Thursday, February 18, 2010

Traffic Jamming Without Oversight

Andrea Peyser is painting a frightening picture of the mayor's traffic plans for the city in his usurped third term: "Hold your breath, New Yorkers. Imagine a city choc kablock with pedestrian plazas fit for smokers and tourists. A place where driving is a memory, shopping is agony, and fresh air nonexistent. That's what the Bloomberg administration has in mind, as it travels, full-steam ahead, with plans to turn outer-borough streets into tobacco-friendly parking lots. There is no escape."

And under what authority is he proceeding? Clearly, if there's a master plan to remake the city in Mike Bloomberg's farkakt far∙kakt' image than why hasn't the plan been announced and a full and thorough land use review been commenced? Here's how Peyser sees the mayor's Times Square experiment:

"Last May, the city inflicted the no-car treatment on its iconic Times and Herald squares, throwing a bunch of tables and chairs into plazas that became an overnight hit with wide-bodied tourists, Gauloise-sucking posers and men who carry their worldly possessions in plastic bags. But these zones are almost unvisited by real New Yorkers. By any objective measure, the bonehead experiment to turn Midtown into a cow town was a failure. Rather than turning this city into a laid-back, European-style capital, the walkways have, by some measures, turned the city into hell on wheels."

But, having failed in his original experiment-along with cooking the books to put lipstick on Momma Bloomberg's pig-he wants to wreck even more havoc: "So did Bloomberg rip down the barriers by hand? Not so fast. He trashed his own bean counters and went with slightly better statistics gathered by taxi GPS systems. These devices determined that east-west traffic actually improved, but not by the big numbers Bloomberg had hoped. This prompted one city critic to tell me he "is just picking and choosing and making stuff up." So what's a mayor to do? The only rational thing -- expand the plazas!"

But to where? Well, the city is one big bright canvas for the mayor to do his finger painting on: "Pedestrian plazas are set to grow into the outer boroughs, where leaving your car home -- the mayor's unstated goal -- is often not an option. Bloomberg, who has not yet said what areas he's targeting, wants desperately to put his stamp on his legacy, turning this city into a suburban shopping mall. Bike-riding advocates, hand-in-glove with the administration in support of walkways, tell me we are likely to have plazas erected permanently in areas where, last summer, temporary zones were put in place on Sundays: Bedford Avenue in Williamsburg, Brooklyn; 78th Street in Jackson Heights, Queens; and Montague Street in Brooklyn Heights are the three most frequently mentioned."

And, as for small neighborhood business-Bloomberg to retailers, "Drop dead! "Don't mention the plazas to Joseph Aceto, owner of Montague Street Bagels. Last summer's walkways made his business -- already struggling with nausea-provoking anti-smoking posters he's forced to put up -- fall 20 percent. "People drive by for a bagel and a cup. When they can't do that, they move on," he said. The merchants take talk of walkways personally. Joyce, a manager at Key Food, said old folks who drop by via Access-a-Ride van would not get their groceries. "It would be terrible." Said Aceto of the mayor, "He's got his billions already. What does he care?"

And the same holds true for Fordham Road where merchants on one of the city's most successful local shopping corridors are sucking wind as parking meters are ripped out to make way for express bus lanes-all without the benefit of any public review. But not everyone is upset, least of all the Luddites over at Transportation Alternatives, where cars and middle class motorists are considered on the order of Typhoid Mary.

Here's TA's view: "Bike-riding groups are positively giddy."It gives you room to breathe," said Wiley Norvell, spokesman for Transportation Alternatives. "We're a walking city. Not all streets have to be all cars, all the time."

And this from the group that wouldn't join with us in opposition to the development at Willets Point that will generate 80,000 car trips a day-but when Bloomberg is shoving bikes up our derrieres to the accompaniment of TA chortling, one can understand the group's reluctance-and why they don't need any of the mayor's money just to cheer their lungs out for all of this.

Still, even for Bloomberg this is a bit much-and the excess needs to be challenged by the city council. The entire grand scheme needs to be put to the test; and a full public airing of all of the schemes should be forced into view so that they can be vetted properly. If there is a grand scheme that links all of this mishagos , then an EIS must be done and a full ULURP conducted. We do, after all, still have a representative government, don't we?