Thursday, July 2, 2009

Get it right the first time

Streetsblog has a post about a proposed "road diet" for Empire Boulevard in Crown Heights (or is it Flatbush?). The good news is that both the DOT and the community board agree that too much width is devoted to cars and the suggestion for a bike lane even came from the community board.

Streetsblog points out that the DOT has used a strategy like this for Vanderbilt Avenue in Prospect Heights, and is proposing a similar treatment for Allerton Avenue in the Bronx. This seems to be developing into a standard road diet for wide streets that are four lanes plus parking, around the city.

But there's something missing from this plan. Streetsblog commenter Richard V. (any relation to Richard III?) points out the problem: "This is just retarded I live on Empire and Empire is a mess as it is and adding this will just makes it worst. There is a Funeral home on Empire and Bedford that when it has Funerals Empire is all doubled parked. When the clubs are in session it's the same problem."

As I wrote in an earlier post, while it may be illegal to double-park, people usually have a legitimate reason to be parking at all. Wide streets and lenient enforcement make it easy to double-park, and that has obscured the fact that there is very little space available for short-term parking. Fifty years ago it might have been reasonable to provide an undifferentiated mass of parking, but that is now all taken up by long-term storage.

Since my earlier post there have been new clashes over road diets, with drivers and merchants blaming "the bike lane" for the fact that double-parkers are now blocking the street. The owner of Sylvia's restaurant in Park Slope, acting as president of the Fifth Avenue BID, is one example. Thankfully, some of the bike lane advocates pointed out that the lack of loading zones is the main cause of congestion, not the bike lane.

Livable streets advocates should try to head these potential conflicts off and not let them get to the point that Fifth Avenue got to. That means that we have to step in during the planning stages, and not let the DOT continue to claim, as they do on slide 8 of this powerpoint, that "All parking spaces are preserved".

As I wrote back in December, many neighborhood leaders and community board members are convinced that all hell will break loose if a single parking space is eliminated from their streets. They're ready to jump up and down and scream bloody murder - and put their neighbors' children at risk - to preserve the maximum number of spaces (ideally "free" ones).

It's obvious that the DOT wants to avoid fights with these parking warriors whenever possible. But they're really not doing anyone any favors. Preserving all parking spaces now means conflict later on. The difference is that that conflict will be between cyclists trying to use the bike lanes and motorists continuing to double-park while they run into the deli to pick up a bagel. Or if the DOT does the sensible thing and makes the bike lane a protected one between the parked cars and the sidewalk, it will be between the cyclists and the self-appointed "community leaders" who refuse to challenge anyone's right to unload their cars when and where they choose.

For bike lane and traffic calming advocates, that means that we need to do what we can to include expanded loading zones in every street redesigns or road diets. Wherever the street is narrowed, we need to turn long-term parking (which is a luxury in this city) into short-term parking - as much as is needed.

The DOT has shown that they don't have the stomach for that fight, and that means that the cycling and safety advocates have to do the hard work of building coalitions and organizing people around the (somewhat esoteric) idea of loading zones. We have to create a group who will shout as loud to repurpose the permanent parking as the NIMBYs shout to preserve it.

It's a hard slog, but there's really no way not to have a fight. The choice is simply whether to fight now or fight later. And there are lives at stake.


Jonathan said...

Finally, a proposal for a coalition that puts business owners and livable-streets advocates on the same side. Bravo!

Cap'n Transit said...

Well, thanks, Jonathan! But together can they overcome the car-driving neighborhood elites?