Monday, December 21, 2009

Clogging in the Streets

The Post's Steve Cuozzo has finally found something that we can agree with him on-the actions of Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Khan are illegal and need to be reined in: "MAYOR Bloomberg will soon decide whether to make permanent or scratch the "experimental" redesign that's turned Times Square into what David Letterman called a tourists' "petting zoo." Or maybe he won't. The Department of Transportation, which dreamed up the mad makeover, is supposed to give the mayor its "findings" on the scheme by Dec. 31. But there's no telling how long Bloomberg might take to make up his mind -- so the mess could remain indefinitely."

And there's no doubt that the experiment has been a traffic nightmare-but overlooked is the fact that the entire effort should have been subject to ULURP-but wasn't because it was described as only a pilot program:

"An environmental-impact study is required for practically every minor variance, but not for the Times Square upheaval -- even though the wholesale rerouting of Broadway auto, bus and truck traffic to Ninth Avenue clearly cries out for such evaluation. City Hall claims "no EIS is required because the project uses basic DOT tools," and likens it to making a two-way street one-way -- which should surprise Ninth Avenue residents and businesses trapped in gridlock...Obviously, the streets are city-owned and the plazas constitute "streetscape elements." But City Hall claims a loophole: The Design Commission only gets involved over permanent installations. Apparently none of the DOT's plazas in any part of town are considered permanent yet -- even though some seem destined to stand as they are forever."

To us-and to Cuozzo-this all devolves from the mayor's failed congestion pricing scheme: "Might Bloomberg reverse Sadik-Khan? Well, he's stood by as she imposed little-used bicycle lanes and "plazas" all over town, not to mention her unsightly parking strips in the middle of streets. It was a Plan-B strategy to try thinning traffic after Bloomberg's congestion-pricing proposal was shot down in Albany."

And this was the reason why Shelly Silver mordantly reminded us about how the mayor's policies have contributed more to congestion than any increase in vehicular traffic could ever do. And don't think that Bloomber has given up on that harebrained idea. As the Observer told us last week: "Michael Bloomberg thinks law makers should reconsider the congestion pricing plan they failed to enact last year, but cautioned against labeling it the "Bloomberg congestion pricing" plan, as radio host John Gambling did this morning."

But that label won't change-and the dishonor will forever be the mayor's. But the wrecking crew over at DOT needs to be reined in completely before Times Square looks like a ghost town. As Cuozzo points out, the companies are fleeing the area:

"This used to be Midtown's most dynamic commercial nexus. But Times Square office leasing has fallen on hard times, with fewer deals being made and lots of space soon to be vacant. Companies come and go for many reasons, but it's clear Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan's brainstorm isn't helping. "You might as well be at a mall in Paramus," an accomplished Midtown real-estate executive told me. At risk is the continued appeal of Times Square to companies such as Morgan Stanley, Conde Nast, Skadden Arps, Viacom, NASDAQ, Thomson Reuters, Pillsbury Winthrop, ABC and Ernst & Young. The tax-generating corporate presences are not mere backdrops to the bowtie's show-business and shopping attractions, but the stabilizing economic anchor that makes all the bright lights possible."

What needs to be done now is for the city council to assert its oversight role on all of this-and demand that the entire Sadik-Khan experiment be subjected to a full environmental review- with ultimate approval from the legislature. The carbon footprint posturing of Mike Bloomberg has begun to do real harm, and zealots like Sadik-Khan need to be returned to the consulting world of ivory tower theorizing before too much more damage to the city is done in the name of the environment.