|November 05, 2009||For Truly Livable Streets, Line Up – Don’t Lane Up||7 comments|
|October 26, 2009||Driving Down Memory Lane||no comments|
|August 25, 2009||Post-Rezoning Transportation Problems, or: Chronicle of a Death Foretold||no comments|
|June 16, 2009||Why I Do What I Do||10 comments|
I’ve often been called a bike advocate and while I don’t mind it, it’s not accurate. My own advocacy focuses on finding a safe, smart balance for everyone who uses our public space, with priority given to the vulnerabilities and limitations of the human body. Alternatives to private car use are generally healthier and cheaper – and they keep the roadways clear for emergency vehicles and for buses. In turn this creates public space that’s less noxious and more conducive to neighborly and economic pursuits.
I generally support the biking community’s agenda, but the NYC Department of Transportation (NYCDOT) has emphasized bike lanes to the virtual exclusion of other livable streets goals.
In Greenpoint and Williamsburg, NYCDOT has laid down miles of bike lanes, making the bike network more robust and improving connections; however, NYCDOT hasn’t applied any of the crash and commuting data that have informed the bike plan to achieve other livable streets goals, like creating safe and enjoyable walking environments. It’s still difficult to negotiate many of our commercial streets because of problems like poor visibility at intersections, reckless driving, and unmanaged truck traffic. Known pedestrian safety problems on streets like Bushwick Avenue, Metropolitan Avenue, Broadway, Nassau Avenue, and McGuinness Boulevard have largely gone unattended by NYCDOT.
From my ever-evolving perspective, bike lanes are probably at their most useful in terms of message. They provide a visual alert to motorists that there’s another presence on the street. (I love large striped pedestrian crosswalks for this reason, too.) But NYCDOT’s bike lane project is suffering from a backlash to which both the administration and the cycling advocacy community seem resolutely oblivious. As bike lanes have proliferated in our community, and bike use has soared far ahead of our infrastructural preparedness, I’ve seen no change in terms of mainstream public attitude regarding the legitimacy of cycling as an important way of getting around – this, despite cycling’s numerous allures: it’s fare-free (the main expense is whatever calories you expend to power yourself along); space-conserving (bikes take up less space both on the road and in storage – a boon in a crowded city); and zero infrastructure stress (bikes don’t contribute to potholes, they don’t sideswipe trees and vehicles, and they don’t crush sidewalk curbs or crunch into low overpasses).
As bike use has spiked, bad cyclist behavior has become a huge issue at my Brooklyn community board’s meetings and at other forums. It’s true that a reckless cyclist will still generally cause less mayhem, damage and death than a reckless motorist – but it doesn’t excuse the fact that cyclists frequently don’t cede right of way to pedestrians, or behave in a way that’s appropriate to the street they’re traveling upon. These cyclists’ behavior is a lousy way to thank an administration that has finally done the right thing and acknowledged cycling as an important mode of transportation. Bad behavior keeps cycling on the fringe in terms of public opinion, instead of in the mainstream where it belongs.
[I must give props here to Transportation Alternatives’ Biking Rules cyclist education campaign. Cyclists are the best people to initiate this campaign, since they appreciate the hazards and challenges of biking on city streets, and can frame the need for universal respect in a way that’s appealing to their less responsible biking brethren. It would be fantastic if the City administration would spread the word about this important campaign, which has good-behavior implications for everyone – not just cyclists.]
In my observation, bike lanes themselves have also possibly contributed to maintaining cyclists’ second class citizen status on our streets. Bike lanes now seem to represent an unintended and perverse affirmation of the status quo: cyclists don’t belong, and drivers do – as evidenced by who gets how much square-foot entitlement to the street. In the absence of a bike lane, drivers are now even more vociferously territorial because they see the entire roadway as their own. Cyclists are supposed to use bike lanes if lanes are present, and drivers now interpret the absence of a bike lane as a message that bikes don’t belong there at all. Ironically, drivers feel validated in their belief that the roadway is really theirs, and remain comfortable viewing bike lanes as de facto bike ghettoes, from which cyclists must never emerge.
NYCDOT has pursued the low hanging fruit of progressive transportation advocacy without seeking to truly integrate biking into mainstream city life – people who don’t bike might more heartily welcome and encourage biking by others if they really understood the point of it all, and heard a clear message from this City administration about the need for more smartly sharing our public space. Instead, NYCDOT has given preferential treatment to cyclists, and has squandered an opportunity to educate everyone about sharing the road, apparently ignoring the need for pedestrians to feel equally important and considered. NYCDOT has not pursued a comprehensive real livable streets policy, which would also prioritize pedestrian safety and a pleasant walking environment on commercial corridors and popular routes to transit connections.
At this point, we don’t need more bike lanes. We need a vigorous livable streets policy that will manifest in better public-space sharing for everyone, not just one particular user.
A welcome start in my community would be to take seriously the pedestrian safety challenge at Nassau Avenue and McGuinness Boulevard – Greenpoint’s own Boulevard of Death. It’s Nassau Avenue’s turn for a full street reconstruction, and I saw that as an opportunity to ask for some designs which would prioritize pedestrian safety at Nassau & McGuinness. Pedestrian injuries and fatalities there have usually resulted from vehicle speeding on Nassau and McGuinness, but it’s also a challenge to cross McGuinness Boulevard’s intimidating width – particularly for senior citizens.
After a year of begging for pedestrian safety measures like curb extensions, Leading Pedestrian Intervals (LPIs), textured pavement, and other measures, the City’s Department of Design and Construction (DDC) recently and grudgingly designed two very small curb extensions for that intersection. Apparently the extensions are small because of the need to maintain easy clearance for turning vehicles (according to DDC reps). Could this “easy clearance” be a contributor to the difficulties faced by pedestrians here? Where’s NYCDOT’s “sustainable streets” stamp on this project? True, McGuinness Boulevard is a vital connection between Queens and Brooklyn, and to the BQE. Yet – don’t we as a city want to emphatically send a message that everyone deserves some of this space? Don’t we want to encourage drivers to slow down for pedestrians, instead of making it easier for them to whiz by?
NYCDOT’s attention to cyclists’ needs is surely belated and therefore welcome by many, but I can’t be happy until we have a real livable streets policy at work – one that mandates traffic calming measures in street reconstruction or repair projects, enhances pedestrian safety, enhances mass transit, and slows and greens heavily used commercial corridors and walking routes to schools, community centers, and transit stations.
In championing a bikes-first policy instead of a livable streets policy, NYCDOT has fanned the flames unnecessarily against biking and has continued to put human lives at risk on city streets. Every pro-bike effort has ultimately represented a missed opportunity for a livable streets program which, since it would encompass the interests of nearly every citizen, would be more popularly embraced than the biking mandate NYCDOT follows now.
A livable streets policy that addresses and integrates easier travel by all would be much more mainstream and acceptable, and therefore more immediately achievable. Until NYCDOT and the cycling advocacy community accept and understand this, policymakers are just spinning their wheels.
It's come to this... the sense of entitlement to all of our public space that drivers demonstrate on a daily basis is now being addressed in a way that potentially punishes the entire population, whether we're driving responsibly or not. Oh goody.
When I was a kid (here in Brooklyn, when Pluto was still a planet), people walked their dogs in the street and sidewalks were clean. Traffic was less heavy on residential streets - and truck traffic was minimal compared to what it is now. We played on the streets, taking reasonable care (for kids) to look out for cars and drivers also looked out for us. It was not unusual for a driver to actually STOP while a ball was in play on the street, wait till the action paused, and then proceed. If the driver was someone we knew we'd offer a little thump on the hood or the side door as a thank-you.
What's that you said? Where were our parks? Where were our parents? Yes, we had parks in Cypress Hills, including Highland Park. The problem was that it was too far away for us to travel there alone - we were KIDS - and we had no one to drive us there; and besides, the street was perfectly adequate for street hockey, tag, skully, skating, stoop ball, stick ball, epic snowball fights, and other games. We didn't feel like we were missing anything by playing on our tree-lined street.
And people curbed their dogs. I remember this fondly. No one allowed their dogs to poop on the sidewalk, ever. Sidewalks were for, well, people. Now, dog owners have been driven (literally) from the curbs because the average city driver speeds and/or drives in other reckless ways. It's simply not safe to leisurely walk your pet in the street, not even if you hug along the parked cars. It's also not enjoyable or safe to take a long walk or run to exercise your dog on the street, which has increased the demand for dog runs in our parks.
Nowadays people feel forced to walk their dogs on the sidewalks. Even if they thoroughly pick up after their dogs, our sidewalks are no longer healthy place for kids to play... what parent would feel comfortable allowing their kids to play on the sidewalks, aware of this toxic layer added to noxious car and truck fumes?
The incremental result of car domination over these decades is this: We are all cowering on the sidewalks and running for our lives; some of us might die waiting for that fire truck or ambulance; and we've all have voluntarily placed ourselves under virtual house arrest. Sadly, we don't realize that most of the time. Saddest of all, we've lost any sense that things could be different - or that in fact they once were. With these Rumblers, the NYPD has clearly forgotten as well.
I remember a time when all drivers of all vehicles immediately pulled over to let emergency vehicles pass, no fooling around, no funny business. Today I see drivers either stuck between or behind idiot drivers who clearly are refusing to budge - you can SEE there's room for them to pull over but they don't - and I can't believe their selfishness, even though I've watched it encroach upon and finally take over our public space.
Most drivers seem to care little that the house on fire might be their own, or a loved one's. They seem to care little that the person in the ambulance might be a relative or possibly them, heaven forbid. The only reality that seems to matter is their progress towards their destination, and they're not about to yield that up to some stupid screaming emergency vehicle that is paid for with their tax dollars, damn it. Now the NYPD has bought into this wayward thinking, and instead of running a public service advertising campaign (which would be more to the point and probably less expensive), they're spending money on this technology.
These "Rumblers" are just another way that we're being punished for the choices - which seemed so minor, so individual, so convenient, so harmless - that we've collectively made over the years. I'm wondering how much more punishment we'll inflict - and accept - before we start to question, as an entire city population, whether allowing car dominance has been worth the price.
While contemplating the changes for Kent Avenue and Northside, and the proposed rezoning of the Broadway Triangle, I have found myself referencing the Greenpoint-Williamsburg Rezoning Action from 2005. At the time, I expressed to anyone who'd listen that the rezoning proposal was incomplete because it did not provide the transportation planning necessary to make the rezoning sustainable. I find that saying "I told you so" in this instance is distinctly unsatisfying.
I dug up the testimony I gave at the Brooklyn Borough President's public hearing on the rezoning, and am offering it here, as a meditation on failed opportunities and what still needs to be done. Please note that I have not edited this statement, which was made in the context of that time.
December 9, 2004 Public Hearing, Office of the Brooklyn Borough President
My name is Teresa Toro. I am a Greenpoint resident and the transportation committee chair for Brooklyn Community Board 1. I oppose the Department of City Planning’s proposal for the Greenpoint and Williamsburg community for a variety of reasons, but in particular because the proposal will create more traffic on our already overburdened streets.
Overall, the DEIS is alarmingly incomplete regarding its assumptions for traffic and transit in the rezoning proposal, and has therefore made incomplete and irresponsible mitigation recommendations. This rezoning proposal should not go forward unless the transportation impacts are thoroughly reevaluated and addressed by the Department of City Planning, especially in the form of a traffic calming study similar to the project for Downtown Brooklyn.
The DEIS does not adequately estimate or address increases in vehicular traffic likely to arise from new development, and it relies excessively on additional parking supply to accommodate the travel demand growth it does produce, which will likely add to more vehicular traffic. Additionally, the DEIS states that truck traffic won’t be a problem because industrial activity has largely left the CB1 community. That may be true, but every transportation analyst in New York has predicted a minimum of a 30% increase in truck traffic volumes over the next twenty years due to globalization.
The rezoning that DCP is undertaking will attract a more affluent residential (and business) demographic, and that demographic will be a major traffic generator through demand for goods and services, as well as increased personal auto trips. What’s more, local truck routes still run through our community, and the volume of those trips is increasing. We are going to be overwhelmed by more and more truck and auto traffic unless an array of real solutions is applied to our streets, and this cannot be accomplished without a traffic calming study.
Regarding transit services, the DEIS does not acknowledge that there is a severe budget shortfall at the MTA, and its assumptions about future transit availability and accessibility are therefore inaccurate. The DEIS must be immediately updated to reflect the nature of the MTA’s budgetary problems as they affect the CB1 area: We stand to lose two local bus lines (B24 and B48) within a year and a half, and to my knowledge there is no rolling stock on order or planned for the G or L subway lines to accommodate the significant boost in ridership that the development will induce on all subway lines in the district, including the J train. We are losing five token booths in the district, and that will also affect local pedestrian and auto traffic patterns.
As some of the newcomers to our community will surely be car owners, and the community will continue to attract many additional tourists seeking waterfront and upland recreational opportunities, I recommend that the DEIS adopt more stringent traffic management options, such as adjusting parking regulations and adopting commercial and residential parking permits. DCP must make a concerted effort to get residents out of their cars and into our mass transit system whenever possible.
For example, DCP’s proposal should incorporate the City’s plans for a Bus Rapid Transit pilot program, and propose a BRT corridor from Red Hook to Queens Plaza, connecting North Brooklyn’s communities, as well as opportunities for transfer to existing mass transit transfer hubs. The BRT will serve two purposes: it will provide a link between various commercial, residential, recreational and cultural destinations; and it will provide sorely needed additional transfer options at all major existing mass transit links to subway service.
Last, a total reevaluation of the traffic study hours is still needed, because the DEIS has drawn inaccurate conclusions regarding the type and volume of traffic in the CB1 area. One of the most disturbing aspects of the rezoning proposal is that it only evaluates traffic conditions on weekdays, during peak morning and evening hours. Greenpoint and Williamsburg have a strong commuter population, but we also have a bustling nightlife and are a destination for tourists and New Yorkers who patronize our restaurants, bars, art galleries, and nightclubs. Traffic counts must be taken not only during peak commuter hours but also on weekends and night time hours, to provide an accurate picture of the volumes of people traveling in and out of the area via all travel modes.
Transportation improvements in the rezoning proposal should minimize the diversion of highway auto and truck traffic to our local streets; improve and create additional opportunities for pedestrian/bicycle travel; increase the effectiveness and accessibility of mass transit; address the specific needs of emergency response personnel and vehicles; and enhance opportunities for the efficient movement of goods and other commercial services. This DEIS does absolutely none of that; in fact, quite the opposite.
DCP is recklessly adding to our community’s chronically overlooked transit needs by passing the buck – other agencies will be forced to compensate for DCP’s lack of transportation planning, and the community as a whole will suffer for it, both environmentally and economically. I see no evidence of genuine urban planning anywhere in this DEIS.
To sum up, the traffic and transit portions of the DEIS are incomplete, unrealistic and inadequate. Without real transit investment and thoughtful planning – as evidenced in our award-winning 197a plans – Greenpoint and Williamsburg will not be able to accommodate the growth that will result from this rezoning plan, and will become the latest victim in a city which has turned a blind eye to gridlock.
I respectfully ask that the Borough President take CB1’s recent vote into full consideration when drafting his own recommendation, and pay particular attention to the traffic and transit difficulties that will be imposed upon us if the current proposal is approved. Thank you.
(... and to make a note, Borough President Markowitz did in fact support CB1's vote in opposition to the rezoning, for which I thank him yet again.)
Some of you know me already, probably because I chair the transportation committee for Brooklyn Community Board #1 (Williamsburg, Greenpoint, Bushwick) and you've seen me at meetings. While I’ll post here about various transportation issues, I hope to branch out into other topics (though today is not that day).
I'm a Brooklyn native and lifelong borough resident who's watched in consternation as local neighborhood streets – where I used to play because the "local" park was too far away – grew too dangerous and/or unpleasant for any human to safely linger.
Although we're city dwellers, we have incrementally permitted the texture and quality of our public spaces to be dominated by vehicles, and we've now reached a point where we're under virtual house arrest because it's not safe or enjoyable to be outside. That's not the Brooklyn I grew up in, I don't think that should be defined as progress, and that's why I joined the community board.
We need a people-first policy that guarantees safe passage so humans at all ages and levels of physical ability can use our streets; we need better truck management to ensure delivery of goods and services without ruining the peace of neighborhood streets; we need to speak out for attractive, safe public transportation; and we need to focus on smarter mixed-use development to reduce car dependence.
My next couple of posts will be about car dependence, land use and transportation (hint/spoiler: they’re interrelated). I’ll throw some truck traffic advocacy in there too because we’re far past tipping point, but this mayoral administration has yet to cop to it (pun intended).
Last: Please understand that my posts here are not made in my community board capacity, and the views I express here are my own and not to be interpreted as official CB1 votes or positions unless I specifically note it.
Thanks for reading.