January/February 1997, p.6

Reclaiming the Streets

Assembly Moves On Neighborhood Streets Agenda

Reacting to pressure generated by the Neighborhood Streets Network and Transportation Alternatives, the State Assembly will hold a hearing on December 10th on the topics of establishing slower residential speed limits, increasing spending on pedestrian safety, and making it easier for communities to adopt traffic calming measures. Bills previously introduced by Deborah Glick, chairperson of the Critical Transportation Choices Commission, would allow cities and towns to use 15 mph speed limits, make drivers yield to pedestrians in crosswalks, and establish legal support of traffic calming. Neighborhood groups, city and state officials, and civic groups are expected to testify.

These changes are central to the Neighborhood Streets Network, a 35-member city-wide coalition of neighborhood groups and block associations working to preserve and improve neighborhood quality of life through traffic calming. The Network unites civic groups to give them more clout, both to solve their own problems and to improve conditions in neighborhoods city-wide. Consideration of the Network's goals by the State Legislature shows that the negative effects of speeding, noise, danger and excessive through-traffic on neighborhood streets is a city-and state-wide issue that elected officials are beginning to take seriously. (For more information about the Network, see the July/August '95 T.A. magazine or call 212-629-8080.)

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Downtown Brooklyn Proposal Sets Precedent of National Importance

T.A. members, Neighborhood Streets Network members, and Brownstone Brooklyn residents braved the morning cold on November 21st to protest the sacrifice of Brooklyn neighborhoods to through-traffic. Stopping traffic for the fifth time in six months, they kept up the pressure on Brooklyn's elected officials. Borough President Howard Golden responded by submitting a proposal for federal funding to solve traffic problems in a way that would be a national model for community participation and planning.

Golden's proposal to use Federal Congestion Mitigation and Air Quality (CMAQ) funds would, for the first time in New York City, live up to the possibilities outlined in the watershed 1991 ISTEA transportation spending law. The $24 million plan would involve massive public outreach and participation in drawing up a traffic calming plan for downtown Brooklyn and the surrounding residential areas. Twenty million dollars would be reserved for actual construction of traffic calming.

In our last issue, we reported that the proposal was under threat because the City DOT had changed it to focus on increasing traffic flow and had eliminated community participation. But, because of efforts by Golden, City Councilman Ken Fisher, and community groups, it is likely that DOT will return to a version close to the original proposal. With a new emphasis on pleasant and safe conditions for pedestrians, quality of life and business conditions will improve. Commercial developers may even free themselves from the idea that new construction must include new parking and more cars-an idea that threatens to stop construction in downtown Brooklyn, New York's third largest business district.

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The Parks Department's "Phase Two" plan for Union Square would turn Union Square West into a pedestrian paradise and almost double the size of the pork.Union Square Expansion--Let's Get Going!

Manhattan Community Board Five must stop stalling. The community strongly supports plans for a bigger park. However, time is running out to get the MTA to rebuild Union Square West as a pedestrian area. The board has refused to have a straight vote on the Phase Two plan or to outline a process for deciding the questions at hand. T.A. is calling for a two-month test of Phase Two in the spring and a deadline for a permanent decision on whether or not to make Union Square West into a pedestrian paradise.

An Apology

In our last issue, we criticized Manhattan Community Board Five for having a going-away party for Chairman Nick Fish at a restaurant owned by an opponent of a pedestrianized Union Square West. The party was paid for by attendees and board members, not the restaurant, as we stated. We apologize to Board Five, to Nick Fish and to Steve Hanson, the restaurant owner, for implying any conflict of interest. There was none.