To more safely ferry his baby daughter between Greenpoint Landing and the rest of Greenpoint, local Greenpoint Beer & Ale trivia host Zach Eisenstat submitted a request to the NYC Department of Transportation (DOT) for crosswalks and other safety measures along Commercial Street. The DOT responded that it would conduct a study of the area over the next five years before possibly installing any safeguards. Because Zach judged that more urgent action was needed to avoid potential injuries or deaths, he posted a “Calm Commercial” petition in June 2022, and the petition helped elicit what is now a full-fledged grass-roots campaign.
Previously, as a result of 1698 votes in City Council’s 2017-2018 participatory budgeting cycle Acacia Thompson, the Environmental Justice Coordinator at Greenpoint Library, secured $300,000 for “improvements on a dangerous, 3-way intersection, next to a playground and residential apartments,” the intersection at Clay, Franklin & Commercial. Recently, stop signs were installed at the intersection. There is no evidence so far that the earmarked funds were used for the stop signs or are the basis for any other planning.
The “Calm Commercial” campaign builds off of Thompson and Eisenstat’s efforts by seeking to improve the safety of the full residential stretch of Commercial Street (from West Street through Manhattan Avenue) and by increasing accessibility to Greenpoint Landing. The campaign has now long been supported by a coalition of elected officials, real estate developers, a burgeoning segment of Greenpoint residents, and organizations such as North Brooklyn Transportation Alternatives. The coalition calls for a complete redesign of the Commercial Street area. City Councilmember Lincoln Restler, for example, in a response to a request for comment suggests several safety improvements:
“The northern tip of Greenpoint has experienced rapid new development, but street safety policies have failed to keep pace. We have brought DOT leadership to visit Commercial Street this past year and recently sent a letter alongside local electeds continuing to advocate for critical changes including the implementation of crosswalks, one way streets around Greenpoint Playground, protected bike lane to continue the Brooklyn Greenway, and pedestrian safety improvements. Safe access to parks and playgrounds is so important for our neighborhood and our office will continue to push DOT to swiftly implement necessary safety measures.”
State Senator Kristen Gonzalez also responded to a request for comment about Commercial Street and echoes Restler: “[…] I stand with North Brooklynites in urging the NYC DOT to install pedestrian safety infrastructure and engage in a comprehensive street redesign.”
In addition to the safeguards that Restler and Gonzalez mention, other coalition members also recommend street lights, traffic signs, “daylighting” (as was done in Hoboken), curb extensions, and traffic signals.
Now that the campaign has long been a vocal coalition the DOT appears to have heeded the community’s call for immediate action. At a “Calm Commercial” rally hosted by Greenpoint Beer & Ale in February 2023 Eisenstat announced that the DOT signaled that its representatives intend to discuss the results and takeaways of their current study of Commercial Street with Brooklyn Community Board 1’s (CB1) Transportation Committee this May and then discuss further with the full CB1 board in June. In a request for comment the DOT did not deny the possibility of this timeline:
“DOT and DDC [Department of Design & Construction] are in the preliminary design stage for a capital redesign of Commercial Street to incorporate the corridor into the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, enhancing safety and cycling access. We will have more information to share later this year.”Vin Barone, DOT Spokesperson
The timeline for constructing the Brooklyn Greenway extension on Commercial Street is promising but also uncertain. According to the Brooklyn Greenway Initiative (BGI) the Brooklyn Greenway will be:
“a 26-mile protected and landscaped route for pedestrians and cyclists. When completed, the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway will connect Brooklyn’s storied and iconic waterfront, parks and open space, commercial and cultural corridors, and new tech and innovation hubs for 2.65 million Brooklyn residents, over 1.1 million employees in Brooklyn, and 15 million annual visitors from across the City and around the world.”
BGI officials Brian Hedden, Advocacy & Greenway Projects Coordinator, and Hunter Armstrong, Executive Director, say the timeline of extending the greenway depends on many factors. The timeline, for instance, could be delayed depending on what type of greenway is planned (raised, protected by parking, etc.), whether the DOT utilizes its in-house resources or creates a capital project, or the DOT determines that it needs to improve underground utilities.
If the greenway on Commercial Street requires capital project status, which Hedden and Armstrong said it certainly will and the DOT suggests, and if the DOT needs to complete work underground, the extension could be delayed by years. By comparison BGI recently released a greenway extension on Flushing Ave that would have been available within a couple years if it weren’t for underground improvements that delayed the opening by three to five years. The extension also recently released on West Street between Quay Street and the western start of Commercial Street, however, did not require underground work and was opened within a couple years. It is unclear right now whether Commercial Street will suffer the Flushing Avenue’s extension’s timeline or borrow the West Street extension’s luck.
Looking ahead, the coalition sees “Calm Commercial” as a stepping stone. To Armstrong and Hedden, it is part of the last stride to connect Brooklyn and Queens more significantly. To Eisenstat “Calm Commercial” will open Greenpoint Landing and Box St. Park, which is on the horizon, more fully to the wider Greenpoint community. With a calm Commercial Street, Thompson looks forward to welcoming throngs of new Greenpointers to the high-rise developments of Greenpoint Landing: “I would be very excited for all our new neighbors who are moving up here to take a look around and get to know the area and really learn the complicated history of our community and get activated.”
Build a high end, over priced coffee, bar or restaurant and they will come.
Not so much for the streets involved.
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