Summer 2002, p.18

Curb Cut Cave In
City Planning Commission Approves "Trojan Horse" Garage Permit

The City has irresponsibly approved a zone exemption, allowing a dangerous curb cut at Lincoln Center.There goes the neighborhood. Despite tremendous community opposition, the City Planning Commission voted unanimously in June to approve Leonard Litwin/Glenwood Management's application for a special zoning permit to build a 150-space parking garage at 1926 Broadway between 64th and 65th Streets. The commissioners congratulated themselves on striking what they felt was a "reasonable" compromise-monthly instead of daily parking and 30 fewer spaces than requested by the garage owners. Transportation Alternatives and Landmark West, a local civic group, mounted a strong campaign against the special zoning permit, pointing out that running cars across a sidewalk that carries 1,000 plus pedestrians an hour is inherently dangerous, and adding more cars into a traffic morass is foolish.

Who Defends Pedestrians in City Government?
Nobody. This fight is for more than just a few curb cuts on the Upper West Side. For pedestrians, faced with an onslaught of curb cuts and other invasions of the sidewalk, the most frightening thing is that there is no advocate for pedestrians within city government. During this very public process, the Department of Transportation has been conspicuously missing in action. Further, the City Planning Commission seems oblivious of the stupidity of adding more parking space and taking away sidewalk space in one of NYC's densest neighborhoods. The Department of Transportation needs a pedestrian ombudsman who can serve as the watchdog for the innumerable projects and policies throughout the city that impact pedestrians.
The "compromise" plan the Commission approved does not address the groups' main concerns about the proliferation of sidewalk driveway curb cuts and parking space. The garage will have the same dangerously-placed curb cuts and will be exactly the same size as the originally proposed 180-space transient garage. Make no mistake-the monthly parking provision is a Trojan horse. The developer has every intention of converting the garage to a more profitable hourly and daily parking operation in the near future.

Not Over 'Til It's Over
Councilmember Gale Brewer has called this item up for review by City Council. Councilmembers on the Zoning and Land Use Committee must take note: the problem with the garage at 1926 Broadway is not an isolated issue. The rubber-stamping of special zoning privileges for garages happens all the time. Communities across the city face the same steamroller--unchecked traffic growth and the loss of protected sidewalk space. The City should be at the forefront of progressive transportation policy; meaning, it should explore strategies to reduce automobile use and improve the walking environment for its millions of walking residents. Instead, it is putting increased parking for luxury rentals ahead of basic pedestrian safety and basic mobility.

Who is going to take responsibility for this?Put the DOT in Charge of Sidewalks

New Yorkers need safe, clear sidewalks. But that is not what they have. Sidewalks are clogged with aging scaffolding, mushrooming huddles of distribution boxes, parked cars, barricades and illegal and legal vendors.

So, who do you call to deal with this chaos? Take your pick. A whopping 13 city agencies are responsible for permitting, regulating and enforcing sidewalk activity. Plus, hundreds of thousands of property owners are required to maintain the sidewalk surfaces in front of their buildings. No wonder things are such a mess.

T.A. believes that the Department of Transportation is the most logical choice because it sends the message that pedestrians are a legitimate part of the transportation mix and that sidewalks are first and foremost transportation routes. But, to be effective, it needs new legislation to give it the authority and funding.
T.A. calls upon the mayor to convene an interagency Sidewalk Safety and Mobility task force lead by the DOT. Several agencies, including the Department of Consumer Affairs, the DOT and the Police Department are already collaborating on problems with sidewalk vendors and distribution boxes.

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