Monday, April 26, 2010

Dispatch From The Bermuda Front

We learned on Friday that the city was contemplating closing a stretch of Union Square: "Almost all traffic would be banned from the block of Broadway north of Union Square, between 17th and 18th Streets, under a proposal under consideration by the city’s Transportation Department, the New York Times reported. Like in Times and Herald Squares, tables and chairs could be installed in Union Square and it would be open to pedestrians and bicycles. There would also be a pedestrian plaza on the north side of Union Square, replacing a lane of traffic.The proposal is expected to be presented on Monday to members of the local community board."

Presented as in a dictat-and once again the Bloombergistas, in the name of the environment, are proceeding on an environmental issue without the benefit of what should be a mandated environmental review. We wanted to ask the mayor about this lapse, but alas, Bloomberg was dodging a golf cart traffic jam down in Bermuda and was unavailable for comment:



No Public Events Scheduled

Contact: Mayor’s Press Office

(212) 788-2958

What's happening all over the city is that the mayor is acting unilaterally to impose his traffic vision on neighborhoods that are given any advise and consent role in the proposed changes. The NY Times has more on the grandiosity of the mayor's Sadik: "First the city repurposed Times Square, converting some of its streets to a pedestrian promenade. Similar plans are in store for 34th Street by the Empire State Building.Now Union Square could become the latest Manhattan landmark to gain a pedestrian plaza, the open-air concrete park that is quickly becoming the Bloomberg administration’s signature contribution to the streets of New York. Almost all traffic would be banned from the block of Broadway north of Union Square, between 17th and 18th Streets, under a proposal under consideration by the city’s Transportation Department."

What about the area's small businesses and the delivery trucks that service them? What about the overall traffic-and carbon emissions-impact of the plan? All of which would normally emerge from an actual traffic study and pursuant hearings. But the local outcry is certainly muted-and perhaps the anti-auto mentality of the folks quoted played a role in their sanguininity: "Business leaders and local politicians said they were mostly positive about the changes. “We look at it from the perspective of what it’s like to walk across that intersection right now — it’s pretty dangerous,” said Jennifer Falk, executive director of the Union Square Partnership, a business group. “Something needs to be done.” But a few wondered how drivers would take to it. “We’re guardedly optimistic that the traffic flow won’t create huge problems, but it might initially,” said State Assemblywoman Deborah J. Glick, who represents the district."

But our visionary traffic commissioner intuits a better day to come: "Union Square is one of Manhattan’s great spaces, but the surrounding streets have always been a bit of a mystery,” said Janette Sadik-Khan, the transportation commissioner. “By simply reconfiguring the area, we can solve some of the traffic problems that have been an issue for decades.”

It is past time for the somnambulant legislature to act responsibly and conduct a proper oversight over all of this mishogas. But let's look at the silver lining in all of this-it's good for the greenmarket: "Ms. Sadik-Khan said the changes would emphasize safety and walking space in an area that attracts thousands of pedestrians to restaurants and the year-round Greenmarket...Marcel Van Ooyen, who directs the Greenmarket’s parent company, said he hoped the plan would be put in place by harvest season. “If it happens before the fall,” he said, “that would be great timing.”

Does anyone realize how much all of this will cost? Steve Cuozzo of the NY Post does-and he is outraged by Bloomberg's "pet" commissioner: "The minimum estimated cost of turning the throbbing block into another miserable "pedestrian mall": $30 million, according to the Times. How weird, inappropriate and out of touch is this? For starters, $30 million could buy a lot more cops. The average, starting cost of each new police officer is a relatively small, affordable $100,000 a year, including salary and benefits."

And Cuozzo also rails against the lack of public review for the scheme: "Unlike most cityscape alterations requiring a public review with teeth, the latest Mall Bloat is 100 percent guaranteed to sail through despite phony "public hearings." It won't undergo meaningful scrutiny by the City Council or any agency other than DOT itself -- even though it's required of innumerable proposed changes with far less impact than a wholesale gutting of Manhattan's historic energy pattern."

So limousine Bloomberg is out to protect the pedestrian nature of the Big Apple-and that's because? Meanwhile, as we have said ad nauseum, congestion continues to get worse and worse all over the overdeveloped borough of Queens. Can you say public policy schizophrenia? While the Sadik continues to experiment with shutting down Manhattan to car traffic, gridlock reigns at malled off Queens.

As the NY Daily News reported: "A maneuver by parking attendants at Queens Center Mall that diverts drivers into their garage on the busiest shopping days has locals up in arms. The setup, which often happens on weekends and holidays, blocks off through-traffic for motorists going eastbound on 57th Ave. Instead, a line of traffic cones funnels drivers into the parking garage - even if they have no desire to enter the mall."

Oh well, soon Queens Boulevard will be turned into a pedestrian mall and we won't have to hear any more sob stories about old ladies being run over attempting to cross the dangerous thoroughfare. Pedestrian malls and bike lanes, the end product of electing a dilettante environmental poseur as mayor. Only three and a half more years of this meddling and we can go back to the horrors of elected officials who may susceptible to being suborned-but who at least are somewhat beholden to the folks who elected them. Unlike Sir Michael.