By Raanan Geberer
Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Every day on the way to work, I pass by Front Street in DUMBO. It is a busy street, with trucks, a cab dispatcher nearby, and many private cars. Yet, if you want to cross the street you have to look around, wait until there are no cars, and then cross. Often, you see the awkward sight of two drivers trying to decide which one will go first, and which one will wait. That’s right, there are no traffic lights here.
DUMBO was designed in the early 1900s as a purely industrial district. There were few, if any, cars on the street in those days. Goods were delivered in two ways – by horse and wagon, and by a street freight rail line whose tracks can still be seen in the area. People who worked in the lofts and factories probably walked to work. The opening of a subway stop at York Street during the 1930s didn’t change the neighborhood that much – it remained largely industrial.
In the 1950s and ‘60s, even though the automobile now ruled the streets, industry began to leave DUMBO and the area became more deserted, especially after working hours. As late as 1992, the movie “Scent of a Woman” shows Al Pacino, when he wants to test-drive a new Ferrari at high speeds, heading to DUMBO because he knows there will be few, if any, pedestrians or drivers on the streets.
Today’s DUMBO, however, is radically different. There are condo buildings, retail stores, restaurants, offices and more. The bicycle craze has also hit the area in a big, big way, and several Citi Bike racks are in the area. There are several construction sites, which means more trucks and delivery vans. While DUMBO isn’t exactly Times Square, it is now a busy urban area. And it is clear to me that more traffic lights are needed.
An article in the New York Post from August 2010 that I have in front of me tells me that DUMBO didn’t receive its first traffic light until that year. Even then, reaction was divided: One person was quoted as saying that the neighborhood would now “become an extension of the Lower East Side” (presumably meaning that there will be a lot more bars and clubs), while another feared that the traffic light would make motorists drive even more aggressively.
To me, the traffic lights on York Street are insufficient. In my experience, city neighborhoods with many stop signs and few traffic lights are usually areas in the outer reaches of southern Brooklyn, the Bronx, Queens and Staten Island, areas that are dominated by single-family or two-family houses. DUMBO is nothing like these neighborhoods. It’s near Brooklyn’s business district and is contains many high-tech firms as well as an increasing number of condo towers.
At a food event under the Manhattan Bridge archway, I asked someone sitting in a booth sponsored by a local civic organization about traffic lights. “No,” she said, “we haven’t heard many complaints about not having traffic lights here.” But I don’t know why that is. To me, the neighborhood deserves more traffic lights – period.
Having more traffic lights on Front Street and elsewhere in DUMBO is just good common sense. DUMBO is now an urban area, and it needs to be treated like one.