Saturday, February 28, 2009

Revenge of 1975

The transit geeks' favorite whipping boy, Randal O'Toole, has a new comment out, and this time I just can't resist breaking out my whip.
Closing Broadway to auto traffic may reduce congestion on cross streets and avenues, but limiting auto access could also turn Broadway itself into a deserted wasteland. [...] Broadway might have sufficient pedestrians to maintain retail businesses — but it might not. It may be that many of the pedestrians originally arrived by taxi or in other automobiles.

Randal, when your buddy Sam Staley is saying just the opposite of what you're saying right above, you know you're out of touch. Staley appears to have left his Ohio suburb and actually visited Times Square at least once, and it looks like he didn't come in a car. And boy his legs were sore!

But at least Staley saw the obvious: that most shoppers and entertainment patrons arrive in Times Square by way of the eight subway lines that converge under it, or by the six NYC Transit bus lines that pass through it, or by the seven other subway lines a block away, or by the hundreds of buses that converge on the Port Authority Bus Terminal a block to the west. Some of them even come on foot or by bicycle!

All that seems to elude O'Toole, who is apparently stuck in some small city in 1975 where the shiny new mall has just opened out by the bypass and the Woolworth's is closing downtown. Guess what? This is 2009 now. Big box stores are closing left and right and strip malls are emptying out.

A clear illustration of this is that the good folks at Brownstoner have observed that the Fulton Mall seems to be hanging on quite well:

Biking through the Fulton Mall this week we were struck by how unaffected it appeared to be by the recession and broader downturn in the retail environment. We obviously don't have any numbers on sales trends at any of the stores, but we were impressed by the fact that there was only one small store that was empty and only one other For Rent sign on the entire seven-block stretch.

What is the Fulton Mall, for those of you as clueless about New York as Randal O'Toole? Why, it's a pedestrian mall along Fulton Street in downtown Brooklyn. It's actually a cool kind of pedestrian mall: it's got buses too.

All this shows that the relative success or failure of shopping centers depends less on what mode customers use to get there than on what kind of value they get out of that mode. If people can't afford to drive to the Super Mega Classy Galleria they won't shop there.

Now maybe Sam Staley, Mike Bloomberg and Mr. Brownstoner can get together and talk some sense into Joe Chan? Please, Joe, play to your strengths. Downtown Brooklyn is not and will never be Rodeo Drive. It won't even be the Poughkeepsie Galleria. Stop throwing money at parking garages and harassing bus users. Buses, subways and sidewalks work for Brooklyn: they deliver the customers. Be nice to them.

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