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Posts from the Williamsburg Category

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Eyes on the Street: Williamsburg’s “Lively,” “Beautiful” New Garage Wall

Photo: Stephen Miller

Such a lively streetscape on Hewes Street. Photo: Stephen Miller

An apartment building in Williamsburg perfectly illustrates how parking minimums in New York’s zoning code make the city’s streets and sidewalks worse.

Last year, a joint venture of Alex. Brown Realty and Largo Investments finished construction on a 33-unit rental project at 281 Union Avenue in Williamsburg. The seven-story building, roughly the same size as its neighbors, has something those older buildings don’t: 17 parking spaces. While we don’t know for certain whether parking minimums were the deciding factor behind that number, the amount of parking is just enough to meet the zoning code’s requirements.

From an urban design perspective, city buildings don’t get much worse. The lot, shaped like a triangle with one corner lopped off, is bounded on all sides by public streets. In other words, there’s nowhere to hide the parking.

So the developers turned the entire first floor into a caged-in parking garage, with the curb cut on Union Avenue instead of either of the side streets. While there are some plantings along Union Avenue to try and spruce things up, the result is a bleak streetscape. Instead of walking by an apartment building, people walk past grating that masks a parking garage.

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Citi Bike Expansion Rolling Along — See the Latest Map

A wave of new Citi Bike stations from Long Island City to Bed Stuy have come online in the past few weeks. Stations in grey are not yet installed or offline.

Well, that was quick. Just over two weeks after cutting the ribbon on the first of 91 new stations, Citi Bike’s expansion into Long Island City, Greenpoint, Williamsburg, and Bedford-Stuyvesant is approaching the finish line.

Nearly two-thirds of the stations are installed and running, with the job scheduled to be complete by the end of the month. Crews have been working from north to south. Work is mostly done on stations in Long Island City, Greenpoint, and Williamsburg, though a few un-installed locations remain in those neighborhoods. Bed-Stuy should see the bulk of the action in the coming week or two.

Expansion in Manhattan as far north as 86th Street is scheduled for this fall. Planned future phases will extend to Harlem, Crown Heights, and other Brooklyn neighborhoods. Council Member Brad Lander says Citi Bike is coming to Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens, Gowanus, Park Slope, and Red Hook next year.

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Kent Avenue: A Bikeway for All Ages

While Clarence was out this weekend taping Right of Way install a memorial to victims of traffic violence, he also got this footage of the Kent Avenue bike lane in Williamsburg. Where else but a protected bike lane will you ever see so many kids biking on the street in NYC?

Not that long ago, Kent Avenue was a high-speed truck route where only the bravest souls ventured forth on a bicycle. Today it’s a low-speed neighborhood street and one of the most important bike transportation links in the city.

NYC DOT’s 2009 redesign of Kent Avenue added a two-way protected bike lane while converting motor vehicle traffic to one-way flow. For fast-growing waterfront neighborhoods that don’t have great walking access to the subway, the bikeway is a transportation lifeline.

Note that many shots in Clarence’s video show a temporary design that preserves the continuity of the bike lane and walkway on a block that’s been narrowed by construction. The whole Kent Avenue bikeway is an intermediary step on the way to a permanent Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, running from Greenpoint to Sunset Park.

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Eyes on the Street: Drivers Retake the Kent Avenue Bike Lane

DOT reconfigured the southern part of the Kent Avenue bike lane this spring, but that hasn’t stopped drivers from taking over the lane and the sidewalk for personal parking.

A reader took this photo earlier today. He writes:

I bike from LIC to Clinton Hill every morning and use the Kent Ave bike path. Luckily there was an upstanding citizen already on the phone with 311. This obstruction was particularly dangerous because it was forcing bikes into oncoming traffic. It wasn’t just one car either, it was six.

Part of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway route, this stretch of Kent Avenue was given a road diet after a hit-and-run driver killed two people at Wilson Street in March 2013. Parking in the bike lane was a chronic issue before the redesign, and drivers continued to use it after the lane was painted. Then plastic posts went in, but at this point it’s clear this problem is not going away without an upgraded physical barrier or NYPD enforcement.

This section of Kent is on the border of the 88th and 90th Precincts. We’ve asked NYPD if the department is enforcing parking laws there.

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Eyes on the Street: A Super-Sized Pedestrian Island on Bushwick Avenue

Bushwick Avenue used to widen at Seigel Street, making it difficult to cross. Now, there is a super-sized pedestrian island giving safer passage between a school and a library. Photos: Google Maps (above), Stephen Miller (below)

Bushwick Avenue used to be difficult to cross at Seigel Street. Now, there is a super-sized pedestrian island between a school and a library. Photos: Google Maps (above), Stephen Miller (below)

Once an extra-wide asphalt expanse, a section of Bushwick Avenue has been reclaimed by the addition of a pedestrian island. The new public space, which makes it easier to cross between Brooklyn Latin School and the Bushwick Library, is joined by smaller changes to an adjacent stretch of Bushwick Avenue installed this spring and summer.

After securing support from Brooklyn Community Boards 1 [PDF] and 4 [PDFlast fall, DOT began installation in April. The plan was developed in response to requests from the Ridgewood Bushwick Senior Citizens Council, a power base for former Kings County Democratic Party chairman Vito Lopez, and the Graham Avenue Business Improvement District.

BID executive director Betty M. Cooney is happy with most of the changes, but not the pedestrian island. “We did not ask for that,” she said. Instead, the BID had suggested using the extra asphalt for a left turn lane. “I don’t know what their thinking is,” she said of the pedestrian island. “There’s a library there. There’s a school there. It probably makes it safer, but all they had to do was put in a turn lane.”

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A Handful of Car Spaces, or a 27-Dock Citi Bike Station?

Parking for 27 bikes has replaced parking for four or five cars, and complaints abound. Photo: Stephen Miller

Parking for up to 27 public bikes replaced parking for approximately four cars. But will it last? Photo: Stephen Miller

Because a construction site is blocking the sidewalk on Kent Avenue in Williamsburg, a Citi Bike station was taken off the sidewalk in mid-April and re-installed along the protected bike lane on the other side of South 11th Street a couple of weeks ago, replacing a handful of parking spaces. The new site was the only space near the Schaefer Landing ferry dock that could accommodate the Citi Bike station within the city’s siting guidelines, according to a source familiar with the situation.

Cue the parking complainers.

Congressmember Nydia Velazquez, a major backer of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway, has reportedly contacted DOT on behalf of constituents who want those free parking spaces back. Streetsblog checked in with local elected officials, and Council Member Steve Levin and Assembly Member Joe Lentol reported receiving complaints about the loss of parking.

“We have received a couple complaints and have reached out to DOT,” said Lentol spokesperson Edward Baker. “DOT is looking at ways to free up some additional parking in the immediate area to offset the spaces lost to the bike-share station.”

DOT and Citi Bike have not responded to questions about what changes, if any, they are considering. But it’s possible that the station might be removed — or re-sited too far from the ferry dock for people to make convenient bike-share-to-ferry connections — because people who care about free parking are very good at contacting their elected officials.

The people who benefit from the bike-share station may not be making phone calls about it, but they’re out there. In fact, many more people can use those 27 Citi Bike docks than the four or so car parking spaces they replaced.

Monika Drelich, 38, lives nearby. She uses the station several times each week and was upset when it was removed in April. “I know that people complain about the parking,” she said, “but it wasn’t convenient for me.”

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Eyes on the Street: New Bike Path, Same Old Illegal Parking

NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan's unit, overseeing illegally-parked minivans putting pedestrians and cyclists at risk. Photo: Robert Wright

NYPD Traffic officers had a great view of illegally-parked minivans last night in South Williamsburg. Photo: Robert Wright/Flickr

Well, that didn’t take long.

The paint is barely dry on the new two-way bike path on Kent Avenue in South Williamsburg, and drivers are using it as car storage for minivans. Again.

Robert Wright snapped a photo of cars blocking the bike lanes and sidewalk in full view of NYPD Traffic officers. “What’s the point of putting in a new bike lane if the police are essentially going to supervise its obstruction?” Wright asked in an email.

The bikeway should eventually include flexible posts, supposedly to keep cars out, before implementation wraps up. But without a more substantial barrier — and the revocation of consent from New York’s Finest — illegal and dangerous parking in the path of cyclists and pedestrians will probably continue.

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Eyes on the Street: Bikeway Upgrade Calms Deadly Stretch of Kent Avenue

A missing link in the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway is turning green. Photo: Frank Hebbert

A stretch of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway route along Kent Avenue turned green last week. Photo: Frank Hebbert

A project that slims a dangerous section of Kent Avenue in South Williamsburg and straightens out an awkward stretch of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway route is nearing the finish line.

In March 2013, Julio Acevedo was driving north on Kent Avenue at 69 mph when he killed Raizy and Nathan Glauber, both 21, in a two-car crash at Wilson Street. Acevedo fled the scene and later faced charges, including criminally negligent homicide and manslaughter.

The deaths spurred changes. DOT installed traffic signals at Wilson and Hooper Streets, and last January Community Board 1 supported a plan to replace parking on the west side of the street with a two-way bikeway, while adding parking along the median on the east side to slow northbound traffic.

The plan also improves the continuity of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway route. Previously, the two-way bike lane on Kent jogged awkwardly, directing northbound cyclists to hop onto a sidewalk path between Williamsburg Street West and Division Avenue, while southbound cyclists had a painted lane between parked cars and motor vehicle traffic. The new arrangement creates a route where cyclists’ paths don’t criss-cross, bike traffic stays off the sidewalk, and the bikeway is separated from cars with flexible posts. Time will tell if those posts are enough to prevent the sidewalk parking extravaganzas that occasionally overwhelm this part of Kent Avenue.

With the reconstruction of Flushing Avenue planned for this fall, there will soon be three miles of continuous two-way bikeway from North 14th Street in Greenpoint to Navy Street near the foot of the Manhattan Bridge.

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Sooner or Later, the Brooklyn-Queens Waterfront Needs Better Transit

New condos in Long Island City are part of the first wave of changes sweeping the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. Photo: Joe Mabel/Wikimedia Commons

The Brooklyn and Queens waterfront is in the midst of a grand transformation that’s only just begun. Newly built Brooklyn Bridge Park is already firmly established as one of the city’s most stunning public spaces. The Brooklyn Navy Yard now hosts glitzy fashion shows by international designers like Alexander Wang and Dior. Long Island City’s waterfront is a wall of glassy new condos. Many more changes are coming.

As this transformation takes place, new travel patterns are emerging, and for the better part of the last ten years, planners have floated the prospect of a new transit line along the waterfront to accommodate residential development and job growth. Most recently, architecture critic Michael Kimmelman suggested in the New York Times that the city build a streetcar along the waterfront, prompting Alicia Glen, the city’s deputy mayor for economic development, to Tweet: “Love big ideas.”

Others were critical, noting that a streetcar represents a huge investment that could be better spent on other transportation priorities: using buses to connect residents with the subway, or beefing up service on the city’s busiest bus routes. Writing for Next City, Stephen Smith noted: “You cannot effectively connect waterfront neighborhoods in Brooklyn and Queens to both each other and the subway.” Smith also pointed out that the waterfront neighborhoods, for all their development, have relatively low population and job densities.

To plan for the future of the waterfront, however, we have to give some thought to transit. I agree that the cost of a light rail line is unnecessary (and streetcars make little sense regardless of the expense), but the city will need to forge stronger transportation links to meet the area’s full potential. The rationale for transit improvements is about the waterfront’s ultimate potential for new housing and jobs, rather than the existing conditions.

The city should begin by strengthening bicycle connections and by improving bus service with the goal of a one-seat ride from Astoria to Downtown Brooklyn. Both modes could certainly connect new residents and workers with the subway: The F train at Jay Street and the 7 train at Vernon Boulevard-Jackson Avenue are both within reach.

But a subway connection is not the main point. A successful vision for the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront is necessarily oriented away from Manhattan and instead looks to stitch the waterfront communities together. Otherwise, new residential developments will be effectively cut off from each other and from new job centers in DUMBO, the Navy Yard, Williamsburg, and Long Island City.

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Brooklyn Parking Preservation Board Votes Down Bike Corrals

Brooklyn Community Board 1 has had enough of the “war on cars,” and they’re taking it out on pedestrians, cyclists, and local businesses.

Jackson Heights is one of many NYC neighborhoods that survived the installation of bike corrals. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

Jackson Heights is one of many NYC neighborhoods that survived the installation of bike corrals. Photo: Clarence Eckerson Jr.

The Brooklyn Paper reports that four Williamsburg shops want bike corrals, to provide room to park bikes while keeping sidewalks clear. “We believe it is our responsibility to beautify the area,” said Jason Merritt, co-owner of Tutu’s, a Bogart Street bar. “And it is beneficial to businesses to have safe bike parking that is not on street signs and posts.”

But CB 1 member Simon Weiser, for one, isn’t having it. “Enough is enough,” said Weiser. “They can put it on the sidewalk and stop taking away car parking spaces. We need to keep the parking we have.” As if these four spaces will have any effect in a district with thousands and thousands of on-street parking spots.

You might remember Weiser from 2008, when he was a go-to bike lane critic during the Kent Avenue redesign fracas. Well, now he and CB 1 have drawn a line in the sand. They rejected all four corrals by a vote of 12-7.

Board members who voted against the corrals argued that there is plenty of room on sidewalks for bike parking and that their turf has lost too many parking spaces to the CitiBike bike-share program and the planned de-mapping of Union Avenue in the middle of McCarren Park, which is meant to make the greensward more pedestrian-friendly. Parking is now more difficult than it was a few years ago, Weiser argued.

So, North Brooklyn might have lost out on nicer sidewalks (DOT could overlook this vote) thanks to a few people in a position of power who think curbside car parking is scarce because there’s not enough of it. Not because it’s, you know, totally free.

“It is worrying and confusing to me that any community board would side against alternative transportation and neighborhood beautification,” said Merritt. More than that, CB 1 has sided against anyone whose highest priority isn’t securing on-street parking for their car.