Reclaiming the Streets
Last summer, Transportation Alternatives founded the Neighborhood Streets Network-a coalition of block associations, PTAs and civic groups-to help city neighborhoods fight speeding cars and through traffic. Now, the growing Network is starting to flex its political muscle. In a February letter to Mayor Giuliani, Network members called for traffic calming and a 15 mph speed limit on residential streets.
Traffic Flow or Neighborhoods?
As reported in the last issue of Transportation Alternatives, Mayor Giuliani and DOT Commissioner Elliot Sander are starting to say the right things about traffic calming. Sander's Pedestrian Projects Group is poised to install pilot projects that would set a precedent for traffic calming around the city. However, perhaps because of pressure from traffic engineers and the DOT's so-called Safety Division, Commissioner Sander has backed down from his support, of traffic calming, citing concerns for vehicle flow. As a result, West Village, Brooklyn Heights, Juniper Park, and Upper East Side residents have been denied protection from cars, speeding and noise. So far, the City has chosen cars over neighborhoods.
At the request of T.A. and the Neighborhood Streets Network, the New York State Assembly is considering a new bill that would allow New York State cities and towns to set speed limits below 25 mph. Assembly Critical Transportation Choices Commission Director Peter Carr told T.A. that he supports the bill and will work with T.A. to introduce it. State law now presents the major obstacle to neighborhood, 15 mph, slow speed zones.
Write to Your Assemblyperson and State Senator. Ask them to contact the Critical Transportation Choices Commission to support legislation that will allow local governments to create 15-mph zones. Call T.A. for the addresses of your legislators. Be sure to mail or fax a copy to T.A.
Widely used at the intersections of local streets in Seattle, traffic circles benefit neighborhoods. They force all vehicles-not just those facing a red light-to slow down, leading to fewer speeding cars and fewer accidents. Where Seattle installed circles it Found up to 91 percent fewer collisions. Some 77 percent of residents agree that the circles make their streets safer. Staten Island parts of Queens, Brooklyn, The Bronx, Washington Heights and Harlem would benefit from Seattle-style circles.
The City faces a choice in the protect these neighborhoods from rush neighborhoods directly south of Downtown Brooklyn-it can continue in to cater to through traffic, or it can embrace T.A.'s vision of quiet, safe, and friendly neighborhood streets. T.A. is now organizing area resident to force the City to protect the historic neighborhoods.
T.A member and other residents in Brooklyn Heights, Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, and Boerum Hill are tired of their streets absorbing overflow from the nearby Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. Neighborhood groups, including the Brooklyn Heights Association, have tried repeatedly to convince the City to protect the neighborhoods from rush hour through traffic. So far, the City has done nothing but promise further study. DOT officials have even criticized residents for not wanting to serve as doormats for Manhattan-bound motorists. With the upcoming reconstruction of the Gowanus Expressway, the situation looks even more grave.
Residents are now considering civil disobedience to protect their safety and quality of life. T.A. member will meet to plan a strategy on March 12th at the Brooklyn Heights Library, 280 Cadman Plaza West (Between Pierrepont and Tillary) at 6:30. For more information, call Paul Harrison at the T.A. Office.
A new report debunks the myth that the health of a business is dependent on auto parking. Designed to evaluate pedestrian conditions on Eighth Street, the Cooper Union study showed that replacing a lane of parking with wider sidewalks would be popular and good for business. 69 percent of shoppers surveyed favored removing a lane of parking and replacing it with a broader sidewalk. An astonishing 98 percent of drivers surveyed said that they would continue to shop in the area if parking were limited, and 10 percent of the drivers said that they would leave their cars at home and take transit. T.A., the Village Alliance Business Improvement District, and Cooper Union are applying for federal funds to work with the community to design wider sidewalks.
Working with the Union Square Community Coalition and Greenmarket founder Barry Benepe, a new T.A. campaign calls for the expansion of Union Square Park into Union Square West. A Parks Department plan to turn Union Square West into a pedestrian paradise gained new life when the Transit Authority announced plans to rip up the street for subway reconstruction. If the space needs to be reconstructed, it should be rebuilt to give strollers, dog-walkers, and Greenmarket shoppers more park space. TA. is asking Greenmarket shoppers to write letters and postcards to the Mayor and City Council Member Antonio Pagan. To get involved, call T.A.