years past because law-breaking motorists kept rolling through intersections and causing collisions.

“The issue here is safety and when there are specific incidents of accidents at these intersections because people are not observing the stop signs, traffic lights are a better solution,” he said, adding that each intersection should be studied individually to determine whether it warrants a traffic light or stop sign.

One way or another, city planners hope to make traffic slower in Boerum Hill.

The city installed 14 speed bumps and will soon convert the neighborhood into the borough’s first “slow zone” by lowering the speed limit from 30 miles per hour to 20 in the blocks bounded by Smith Street and Union, Third, and Atlantic avenues.

“We all agree that Boerum Hill desperately needs stronger traffic calming measures,” said Councilman Steve Levin (D–Boerum Hill), who pushed for the “slow zone” with the Boerum Hill Association. “I’m certainly willing to look into the idea of having all way stops, but I don’t know if it necessarily makes sense at every intersection.”

Reach reporter Natalie Musumeci at nmusumeci@cnglocal.com or by calling (718) 260-4505. Follow her at twitter.com/souleddout.

Updated 4:35 pm, January 24, 2014: Story updated to clarify a few details and correct a misspelling.
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another idiot from the government says:
What was Howard Rubenstein's line of work before he retired? Not that government has all the answers, or it cannot be reluctant to try new approachs, but I love it when lay people act like agency personnel are a bunch of idiots who make decisions by throwing darts at a corkboard.
March 25, 2013, 9:37 am
another idiot from the government says:
What was Howard Rubenstein's line of work before he retired? Not that government has all the answers, or it cannot be reluctant to try new approachs, but I love it when lay people act like agency personnel are a bunch of idiots who make decisions by throwing darts at a corkboard.
March 25, 2013, 9:37 am
AK from Boerum Hill says:
Every time I'm at the corner of Atlantic and Hoyt, I witness major traffic violations. This morning, I was almost hit by a speeding motorist that ran a red light on Atlantic Avenue. I always see motorists speeding down Hoyt Street while children are walking to school and motorists are always pulling illegal u-turns in the middle of Atlantic Avenue. And there is never a police presence or crackdown! Unfortunately, expect to see more pedestrian deaths in this area...
March 25, 2013, 10:40 am
VLM from Park Slope says:
Just think of this story as "60 year old retired crank sends letter to the government."
March 25, 2013, 10:52 am
Jym (formerly) from Boerum Hill says:
@AK - Lots of cops nearby. Just one block north, they use the bike lane on Hoyt for parking.
March 25, 2013, 11:04 am
where is tal barzilai now? from boerum hill says:
everyone breaks the rules tal
March 25, 2013, 11:11 am
What Would Tal Do? from Boerum Hill says:
Howard Rubenstein is not a traffic engineer or urban planner, but he plays one for the Brooklyn Paper.
March 25, 2013, 11:51 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I feel that Howard Rubenstein has this backwards. More people are likely to run a stop sign than they are a red light. As a matter of fact, there are many who just come to close to a stop when approaching them rather than doing a complete stop compared to approaching a red light. When I was going into the campus over at Adelphi University over in Garden City, there were many who just entered the South Avenue entrance running that stop sign and almost never stopping for it. Of course, let's not forget that cyclists tend to treat all lights and signs as decorations, but if a crackdown is being called for, all the bike zealots will be crying foul on that.
March 25, 2013, 4:20 pm
TAL 9000 from Future Pleasantville, NY says:
That "Tal" was too coherent and the swipe at cyclists seems gratuitous. Verdict: fake.
March 25, 2013, 6:09 pm
Howard Rubinstein from Boerum Hill says:
Everyone is entitled to his opinion but for the record, in response to the comment about "lay people [who] act like agency personnel are a bunch of idiots who make decisions by throwing darts at a corkboard," I don't think agency personnel are idiots -- I worked for the city for twelve years and no one I knew every made decisions by throwing darts at a corkboard.
March 25, 2013, 10:15 pm
Brian Van from Gramercy says:
If the concern is that a traffic signal allows unfettered speeding in an area where we can't post cops at every intersection, I can relate to the assessment that 4-way stops would do a better job of taming traffic.

I think the entire city has gotten too reliant on traffic signals, which allow for a very high flow of cars through intersections - that isn't always a good thing, especially in a residential area. Drivers have indeed taken it for granted that they can just zoom down any street at 30mph 5 or 10, depending on whether or not they're in a rush. That's appropriate for Fourth Avenue and Atlantic Avenue, but really bad for the local streets in-between.

As far as I can see, stop signs wouldn't introduce significant new problems. Stop signs are pretty much standard for intersection control in most urban residential neighborhoods. It's mostly the case that cars tend not to run them, and that when they do run them, it's usually in plain sight of all the other street users (who have to check if the street is clear); if an approaching car is coming on aggressively, other street users can safely keep away. It's not entirely clear if stop signs are "more enforceable" than red light runners by police - or the opposite - but it seems that both controls are easy for cops to enforce for the few times they're present and watching.

And in any case, this seems to be a thing where it's at the discretion of the city, and their main priority is safety, not convenience. If activists can show that safety can be enhanced by swapping out intersection control devices (without creating gridlock traffic), then I'm with them in suggesting that the DOT proceed with the plan.

Now proceed with all of the 1% drivers telling us how they need to drive around Brooklyn when most of the middle class is used to walking and taking the subway. Private vehicle prioritization is regressive and hostile against the public. The city and state has built everything you've ever demanded and then some... time to share the streets a little better.
March 26, 2013, 9:39 am
Brian Van from Gramercy says:
If the concern is that a traffic signal allows unfettered speeding in an area where we can't post cops at every intersection, I can relate to the assessment that 4-way stops would do a better job of taming traffic.

I think the entire city has gotten too reliant on traffic signals, which allow for a very high flow of cars through intersections - that isn't always a good thing, especially in a residential area. Drivers have indeed taken it for granted that they can just zoom down any street at 30mph 5 or 10, depending on whether or not they're in a rush. That's appropriate for Fourth Avenue and Atlantic Avenue, but really bad for the local streets in-between.

As far as I can see, stop signs wouldn't introduce significant new problems. Stop signs are pretty much standard for intersection control in most urban residential neighborhoods. It's mostly the case that cars tend not to run them, and that when they do run them, it's usually in plain sight of all the other street users (who have to check if the street is clear); if an approaching car is coming on aggressively, other street users can safely keep away. It's not entirely clear if stop signs are "more enforceable" than red light runners by police - or the opposite - but it seems that both controls are easy for cops to enforce for the few times they're present and watching.

And in any case, this seems to be a thing where it's at the discretion of the city, and their main priority is safety, not convenience. If activists can show that safety can be enhanced by swapping out intersection control devices (without creating gridlock traffic), then I'm with them in suggesting that the DOT proceed with the plan.

Now proceed with all of the 1% drivers telling us how they need to drive around Brooklyn when most of the middle class is used to walking and taking the subway. Private vehicle prioritization is regressive and hostile against the public. The city and state has built everything you've ever demanded and then some... time to share the streets a little better.
March 26, 2013, 9:39 am
Joe R. from Flushing says:
Four-way yields, or perhaps roundabouts, would be better than four-way stops, but at least this would be a step in the right direction. NYC has at least ten times as many traffic signals as other comparably-sized cities. The more you use any traffic control, the more it tends to be treated casually. Also, unlike stop signs, traffic signals tend to encourage speeding to "make the light". An often ignored fact about traffic signals is even though they allow traffic to proceed at 30 or 40 mph when green, the frequent stops result in average speeds of under 20 mph. That being the case, it might be better to use roundabouts and yield signs at intersections. You might never be able to drive much above 20 mph in such an environment, but since you'll rarely need to stop, you may well get there faster than you do now. Removing traffic signals will also benefit pedestrians and cyclists.
March 26, 2013, 10:49 am
Fonty from Greenfont says:
I love your new font.
March 26, 2013, 3:29 pm
BunnynSunny from Clinton Hill says:
I have never seen a car go through an intersection with stop signs at 50 miles per hour like they do a yellow light.
March 26, 2013, 4:33 pm
Nathan from Downtown Brooklyn says:
"when there are specific incidents of accidents at these intersections because people are not observing the stop signs, traffic lights are a better solution"

I could just as easily say, "When there are crashes at signalized intersections because people are not observing the signal, it proves that stop signs are a better solution." Across all manner of traffic control devices, motorists manage to crash into things.

Years ago, community groups like the Boerum Hill Association got into the habit of requesting traffic signals in response to auto crashes and government eventually obliged, so that today we have signals almost everywhere. Do they live up to their danger-reducing promise over the long term -- did their advocates measure the outcome?

It's high time we take stock of whether massively signalizing neighborhood intersections has reduced or increased the danger that speeding motorists pose to pedestrians. That's the only outcome I'm interested in. Thank you Rubinstein, for demanding this overdue reflection.
March 26, 2013, 5:06 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
In a major such as NYC, traffic lights would actually work better than stop signs especially in being automated. The idea goes back to having crossing guards being obsolete and being tired of directing traffic through such intersections. Just because this happens to be a residential area, doesn't mean that it shouldn't have traffic lights. This is still part of a major city nonetheless. Just like highways, traffic lights were a reaction to the car culture, not a creation of it. BTW, just because some traffic ideas may work in other places doesn't mean that it will work here especially when NYC isn't any of those places when its population is even more than all of them combined.
March 26, 2013, 5:39 pm
Bklynbiker from South Slope says:
Tal, when you say "here" are you referring to Pleasantville or Boerum Hill?
March 26, 2013, 5:57 pm
Jimmy from PH says:
Oh, this Tal character actually lived in Pleasantville? Like the town in Westchester? I thought that was a joke.

This explains A LOT about his weird comments.
March 26, 2013, 7:09 pm
Joe R. from Flushing says:
Tal,

75 years of studies actually show traffic lights make things worse for both pedestrians and autos. The only reason to have traffic lights is to allow passage through intersections at speeds higher than about 20 mph. This is mostly applicable where suburban and rural highways intersect each other. On urban streets there's little reason to have traffic lights. Even though they allow faster cruising speeds (which is NOT good thing in a city), they result in average speeds of only 15 to 20 mph. Or put another way, they don't even make things better for motorists. They do in fact make things MUCH worse for both pedestrians and cyclists. I see rampant speeding on local streets after traffic lights are installed.

I'm glad Rubinstein finally focused some attention on the traffic light proliferation which has plagued our city. For far too long, community boards have always seen traffic lights as the answer when stop or yield signs are ignored. Has this actually made things safer? The answer is no because traffic lights are now routinely being ignored by everyone (including motorists). The more a traffic control is used (or overused), the less effective it will be. We should remove at least 90% of the traffic signals. The only time a traffic light is really needed is at intersections with poor lines of sight where you can't determine if the cross street is clear. That includes intersections with oblique angles, and also those where the view is blocked by things like bridge abutments. Everywhere else 4-way yields are sufficient. Just make sure to increase lines of sight by prohibiting parking within about 75 feet of the intersection (preferably via sidewalk extensions). Yes, motorists will need to slow down and look at every intersection, but that's safer for everyone than being on autopilot following the green wave at 40 or 50 mph.
March 26, 2013, 7:29 pm
bkdude64 from midwood says:
is it just me or has the fonts and design been changed on the site?
March 26, 2013, 8:07 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Joe, we are not talking about some small town, we are talking about a major city. I will not argue that there are those who tend to run red lights, but that's not all motorists, and I am NOT one of them that does such a thing. For the record, I have never seen any part in the city on local roads where you can just floor the accelerator. Honestly, I don't feel that the same traffic patterns that work in other cities can work in NYC such as the fact that Portland (the one in Oregon, not Maine) uses a bunch of stop signs rather than traffic, which is probably where the idea comes from. Let's face it, NYC isn't Portland, and it never will be. Next, I am going to hear that a bunch of roundabouts like what done in Carmel, Indiana should be places as well when it probably can't due to such space.
March 26, 2013, 9:34 pm
ty from pps says:
Tal -- What about the roundabouts in London and Edinburgh?

Seriously, it's clear that you didn't understand a word that Joe R. wrote. Your response is ridiculous.

Your first sentence, "we are not talking about some small town, we are talking about a major city" misses the point. It's like you TRY to misunderstand, misconstrue, and generally make ridiculous statements.
March 26, 2013, 9:55 pm
Don Wiss from Park Slope says:
I live on the long side of the block. I am about 1/3 of the way to a traffic light. I can tell the color of the light by the speed of the cars out front. If red then slow. If green then fast. If the Don't Walk has started flashing then they are racing. And most of those run the red light, as they are going so fast they aren't going to stop. And this includes trucks, especially the monster commercial garbage truck that races up to the green light in the middle of the night.

My block has no speed bumps. But where I see them they are too far back from the light. I don't having one changing what I observe.

I would much prefer a stop sign. But I have come up with a compromise. Smart traffic lights. This would require a vehicle sensor on the side street and push-to-walk buttons on all four corners. The lights along the avenue would still be synchronized, but that intersection would only join the cycle if a vehicle was sensed or a button pushed. It would then join the cycle when it next approached, whether one second away, or 60 seconds away (the full cycle length). There is the problem of sensing bicycles.
March 26, 2013, 10:05 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
I am all for Don's idea, because I think that it will work better than what Rubinstein mentioned, and it sounds more realistic.
March 26, 2013, 10:09 pm
Joe R. from Flushing says:
Tal,

Haven't I mentioned many times that I think we should put all the traffic lights on sensors? That's a good idea in that you would have better red light compliance by both drivers and cyclists if they knew a red light meant something was definitely crossing the road. However, we still have too many traffic signals. If we reduced the numbers of signals and installed sensors, I think traffic lights would be much more effective in the places where they're really needed. The problem with overuse of traffic lights is everyone gets into the habit of sometimes ignoring them. At most intersections where traffic lights really aren't necessary, you can get away with this behavior without serious consequences (just as you can get away with speeding on a wide straight road where the speed limit is set too low). The problem comes when you encounter the minority of intersections where a traffic signal really is needed, perhaps due to poor lines of sight. A driver or cyclist who might ignore red lights at those intersections because they never had problems ignoring them elsewhere could end up dead. The moral of the story here is use traffic lights sparingly, only when no other alternative will work.

And while roundabouts aren't the answer to every intersection, where arterials meet you have plenty of room for roundabouts. They would both improve traffic flow and make things safer.
March 26, 2013, 10:30 pm
Pleasant from Talville says:
I think Tal is a plant by Brooklyn Paper. Look at the return page views he/she generates while spewing off the mark nonsense.
March 27, 2013, 12:47 am
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Joe, I honestly feel that the motorists that ignore the traffic lights are still in the minority. Maybe if traffic lights at every several intersections where a little bit more synchronized, the traffic would go better rather than have them different every few blocks. It's really annoying that at one intersection the light will be green, but the one at the next block or so is already either yellow or red before even reaching that intersection forcing sudden stops. Overall, I don't find traffic lights to be broken beyond repairs, so there is no need to throw the baby out with the bathwater on this.
March 27, 2013, 3:29 pm
Joe R. from Flushing says:
Tal, believe it or not, the lack of synchronization you mentioned is INTENTIONAL, ostensibly to calm traffic. I think there are better ways to calm traffic, like maybe just narrowing travel lanes. I certainly don't support doing idiotic things like timing lights so motorists are forced to stop every block.

As far as motorists ignoring traffic lights, those who go through a steady red (hopefully after at least checking if it's clear) are a minority. However, lots of motorists speeding up to make lights often pass through the intersection right after the light goes red. That's really the reason why traffic lights decrease safety.
March 27, 2013, 9:54 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Joe, there are more studies and even video evidences showing that cyclists are more likely to run a red light than any motorists, but I don't hear any way to stop that.
March 28, 2013, 6:14 pm
ty from pps says:
Tal --
Will there ever be an article related to the streets in Brooklyn without your brand of dumb filling the comments?
March 28, 2013, 9:52 pm
Don Wiss from Park Slope says:
Here in the city, where there is no right on red, I very rarely see drivers run red lights in the middle of a cycle. But if there are cars present when the red cycle starts, there will always be a car for each lane that runs it. Here in the city an orange means to speed up.

When I have been in Boston, I see many more people simply run through the middle of a red cycle. My theory on this is roundabouts breed aggressiveness. They have roundabouts. We don't have them here in the city. You have to be aggressive to to get into and out of one.

Now there are the small European ones at a simple cross intersection. They may not breed the aggressiveness you get with the large ones.

As for bicycles. There is one state where bicyclists are allowed to treat a red light as a stop sign. If no traffic is present after stopping, they are allowed to proceed. What appalls me is the cyclists in Manhattan that weave in and out of the pedestrians and vehicles as they are running a red light. That would not be permitted in that one state. What state is it?
March 28, 2013, 9:58 pm
Joe R. from Flushing says:
Tal,

There are three ways to stop cyclists from running red lights. One, install sensors so the lights are only red when something is actually crossing. Most cyclists value their lives. They will not pass red lights if cars or pedestrians are crossing. Two, remove most traffic lights. Three, build elevated bike paths above the streets so cyclists won't encounter red lights, stop signs, pedestrians, or motor vehicles. Stopping every few miles for a red light is a nonissue for most cyclists. Stopping every few blocks is not only tedious, but totally kills average speeds. More importantly requires power levels most cyclists don't possess. In short, most cyclists CAN'T physically stop and start every few blocks regardless of what the law says but because you don't ride a bike you don't realize that. It's just as unreasonable as having a law saying pedestrians have to go 30 mph when crossing the streets, then ticketing them when they can't.

Bottom line-change the infrastructure or change the law. You're not going to have cyclists stopping for every red light, not when you have traffic lights on every single block.
March 28, 2013, 11 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
The claim that most motorists run red lights feel like an exaggeration at best. I betcha if a camera that records everyday life at those intersections was placed at them, like the one done by Hunter College back in 2007, it will show who is really running them, and it may not be the ones you expect it to be. The same thing on the Bike Bedlam report on CBS News found that more cyclists were violating the traffic laws more than motorists when recording on Chambers Street. Seriously, I don't get this average speed on bicycles thing, and I find it more of an excuse just not to follow the traffic laws. Again, until you can change the laws, you have to follow them rather than playing victim to them instead, because it will only create more enemies that feel that cyclists such as yourself are nothing but an elite group who feels that they are above all others. One other thing, I find it very dangerous to do a rolling stop in a densely populated city such as NYC, because that does feel like placing one's self into harm's way, but for such places like Streetsblog and Transportation Alternatives, it would make them a martyr for doing such.
March 29, 2013, 4:42 pm
Joe R. from Flushing says:
Tal, did you bother to read my entire post? Your response looks like a copy and paste of posts you've made in the past. It's physically *impossible* to stop every two or three blocks for red lights, which is about how often you hit red lights at bicycle speed if you wait out every red light. It's not a question of won't, it's a question of *cannot* physically do it. Try riding a bike and stopping every 2 or 3 blocks for miles on end. I can't do it and I'm a fairly fit cyclist. If I don't run out of energy first, I'll get leg cramps. Either way, it's beyond my capabilities. As for average speeds, yes, they're important to cyclists for the same reasons they're important to car drivers (or we wouldn't have built highways). If I'm going to bother getting on a bike for a trip, I expect to average at least 15 mph, and I usually do. If I stop and wait for every red light, I'll be averaging walking speed on many roads. That being the case, I might as well just leave the bike at home and walk.

Because you drive, let's try an analogy you might understand. Suppose we passed a law requiring a minimum speed of 150 mph on expressways. I know the car you drive is physically incapable of reaching this speed. Therefore, you would receive tickets under this law even though it's beyond the capability of your car to comply with it. In short, it's an unreasonable law because it would penalize probably about 99% of motorists who have cars incapable of cruising at 150 mph. That's the situation cyclists are in now, and that's how I plan to frame things when I ask legislators to change the law.
March 29, 2013, 5:55 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Stop hamasing me, Ty.
April 3, 2013, 3:53 pm
Tal Barzilai from Pleasantville, NY says:
Stop Hamasing me, Ty.
April 3, 2013, 3:53 pm

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