Project: Brooklyn Active Transportation Community Planning Initiative
Street redesign/community planning initiative
9.1 miles of bicycle lanes
Year Completed: November 2013
Project Partners: New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), Department of Health and Mental Hygiene (DOHMH), Brooklyn District Public Health Office, and Brownsville Partnership (an initiative of Community Solutions)
Project summary: Active in her neighborhood bike club, a senior citizen in the Brownsville section of Brooklyn, contacted the Brownsville Partnership and the New York City Department of Transportation (DOT), to request the installation of bike lanes. In the adjacent neighborhood of East New York, a group of parents began to advocate for better traffic safety around their school as a way of increasing opportunities for physical activity. As part of their advocacy, the parents worked with the Brooklyn District Public Health Office to conduct street audits, eventually sending their data to the DOT. Resulting from these two community-driven efforts, came the Brooklyn Active Transportation Community Planning Initiative. Created in 2010, this Initiative engaged residents of Brownsville and East New York and assisted them in transforming their neighborhoods to better support health.
Brownsville and East New York are home to roughly 269,364 residents, a majority of which is of African, Caribbean, or Hispanic/Latino descent. Brownsville is known to have the highest concentration of public housing in all of North America and over half of the population relies on some form of public assistance. Current land use patterns show that there are more vacant lots than recreational spaces (18% of land vs. 16% of land). Both neighborhoods are built around major arterial roads, often with excess travel lanes, making crossing distances very long and dangerous for pedestrians of all ages. While a recent CityLab article found that these transportation obstacles deterred low-income communities from even wanting to bike, Brownsville and East New York showed a growing demand for both biking and the necessary infrastructure to make that option safe.
From 2011 to 2012, community workshops and events—trainings on typical infrastructure designs, group bike tours of the neighborhoods, mapping exercises, helmet fittings, etc.— were held to devise street-specific changes and to educate community members on traffic safety. Overall, the feedback resulted in a request for twenty-one miles of bike lanes, with an additional seven miles proposed by the DOT to create a neighborhood-wide bicycle network. Lanes were designated with the purpose of connecting residents to neighborhood amenities such as, transit hubs, schools and libraries, parks and recreation centers, farmers’ markets, senior centers, and churches. Installation of the bike lanes concluded in fall of 2013, with way-finding signage being installed in Spring 2014. The excess travel lanes on major roads were replaced with bicycle lanes, which not only provide a safer space for bicycling, but also serve as a traffic calming measure. The community’s feedback directly influenced the installation of nearly 600 bike racks, both along proposed bike routes and at commercial and cultural destinations. Surveys to elicit feedback of the bike lanes from community members was completed in April 2014, with results expected to be published shortly.
The resulting momentum of community engagement and empowerment has led to Brownsville residents advocating for the installation of public plazas, historic preservation of local buildings, and greening of vacant lots. Community organizations in East New York continue to work with residents to activate public plazas with murals and performances, while also making use of vacant lots. The Brooklyn Active Transportation Community Planning Initiative is a great case study of community members partnering with local organizations and the City to affect the shape of their environment. We are excited to see the next phases of this Initiative and hope that other neighborhoods are able to follow suit.
Active Design Highlights: