Not so fast, neighbors say to one-way Avenue B


By Lincoln Anderson

A pitch by the Ninth Police Precinct’s commander to have the city change Avenue B to a one-way street so traffic will flow faster didn’t make much headway at a meeting held by Community Board 3 last Wednesday.

In response to an increase in complaints about noise from taxi horn honking associated with the avenue’s burgeoning nightlife scene, Deputy Inspector Dennis De Quatro of the Ninth Precinct is recommending that the East Village avenue be made northbound. Judging, however, by the initial reaction of about 35 community members who showed up for last week’s C.B. 3 Transportation Committee meeting, support for his proposal does not appear very strong.

Residents said that changing two-way Avenue B to one-way would make the area seem less like a neighborhood; the proposal sparked fears of traffic speeding up and accompanying concern about the impact this would have on the at least four schools that line the avenue.

All agreed, though, that the new bar and club scene has caused a quality-of-life nightmare — the two main complaints being noise and traffic — mainly on Thursday, Friday and Saturday nights. In addition to late-night shouting as people spill onto the street when the bars close at 4 a.m., noise is caused by taxis clogging the narrow avenue to pick up and drop off fares at the nightspots, often doing so in the middle of the avenue, blocking traffic and setting off a din of horn honking.

Supporting De Quatro’s case for a one-way Avenue B, Sergeant Christopher Christodoulou, the Ninth Precinct public safety sergeant, gave a report showing that car accidents on the avenue have increased in recent years. In 2003, there were 76 car accidents on Avenue B, with 23 people injured; in 2004, there were 101 accidents, with 27 injuries; in 2005, as of last Wednesday with a month left in the year, there had been 83 car accidents, with 28 injuries. Most of the accidents are not major but occurred while a car was overtaking, sideswiping or rear-ending another on the cramped avenue, the sergeant said.

“They’re not head-on injuries,” Christodoulou explained. “These were people trying to squeeze by taxis.”

De Quatro is proposing that the avenue run one-way northbound. Under the plan, at least the downtown leg of the M-9 bus — and possibly the uptown leg as well — would be shifted to Avenue C.

However, some residents said, instead of changing the avenue’s direction, they’d prefer more police enforcement on the main bar nights, like the crackdown De Quatro led two Fridays ago, when police blitzed Avenue B with 30 officers from the precinct, Manhattan South Task Force, Mounted Unit and Traffic Control Unit.

“You’d make the money back in tickets,” one resident pointed out.

“Changing Avenue B would change the nature of the neighborhood,” said East Villager Michael Oakleaf. “Focus on keeping people quiet and being more respectful.” A one-way Avenue B with faster-moving traffic would mean more “stress,” he said.

But De Quatro said he can’t promise Avenue B will get two officers on foot patrol on peak nights, because he’s got to spread his resources throughout the 1-square-mile precinct — and that if he did so residents on the other avenues would demand equal police manpower.

“Where available, I will plug in foot patrols where I can,” the deputy inspector said, adding he will be doing this “on a targeted basis.”

Concerns over Avenue B becoming more heavily used by car traffic if it is one-way are not founded, the plan’s backers say, because since 9/11 the streets around the E. 14th St. Con Edison power plant, including the entrance and exit to the F.D.R. Drive at E. 14th St., have been closed.

While not saying he supported the one-way option, David McWater, C.B. 3 chairperson, said, “There’s no gain [for car drivers] to go north on Avenue B.” McWater added that he’d “been getting calls all day” from people who fear the avenue will become a speedway if it’s made northbound only.

Another resident said he drives the avenue every day and that most of the time “there’s virtually no traffic.” “It’s safe for my kids when they go to school,” he said.

Others complained that moving the Avenue B bus to Avenue C will inconvenience those who are not very mobile. De Quatro said, though, that shifting the bus will free up 500 parking spaces where the bus stops are currently.

One resident, noting that no Avenue B nightclub or bar owners attended the meeting, stated, “I would say that itself is a problem.”

Ellyce Di Paolo, an E. Fourth St. resident, said she’d handed out 120 fliers for the meeting, many of them to bar and shop owners.

“If they’re not here, it’s on them,” she said.

A woman from Transportation Alternatives, the pro-pedestrian and -bicycling organization, said, “Avenue B is this small community’s main street.” She noted that a characteristic of a main street is that it has traffic in two directions and is very easy to cross.

“A bi-directional street encourages less driving, less confusion and encourages walking and biking,” she said.

However, she seemed to be misapplying a general principle to Avenue B when she said diagonal parking is also a feature of a main street and suggested that it might be an idea for Avenue B.

“We don’t even have enough room the way it is now,” someone interjected.

The suggestion was offered, if some sort of change is to be made on Avenue B, to just do it on the worst nights.

“The problem is three times a week, Thursday, Friday and Saturday from 8 p.m. to 5 a.m.,” one woman said. “Can you just change something on those nights?”

Michael Rosen of the East Village Community Coalition, who lives on Avenue B and said he rides his bike on the avenue, urged the community board and others to “think outside the box” in finding a solution.

No hands were raised when it was asked who supported the plan.

However, De Quatro noted he’s spent time on the avenue studying the traffic conditions at various times of the day and week, and thinks his proposal makes sense. “I feel the problems the residents are experiencing [about bar noise and traffic congestion and honking] far outweigh the problems of making the street one-way,” he said. “I’m not proposing to be a transportation expert or an expert on the Lower East Side,” he noted. “I’ve only been here three months. I’m trying to take a proactive approach — [to see] what can we do for businesses and residents. Right now, the speed on Avenue B is a crawl.”

The committee didn’t vote on the one-way idea. Susan Stetzer, the board’s district manager, said she plans to set up a meeting with representatives of the police, Department of Transportation, Metropolitan Transportation Authority/ NYC Transit and the Taxi and Limousine Commission to take a closer look at the one-way option and other ideas.

Afterwards, asked if he was disappointed that the club owners hadn’t shown up, De Quatro said, “It’s obviously their decision.” As for the public’s reaction to his plan, he said, he felt it was “mixed,” and said it’s up to the community to see if they want to back it.