Memo to Marty: Let’s Go Ahead and “Balance Out” Prospect Park West

Today's Andrea Bernstein interview with Marty Markowitz (transcript here) is a must-read if you want to get inside the head of the Brooklyn Beep and see the borough through the tint of his windshield.

marty_markovitz__300x300.jpgMarkowitz says he doesn't want to "stigmatize" motorists. How about just slowing them down?
The specific issue at hand is the two-way protected bike path proposed for Prospect Park West (reminder: open house info session happening tonight), which Markowitz finds objectionable. In the interview, Marty floats the idea of using the Flatbush Avenue sidewalk as a northbound cycling alternative, which tells you most of what you need to know. Safer cycling on Flatbush would be a great addition to what DOT proposed for PPW, but as a substitute it's laughable -- a two-mile detour that makes no sense even if you're getting around in a car.

And if Markowitz has given any consideration to the rampant speeding on PPW, he doesn't show it. A DOT survey last March clocked 70 percent of drivers on PPW traveling faster than the 30 mph limit, with 15 percent driving 40 mph or faster. Last month, on an unseasonably warm weekend at the outset of spring, volunteers with Park Slope Neighbors found even higher rates of speeding, observing 80 percent of motorists exceeding the limit and 30 percent driving faster than 40 mph. All this lawlessness is happening a few feet from one of the biggest walking destinations in the borough of Brooklyn, but Marty doesn't acknowledge it.

The following exchange between Bernstein and the Beep really gets to the heart of this dispute, and many others that come up when the subject is how to allocate street space:

AB: You don't seem to much care for Janette Sadik-Khan. You've called her a zealot, why?

MM: She is a zealot. I can tell you this much -- I respect her professionalism. She personally is a very nice woman. I think she's a professional -- I know she's a professional. We just disagree in certain instances where I'm acutely aware that she wants to make it hard for those that choose to own their automobiles. She wants to make it difficult, their life difficult. I really believe that.

AB: Why, why would she want to do that?

MM: Well, I think because she would like to see more people stop car usage and get on their bicycles. Or walk.

AB: Is that an unworthy goal?

MM: Within reason it is a worthy goal. If I personally walk more than I currently walk and use the bicycle more than I currently use it just for pleasure I probably would be in much better shape, for sure. However, I represent everyone. Not just a segment of the population. And I have to balance out those that feel that everyone should be on bicycles and those that feel that they need their automobile and that they shouldn't be stigmatized.

To Markowitz, giving street space to cycling and walking isn't justified if it throws the status quo out of whack. In this case, the starting point is a three-lane speedway with wide crossing distances and no dedicated space for bicycles. How does this "represent everyone," when 57 percent of Brooklyn households don't own cars? (When Markowitz departed the State Senate in 2001, more than 64 percent of the households in his district were car-free [PDF].) On Prospect Park West, "balancing out" interests calls for exactly the type of solution that Markowitz has rejected.

Instead of seeing the PPW improvements as freeing people to safely walk and bike on a popular route, Markowitz gives the impression that he feels personally attacked -- "stigmatized" -- as a motorist. He envisions a DOT commissioner conspiring to "make life difficult" for motorists and frets that the removal of a few parking spaces on Prospect Park West will cause Park Slope car owners to decamp for Scarsdale.

I suppose this post might make Markowitz feel more stigmatized, but I have some reassurances for him. No one is trying to ban driving or extinguish private car ownership in NYC. The 1,300 people who signed a petition in favor of this project are just trying to calm traffic on Prospect Park West and give people safe options for getting around without a car. It's true that people who drive won't be quite as privileged on PPW as they are right now, but there will still be space to drive and park if this project gets built.

Parking in Park Slope might get infinitesimally more difficult, but it's already a hassle. Imagine if it was easy and convenient to own and operate a car in New York City -- subsidized parking structures filling up entire blocks, freeways where the East River used to be. Would you want to live there? Fuhgeddaboudit!