Thursday, July 31, 2014

Could we build another Park Slope?

Do you like the modern towers of the Upper East Side?

How about a nice gigantic Upper West Side prewar apartment building like the Ansonia?

Or the brownstones of Park Slope?

Or is all that too dense and urban for you? Maybe you'd prefer the lovely Victorians of Irvington, NY?

Gorgeous places to live! Of course, you and I are not the only ones who think so. These are some of the most desirable locations in the country. There are millions of people who would love to live in places like these.

So why don't we build more?

Why not buy up a block of crappy 1960s Stately Homes in Woodside and replicate the Ansonia? Or raze some raised ranches in Massapequa and build a block of brownstones? Build a new Victorian main street leading down to the Croton station, where now there are strip malls?

It turns out that there are some attempts to do this. Andres Duany is involved in a project in Jersey City that looks pretty cool. If you know of any others in the New York area, please let me know!

Unfortunately, those projects are a drop in the bucket. Zoning rules across the region make it next to impossible to build big modern towers on the Upper West Side, or a new Ansonia in Park Slope, or a block of brownstones in Irvington, or a new Irvington in Scarborough. The Municipal Art Society's recently released zoning envelope map confirms that the massive downzoning conducted across the city by Mayor Bloomberg and Commissioner Burden reinforced this prohibition. And people wonder why rents keep going up...

Thursday, July 24, 2014

Why we need a Brooklyn Bridge cycle track

I remember when you could walk or bike over the Brooklyn Bridge at almost any hour and not feel crowded. Those days are long past: walking over the bridge has become a major tourist activity, and commuting by bike has become extremely popular. Thanks to hard work by advocates, especially Transportation Alternatives, the city reopened the south sidepath on the Manhattan Bridge to bicycles and pedestrians in 2001, and the north sidepath to bikes in 2004, taking a lot of daily commuters and recreational walkers and joggers off the Brooklyn Bridge.

Even with this additional capacity, the Brooklyn Bridge path gets a lot more cyclists and pedestrians than it can comfortably handle. Pedestrians complain bitterly about the cyclists, and vice versa. Often it is deserved: I've seen many thoughtless cyclists bombing down the offramp, and many clueless pedestrians drifting into the bike lane without looking. But mainly, the pie is too small for all the people who now want a slice. We need more capacity.

There have been proposals in the past to simply ban cyclists from the bridge, and the satirical @bikelobby account on Twitter has capitulated, but often the proposal is to build a new bikeway somewhere on top of the existing bridge structure, as with this 2012 proposal by City Council members Lander, Chin and Levin. I don't think we need to spend that much money; we should simply convert one of the current car lanes to a two-way cycle track.

Converting car lanes to cycle tracks is also not a new thing. It's been done over and over again by the city in the past seven years, first on Ninth Avenue, then Eighth and Kent and now even on the Pulaski Bridge, where the current multiuse path between Greenpoint and Long Island City is similarly strained. This would just be the same thing on the main level of the Brooklyn Bridge, and then the upper multiuse path could be dedicated to pedestrians. It's been proposed for the Brooklyn Bridge before, by Streetsblog commenters and Robert Sullivan.

You might think that the city could not afford to give up that car capacity, but in fact it might wind up increasing the total number of people who cross on the Brooklyn Bridge. There are no buses (or trucks) currently allowed on the bridge. The Manhattan Bridge bike path is well traveled, especially during rush hours, and the number of cyclists can rival the number of cars on nearby lanes.

Last month, at 7:30 on a Tuesday, Clarence Eckerson of Streetfilms took a quick count on the Manhattan Bridge. He counted a hundred cyclists in two minutes and 23 seconds, a rate that corresponds to 2691 2517 vehicles per hour. By contrast (PDF), in 2010 the three outbound car lanes of the Brooklyn Bridge carry 3509 vehicles between 5:00 and 6:00 PM, or 1170 vehicles per lane per hour. The five outbound car/bus/truck lanes on the Manhattan Bridge carried 2382 vehicles, or only 476 vehicles per lane per hour.

In a subsequent tweet, Clarence acknowledged that his sample may not have been representative. "well I am sure that pace didn't hold up!" he wrote. "A dozen were on a tour group" But even if the typical peak counts are not that high (see this PDF from the city DOT), they are probably higher than 476 per hour, and maybe higher than 1170 per hour. This suggests that one of the lanes on the Brooklyn Bridge's main deck would carry more people in the peak rush hour as a two-way cycle track than it currently does as a single car lane.

Clearly there is more research to be done: more samples of peak hour bike and motor vehicle traffic, on both the Brooklyn and Manhattan Bridges. I'm looking forward to the Streetfilm!