This is not always a bad thing. The deferment or abandonment of developer-driven projects that would bring little or no benefit to the public at large is good. Your Cap'n, for one, won't miss Atlantic Yards, the JFK-Downtown rail link, the Syosset-Bridgeport tunnel and a host of other misbegotten schemes. It's too bad that the horrible awful Yankee Stadium replacement missed getting sucked into that black hole. There's still hope it could swallow up the Hudson Yards (including the #7 train extension), Moynihan West, Hunters Point South and Sunnyside Yards plans.
Unfortunately, it looks like it's not only the ill-conceived projects that are going down. The Second Avenue Subway is important because it has long been a blockage in the pipeline of new transit projects: as long as it's not built, it's been hard to propose any other new subways. Not only is that project now facing a funding gap, but there are similar ones for the Fulton Street Transit Center, the LIRR East Side Access, the pilot "Select Bus" programs, and the assortment of transit projects that the MTA announced last month. The planned ARC tunnel has shrunk to "THE Tunnel." Key expansions of the rail network in New Jersey - like the restoration of service on the Lackawanna Cut-Off, which could eventually lead to passenger service to Scranton and Binghamton - are unfunded.
In this climate it's important to do what we can to keep the sustainable projects from getting sunk while cutting the unsustainable ones loose. As I wrote a month ago:
Get public funding secured as much as possible for transit and livable streets, and get roads as defunded as possible. Then try to stall parking and associated sprawl projects until they run out of funding. Hopefully by the time anyone can afford to build anything again there'll be more of a public consensus, and more private money, for transit and livable streets.
In this spirit, when I see expensive projects that predominantly benefit drivers and contribute to sprawl, I'm going to point them out. This is money that could go towards better bus service or the Second Avenue Subway.
Today's candidate comes from Streetsblog's morning headlines. According to the Brooklyn Eagle, the New York City DOT is planning to spend $850 million over the next seven years to replace seven bridges on the Belt (a.k.a. Shore) Parkway from Bay Ridge to Canarsie.
For those of you who've never experienced the Belt in all its glory, well, I can't say it's worth much. It was built by Bob Moses as a four-lane parkway like the Bronx River or Meadowbrook, but it's a sad excuse for a parkway now, after having been widened to a six-lane pit of noise and fumes. It has a bike and pedestrian path alongside for much of its length, but the path is very close to the highway and generally not very well maintained. When it's not closed without notice, it's often filled with road debris. Who knows what it's doing to the ecosystem of Jamaica Bay?
As for its current function, it facilitates sprawl in Long Island, Brooklyn and Queens by funneling traffic onto the Gowanus Expressway where it can plague Sunset Park and South Brooklyn. Every time I've seen the highway it's been packed bumper-to-bumper with cars each containing one or two miserable, enraged Brooklynites. I can't see anything of value that it contributes. If you know of anything, please feel free to bring it up in the comments.
Over the years there has been a freeway revolt movement that seeks to tear down - or simply not rebuild - wasteful highways. The most famous successes have been the West Side Highway in Manhattan and the Embarcadero Freeway in San Francisco, and a dedicated group in the South Bronx is hoping to add the Sheridan Expressway to that list. Many of them are along rivers or bays, and when they are torn down it restores access to these long-neglected waterfronts.
The Belt Parkway is a similar barrier. In Bay Ridge, where it is redundant with the Gowanus, environmental groups have already asked for it to be removed. It's reasonable to maintain it while it's still in good shape, but spending $900 million to rebuild those bridges is another matter. Tearing it down would end the waste once and for all, but it would also be expensive. A small, two-lane road, or even a four-lane parkway that didn't overwhelm the pedestrian environment, would probably be appropriate for that corridor.
If we replaced the six-lane bridges with two- or four-lane bridges, how much could we save? How much less pollution would there be, how much less gas consumed, how many cars no longer driving through Manhattan and South Brooklyn? How much gentler would it be on the wildlife in Jamaica Bay? How much less impact on the neighborhoods it passes through?
The absolute most critical aspect is that this reconstruction facilitates sprawl. The low-density neighborhoods of southeastern Brooklyn and Queens are not set up as villages, they're set up as endless rows of tract houses where everyone has to drive to the big-box stores, and most people drive to work. The Belt Parkway enables this inefficient, non-human-scale infrastructure. Without it, the residents might support some effort to extend rapid transit to the area. With it keeping the cost of driving low (you can currently drive from Canarsie to Canal Street without paying a toll, all on limited-access highways), their backyards and driveways are heavily subsidized. By who? By you: the New York City taxpayer.
I'm happy to pay my taxes and help keep our city running. But I don't want that $900 million going to subsidize an Oldsmobile and a swimming pool for someone in Mill Basin. I want it going to efficient, sustainable transportation. I'd love for it to go to a big-deal item like the Second Avenue Subway, but you know what? Let's keep the money in that part of Brooklyn. Use it to extend the #2 train south to Kings Plaza, and build a light rail system on Kings Highway, Flatlands Avenue and Linden Boulevard, from Bensonhurst to Valley Stream.
BTW: nycroads.com says that some of these bridge replacements were due to be completed by 2006. I wonder what happened.