Friday, June 30, 2017

Shared Streets Bring Resiliency To Broad Channel (The WAVE)

The “shared street” concept implemented on West 12th Road in Broad Channel. 
Photo by Joanie Wolkoff

Broad Channel Civic Association President Dan Mundy Jr. remembers when, close to 20 years ago, fellow residents broached the issue of flooding at high tide with the civic association. He’ll also tell you that it wasn’t until around 2010 that the West 12th Road Block Association successfully got elected officials to stand up and take notice of the problem, at which point a project to secure resiliency for at-risk homes in Broad Channel finally received the funding it needed to move forward.

“For a long time, flood-proofing Broad Channel was just another item on the list of things that pile up and don’t get done,” Mundy chuckles. “We get storms down here that aren’t even on the radar, and these beat up old streets hadn’t been redone in 80 years. Then with the help of elected officials in 2010, we finally got the much needed funding and Maura McCarthy, the Department of Transportation’s commissioner at the time, took on the challenge of creating a design to elevate the streets, replace the infrastructure and create a new storm resistant bulkhead at the end of the block, all while allowing for the longstanding practice of parking cars on both sides of the narrow block.

“[McCarthy] noticed that around here, we all parked with one wheel up on the sidewalk, which we did to make it easier for sanitation and emergency vehicles to get by,” he continued. “She also observed that, given how light traffic in Broad Channel is, its residents walk up and down the street [rather than limiting foot traffic to the side walk].”

McCarthy reflected on how she saw Broad Channel’s streets and sidewalks being used and, after some research into international traffic engineering, proposed a “Shared Streets Design,” which originated in the Netherlands and supports the notion of streets doubling as both an auto throughway and pedestrian area.

By removing all curbing, the functions of foot path and motorized travel way are visually – and practically – integrated. Such a departure from traditional street spaces calls on those involved to be mindful and take responsibility for themselves and others – something that Broad Channel residents know all about to begin with.

Mundy admits that initially, the Shared Streets design concept was met with local skepticism.

“The project was unusual in both design and how we contrived it, but people and cars both take more notice of each other [with this type of system] and there are statistically fewer injuries and fatalities, so we agreed to give it a try. We must’ve had 10 more meetings after making this decision, where we examined the plans and worked out elements that the community didn’t like – for example, these steel bollards that wouldn’t have gone over well because car doors were going to open and hit them. To their credit, there was a whole host of other issues that the DOT and DDC helped us to overcome. Meeting after meeting, we had successively fewer issues and I couldn’t believe my ears when we all met and there was not a single issue remaining. Then, everyone got a one-on-one meeting to negotiate any necessary restoration work – driveways and flower beds being effected and so on – and at long last, we went out to get our consent forms signed.”

For the time being, however, Mother Nature had other plans. Superstorm Sandy wreaked havoc on the surrounding area, preventing Broad Channel from going into the construction phase until the following spring. The community and its supporters have been hard at work since, transitioning into a safe haven from flooding.

As of today, three blocks (11th, 12th and 13th) benefit from two new bulkheads to stop tidal surges, streets raised by several feet, new drainage systems, water mains, sewage infrastructure and surfacing.  Where full moon tides once trapped or damaged cars, now stands a work in progress as an homage to the long years of flood grievances withstood by Broad Channel’s residents.

Phase two, which will endeavor to restore blocks 14th through 19th, is presently fully funded and designed out to 30 percent, which means it’s only a matter of time before Broad Channel’s remaining finger blocks will enjoy their own resiliency makeover.

“There were plenty of intricacies to trying to get community involvement and city approval,” Mundy recalls, “and all our planning had to be re-engineered, to an extent, for Build It Back. They had to tend to 35 homes in need of rebuilding and elevation without ripping up those newly built roads, so there was a need for further funding and extensive collaboration with the street design crew.”

Mundy, who made sure that every contractor working on the project got their own copy of the neighborhood’s tide charts, concedes, “Everyone’ll give you different numbers, but when you think about the discussion of sea level rise, there’s a lot of concern. I think the city deserves credit for coming up with a solution that addressed this unique problem. Sure, some people say there’ll be 10 more feet of water in five years, but I don’t think that’s going to be the case, and knowing Broad Channel Residents, I’m pretty certain they’re not going anywhere. We’ll be enjoying this island for the next hundred years!”

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