Man wearing camp pants and t shirt spray painting an image of a young boy as part of a street mural

Underhill Avenue

Before COVID, Underhill Avenue was a quiet, green street, safer than most for drivers, bikers, and pedestrians.  After a generalized survey and workshop/ presentations completed in English only, about more access to greener spaces, bike lanes and more, the DOT (supported by PHNDC) decided to completely overhaul Underhill Ave.  A small group of people led by PHNDC were about to have an outsized impact on our neighborhood.  After DOT conducted a few limited outreach efforts on Underhill and Vanderbilt (there was no extensive door to door surveying of the residents) word began to spread- neighbor to neighbor- about what was afoot.  Our Assemblyman, Robert Carroll wrote the DOT asking them to pause the redesign until the larger community could be heard from. Our City Councilperson, Crystal Hudson, also contacted the DOT for a timeline and was rebuffed. Despite the growing opposition that began building during the Spring of 2023, including a paper petition drive (neighbor to neighbor conversations held on the impacted streets) that gathered over 800 signatures by July 1, the DOT became increasingly recalcitrant and forged ahead.

DOT plunged ahead regardless of increasing neighborhood opposition and construction began at 5:45AM on Saturday, July 29, 2023. The DOT posted no notices on Underhill to alert the community about the dawn construction. Our elected officials were as surprised as the residents. In the wee hours, disrupting sleep for Underhill residents, the DOT installed bollards, large planters with perennial plants and boulders throughout the majority of Underhill Avenue. They posted “Bike Boulevard” signage and began painting road markings delineating the bike lanes, parking spaces, and center islands.

After extensive outreach to the mayor’s office and other elected officials, the Mayor’s office established a stop work order asking the DOT to complete a comprehensive outreach effort to residents. UNPCH urged multilingual surveys, in person surveys in non digital format, and adherence to door to door canvassing. These recommendations were not met. We received testimonials from an Underhill resident who is blind and asked the canvasser to assist in completing the survey and was handed a flier with a QR code instead. Many residents also reported not being approached by DOT during the canvasing day despite being home.  Additionally, UNPCH volunteers took it upon themselves to advertise and encourage residents to complete the digital DOT survey. Notice of the survey, posted on existing signage poles, were only posted along Underhill Avenue disenfranchising residents on Washington and Vanderbilt who are also impacted by these changes. Once again, the DOT’s outreach location was in front of the Underhill Playground which is not a central location for Prospect Heights residents.

We have filed multiple Freedom of Information Act requests to obtain the results of these surveys. None of this information has been provided and is now long past due. The DOT must provide transparency in order to establish trust between residents.

On February 29, 2024 at approximately 2:00AM construction resumed. Yet again, DOT posted no notices on Underhill to alert the community about the dawn construction. Woken up by loud noises, several community members went out onto Underhill to find out what was happening and called 311.  311 said there was no work order on file for the job.  The Foreman on the street said the DOT called them to do “emergency road  work.”  We can not see how this is an emergency or why precious city dollars were once again used to pay workers overtime for work not needed or wanted.  One neighbor posted this video at 2:30AM.  DOT did post two signs for construction occurring Thursday 6PM-6AM and Friday 5Am- 2PM. None of those times corresponded with the time that construction began.

  • Street Tagging

    At the end of March 2024, after continued dismissal of community input,  someone tagged the various boulders…

The DOT and the PHNDC told the community on multiple occasions that the redesign was necessary due to  safety concerns. We did a little digging into the vehicle collision data for Underhill Avenue using NYC Open Data Motor Vehicles Collisions- Crashes database and Crashmapper focused on data points for Underhill Avenue. The chart below gives some historical context.

Our research showing the PHNDC and DOT’s assertions that Underhill was a dangerous street in need of traffic slowing measures were not accurate was confirmed during a community meeting organized by our City Councilperson Crystal Hudson, on September 19th, 2023,  with Brooklyn DOT Commissioner, Keith Bray. Commissioner Bray told the community that Underhill Avenue is not a dangerous street and safety was not the reason for the redesign, as we had been told for months by the PHNDC and the DOT. Commissioner Bray told us the redesign is part of a pilot program to look at ways to get rid of barriers on existing Open Streets. Underhill was chosen to be redesigned simply because it was an existing Open Street and because the DOT has a mandate to convert a certain number of streets, not to address any local, community needs.

In an effort to make the Open Streets Limited Access permanent, the DOT designed a series of features to the length of Underhill Avenue shifting the traffic patterns impacting local residents.

Island Features

Underhill avenue island feature with large planters, boulders and bollards placed in the center of the street.
Island feature with bollards, boulders, and large planters

Description

Along 4 of the blocks, islands were placed in the center utilizing large planters, boulders, and bollards.

Impact

– Minimal effect on car speeds but slows emergency and other larger vehicles.

– Causes delivery vehicles to partially park on the sidewalk.

– Costly use of taxpayer funding to pay for plants and plantings each year. The DOT recently announced that it will be providing $27 million through the non profit The Hort, under its Public Space Equity Program, to provide perennial plants in the planters that will need to be replanted each year.

– Each island installed removes 8 street parking spaces used by residents who cannot afford the addition $500/ month parking lot spaces but require the use of a car due to employment, disability, or commuting needs.

One Way Protected Bike Lanes

Street view of a protected bike lane between the sidewalk and row of cars.
Protected bike lane between Bergen & St. Marks
3 small rolling trash dumpsters used by PS 9
Smaller trash dumpsters in front of PS 9
narrow street with mail truck blocking access to the street backing up traffic on the corner.
Deliveries blocking access
Planters and boulders blocking access to street sweeper- just cleaner by staff

Description

Blocks were turned into one way streets between Bergen/ St. Marks and Prospect/ Park Avenues. A protected bike lane was added on these one way blocks.

Impact

– Pushes car traffic to Washington Avenue and causes additional driving times.

– A once quiet street now experiences a significant increase in car honking.

– Creates a confusing street crossing experience for pedestrians who need to look multiple times to cross the bike lane, then car lane, and may not be expecting two way bicycle traffic when the street is marked as one way.

– When the street experiences heavy car traffic, bicycles moving southbound move into the one way protected bike lane causing a potential for collisions given the narrow path.

– PS 9 is now required to close the street during morning drop off and pick up to avoid traffic. A person needs to be hired to put up and remove the barricade each day.

– Sanitation was no longer able to access the large dumpster and needed to be replaced with multiple smaller dumpsters that need to be pushed off and on the curbs by PS 9 custodians leading to hardship. When full, each dumpster weights approximately 300 lbs.

– When deliveries occur between Park and Prospect Place, going around is not possible leading to backed up traffic and blocking of the intersection.

– Planters are placed in front of drainage preventing street sweeper access and requiring staff to manually sweep and clear drainage.

Lowry Triangle Block Off

An overview image of the block closed off at the intersection of Pacific, Washington and Underhill. There are large boulders, planters, and bollards blocking off the street.
Closed off Lowry Triangle

Description

Access to Underhill Avenue between Atlantic and Pacific was closed off to all traffic with tables and chairs being placed on the street daily.

Impact

– Underhill served as an additional artery for traffic moving southbound during high traffic times. The traffic is now pushed to Washington Avenue causing congestion, additional pollution, and slowed bus service on the B45 line.

– Emergency vehicles may no longer access residential building on this block.

– Tax payer funding goes to hire individuals who supervise, set up and break down tables and seats daily for a space rarely used.


These changes have had a significant impact on the neighbors living on Underhill Ave and surrounding streets as well as the public school and our first responders. When we raise these significant quality of life and safety issues, they are  summarily dismissed by a handful of advocates as merely a few disgruntled people complaining about losing a few parking spots.

Until we understand how transportation is utilized in our neighborhood, it is our position that these changes are short sighted, unethical and cruel; placing an undue burden on people already dealing with difficulties. We are asking for a significant study on why PH/CH residents utilize vehicular transportation, then address these issues with a compassionate and comprehensive plan.
 
We urge our officials to facilitate a more robust and comprehensive discussion around transportation.

We want DOT to stop and listen to the concerns of the majority of the neighborhood.

  • Seniors have greater difficulty accessing transportation
  • Persons with disabilities have greater difficulty accessing transportation
  • Emergency workers ability to respond to emergencies is hampered
  • The loss of 30 % of  parking spots unfairly burdens our working class residents, our public school teachers and removes access to seniors and disabled customers of our local businesses.
  • Washington, Eastern Parkway, Bergen, and Vanderbilt all already have high use bike lanes.

The redesign is hurting our community.
Return Underhill to how it was pre-COVID- a quiet, green street.

Have you been impacted by the changes on Underhill Avenue or have images to share of the direction repercussions of these changes? Please complete our Impact Statement Form.

DOT converted Underhill Ave into a bike lane, against the wishes of 1,000 locally impacted persons, including myself, who signed a petition. DOT has been totally unaccountable in this process. A general survey years ago (in English only) asked locals if they wanted greener streets. DOT cites that general survey to counter and ignore the very specific wishes of local residents who don’t want the bike lane.

With the new lines drawn for parking, which has taken away more car parking space, the taking of space to plant large pots of foliage, again taking space where cars used to be able to pull toward the curb so that cars could allow passengers to exit vehicles, now there’s a lot of double parking, causing congestion on an already narrow street. Garbage truck and delivery trucks have no shoulder to pull to and all of this effect even emergency vehicles trying to make impossible turns, I am concerned that in the event of any incident that we will not get the help in a timely fashion and this could prove disastrous for my end of Underhill, not to mention when it snows this winter, we will end up being a one lane road.