Volume 74, Number 29 | November 24 - 30, 2004

Bar noise and traffic become problems on Avenue B

By Hemmy So

The increasing popularity of the nightlife scene on lower Avenue B is having an impact on the quality of life of residents, who made their issues known at a Nov. 10 Community Board 3 joint committee meeting specifically on this issue. With C.B. 3 members and bar and restaurant owners in attendance, local residents cited numerous traffic and noise problems on Avenue B, particularly between Houston and E. Fourth Sts.

Community Board 3 had already received a steady stream of similar complaints before organizing a joint committee meeting of its Public Safety, Transportation and S.L.A. Committees. Because residents’ issues fell under the jurisdiction of separate committees but were inherently related, it was decided that a joint committee meeting would provide the best venue for discussion.

At the meeting, residents complained specifically about noise emanating from the numerous bars and nightclubs along the avenue and seemingly endless horn honking by frustrated drivers trapped in traffic gridlock.

“It had become quite impossible to even sleep at night,” said Mark Hannay, who lives on E. Fourth St. between Avenues A and B.

In addition to increased traffic flow from cabs dropping off and picking up bar and restaurant patrons, one of the main problems at the southern end of Avenue B is that the avenue physically narrows at E. Fourth St, causing additional traffic congestion on a street that already supports a bus route and parking on both sides. Further, because E. Fourth St. serves as a popular eastbound thoroughfare, the corner of Avenue B and Fourth St. winds up crowded and gridlocked. The worst nights for traffic are Fridays and Saturdays.

To resolve the traffic issue, the committees proposed permanently disallowing parking along the west side of Avenue B between Third and Fourth Sts and eliminating 12 parking spots on the corners of Avenue B and Second, Third and Fourth Sts.

“This allows open sightlines for pedestrians, allows vehicles turning onto Avenue B more ability to turn, more space to turn. It’s also important to create moving traffic for emergency vehicles, especially since there’s a fire station on Second St.,” said Susan Stetzer, Board 3’s district manager.

Adonis Spyropoulos, who operates Ruby Lounge on E. Second St. just west of Avenue B, has doubts about the proposal.

“I feel this is a temporary step for the simple reason that a lot of people ignore their tickets. They will park there no matter what. It’s an empty space, and they’ll get their ticket,” he said. “I see my customers circling for 45 minutes looking for parking — that 45 minutes increases traffic instead of eliminating it.” He added that with fewer parking spaces, customers might spend even more time looking for parking, adding to more congestion.

To help traffic flow, the Ninth Police Precinct has already begun prohibiting southbound traffic on Avenue B from going past E. Seventh St. on Friday and Saturday nights, starting around 10 p.m. or 11 p.m. The police block northbound traffic at Houston St. starting at 2 a.m. Saturday and Sunday mornings.

“That’s been really effective and we’ve gotten a lot of positive feedback on that. It’s a big help in deterring the noise,” said Deputy Inspector James McCarthy, Ninth Precinct commanding officer. In addition, McCarthy has put in a request to the Department of Transportation to consider changing Avenue B to a one-way street. After having done it the last three weeks, last Friday night, police were not blocking southbound traffic on Avenue B.

Hannay, however, has not experienced a noticeable difference in noise levels on weekends.

“When they had announced that they had done that at the meeting last week, none of us were really aware that they had done that,” Hannay said. “I don’t think most of the traffic feeding into the traffic on Avenue B comes from Seventh [St.]. Most comes from Fourth [St.] because it comes from west. I don’t think we actually experienced much of a difference.”

Indeed, David McWater, chairperson of C.B. 3, admitted that noise is the larger and more difficult problem to combat. C.B. 3 has admonished establishments with backyard venues that do not close their backyards on time (11 p.m. on weekdays, midnight on weekends), and the Ninth Precinct has put more beat cops on Avenue B on weekends, he said.

“We’ve also done some inspections of some of these clubs,” Deputy Inspector McCarthy said. “I’ll have a lieutenant and maybe four officers walking up and down, looking for quality of life issues, such as loud music or noise emanating from bars. I’ve noticed a lot of bars keep their doors shut now.”

Other suggestions for noise reduction included temporarily ticketing drivers with loud car stereos and planting trees along Avenue B to help absorb noise. C.B. 3’s McWater suggested that establishments use a common garbage carter so that residents need only suffer through one loud garbage pickup run rather than several spread through the night and early morning.

The board’s S.L.A. Committee also passed a resolution placing a moratorium on hearing applications for new liquor licenses for establishments located on Avenue B between Houston and E. Fourth Sts. In addition, the S.L.A. Committee will no longer hear applications for upgrading establishments or applications to physically expand an existing establishment, Alexandra Militano, the committee’s chairperson, said.

Hannay was especially pleased about the S.L.A. Committee resolution, since he and his neighbors had originally approached C.B. 3 to request a moratorium on new liquor licenses for establishments located on E. Fourth St. between Avenues A and B. Hannay, who had attended only one community board meeting prior to this September, became more involved in C.B. 3 meetings after talking to neighbors about the increase in noise pollution around his block.

He began a listserv — an Internet site where people can post messages — after the September C.B. 3 meeting to provide another forum for local residents to discuss quality of life issues, and along with four or five others, posted fliers in apartment buildings on and around Avenue B between Houston and Seventh Sts to inform residents about the Nov. 10 meeting. Some listserv members also mailed letters to bar and club owners to encourage their participation in the meeting, he said.

Many of those who attended the meeting expressed mild surprise and much pleasure at the cooperative efforts of residents and bar owners — two groups known to often clash.

Remembering past battles with the community board and local residents, Spyropoulos commented that, in his opinion, this meeting reflected a positive change in community members’ attitudes. “This community board, I was pleasantly surprised at the synthesis. The people who comprise the community board are much more polite, much more nice, much more understanding. They will listen to the other side,” he said.

“[The meeting] really did seem like a pretty positive thing. I feel like the local people who organized really did a good job. They didn’t show up to just complain, they came with ideas, plans,” McWater said. “These were people who really knew the geography; they knew the street narrowed at Fourth St; they were really aware of the problems; they had discussed them themselves. When you’ve got people who are really prepared like that, it’s easy to work with them.”

The resolutions passed at the Nov. 10 meeting came up for review by the full community board on Nov. 18, and were passed.

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