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Posts from the "Gale Brewer" Category

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UWS Shows Support for Car-Free Park, But Broader Campaign Is Lacking

Last night’s unanimous votes in support of a summer-long car-free Central Park by Manhattan Community Board 7′s parks and transportation committees moved the ball forward for advocates of car-free parks. With no movement at the mayoral level on the issue, any successful push will have to come from the bottom up. Similar statements of community support will be needed from more than one neighborhood.

Everyone from members of the City Council to legendary Parks Commissioner Thomas Hoving has said that Mayor Bloomberg has the power to make Central Park car-free overnight.

In 2008, students marched across the Brooklyn Bridge and wrote 10,000 letters supporting a car-free Prospect Park. Current campaigns to make NYC's flagship parks car-free haven't seen the same level of local organizing. Photo: Ben Fried

Unfortunately, Bloomberg doesn’t appear disposed to do so any time soon. “If you did not allow cars in the park during rush hour,” the mayor said in March, “the rest of the city streets would be overloaded and it would create an awful lot of traffic.”

So the pressure to keep cars out of parks will have to come from the local level in the communities surrounding Central Park or Prospect Park. The CB 7 votes in favor of a summer pilot are an important step forward on that front; while the full board still needs to pass the resolution, it is likely to do so with that kind of committee vote.

This year, the City Council has become another arena for advancing car-free parks proposals. Upper West Side rep Gale Brewer recently introduced legislation to make Central and Prospect Parks car-free.

But Brewer’s efforts in the Council haven’t gained traction. Only four of her colleagues — Fernando Cabrera, Letitia James, Melissa Mark-Viverito and Daniel Dromm — signed onto the bill. Last month, Brewer decided to drop Prospect Park from her bill in the wake of opposition from Brooklyn officials.

At the community board level, much work remains to be done to build the momentum necessary to make change happen. Ken Coughlin, a long-time leader in the fight for a car-free Central Park, was enthused by CB 7′s support but said he wasn’t aware of any parallel effort in the other community boards surrounding the park.

The Upper West Side appears to be the epicenter of the movement for car-free parks. But for the campaign to succeed, more neighborhoods will have to join the fight.

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Gale Brewer Introduces Bill to Make Central Park, Prospect Park Car-Free

City Council Member Gale Brewer reenergized the fight for car-free Central and Prospect Parks by introducing a bill in the City Council today. Image: nyc.gov.

Upper West Side City Council Member Gale Brewer introduced legislation today that would restore Central and Prospect Parks to their original car-free status.

Brewer’s bill would ban private vehicles from using the park drives in either park; official vehicles would still be allowed to use the roads. Brewer’s legislation would also commission a study examining the impact of creating car-free parks on motor vehicle and pedestrian traffic flow and on the environment.

We’ll have much more on this new push for car-free parks as it develops, but today it seems worth reminding New York of what car-free parks are really all about. The New York Post, which broke the news of Brewer’s bill this morning, says that the bill will “ban cars,” “restrict vehicles” and “turn Central Park and Prospect Park into no-drive zones.” For them, it’s all about what you won’t be allowed to do.

A more historical perspective would remember that when Central Park was built in 1859, the automobile hadn’t been invented yet (the bicycle hadn’t really caught on either). It was only grudgingly allowed into Olmsted’s masterpiece forty years later, and even then cars needed a permit to enter, according to Transportation Alternatives. Car-free parks are about restoring space to pedestrians and cyclists, not taking space away from automobiles.

As this decades-long debate kicks back into high gear, here’s some more history to keep in mind:

  • A car-free Central Park is unbelievably popular. A petition in support of a car-free park was signed by an unprecedented 100,000 people.
  • A car-free Central Park also has the support of park administrator Doug Blonsky, the man responsible for running the park.
  • Car-free parks wouldn’t snarl traffic. One 2008 study by Transportation Alternatives found that Central Park was actually increasing congestion in Harlem, and former Traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz said that the long-term impact on traffic would be barely measurable.
  • The city has been pursuing an incremental approach to re-creating car-free parks for decades. It has consistently cut back the hours in which cars are allowed and closed many park entrances to them. Most recently, the city expanded car-free time in each park in 2007.
  • As long as cars are allowed in Central Park sometimes, non-motorized users’ experience can be threatened even during car-free hours. Recently, the police department have cracked down on cyclists for not following the traffic signals meant to regulate cars and unilaterally expanded the hours when cars were allowed for the holiday season.
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Upper West Side Leaders Calmly Study, Tweak Columbus Ave Lane

The Upper West Side is offering the city a lesson in what a mature and constructive response to bike lane growing pains looks like.

Upper West Side leaders present their recommendations to tweak the Columbus Avenue bike lane. Photo: Noah Kazis

While the new protected bike lane on Columbus Avenue received community support throughout the process, once installed many local businesses along the corridor began to complain that the design was making it harder to park or make deliveries along the east side of the street. In response, elected officials and the community board developed a working group, surveyed those businesses and developed a set of tweaks intended to make the street design work better, which DOT has quickly accepted. That collaborative process has now set the scene for a continued expansion of the bike network on the Upper West Side.

The Columbus Avenue Working Group, made up of Community Board 7, the Upper West Side Streets Renaissance, and the offices of Borough President Scott Stringer, State Senator Thomas Duane, Assembly Member Linda Rosenthal, and Council Member Gale Brewer, canvassed the blocks of Columbus between 77th and 96th streets, asking those businesses on the east side of the street what they thought of the bike lane. They announced the results of that survey at a press conference yesterday.

Of the 65 businesses they surveyed, 36 responded. And while that wasn’t a random sample, the results were pretty clear: 72 percent said the redesign had been bad for business. Of those negative responses, 86 percent identified reduced space for parking or loading as a concern and 53 percent said they’d had issues receiving deliveries.

No member of the working group, however, blamed the bike lane or called for a return to the more dangerous Columbus Avenue of the past. When asked by one reporter where things went wrong, Stringer answered, “I don’t think that things went wrong.” The only disconnect, he said, was that community consultation needed to be ongoing.

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City Council Jacks Riverside Center Parking Supply Back Up to 1,500 Spaces

One of two levels of parking underneath the Riverside Center project, which will now total 1,500 spaces. Image: Extell Development.

One of two levels of parking underneath the Riverside Center project, which will now total 1,500 spaces. Image: Extell Development.

Council Member Gale Brewer has struck a deal on the Riverside Center mega-development, sending the 2,500-apartment project through two City Council committees and on a track to final approval. The deal increases the number of parking spaces allowed at Riverside Center to 1,500, far more than the community board or even the City Planning Commission had approved.

With the ability to build 1,500 off-street spaces on the southern edge of the Upper West Side, Extell Development got more than 80 percent of the 1,800 spaces it originally asked for. The City Planning Commission okayed 1,260 spaces — after some fuzzy math added 430 extra spaces — but the Council deal bumped that number up again.

For comparison’s sake, the community board requested 1,000 parking spaces and borough president Scott Stringer called for 1,100 spaces. If Riverside Center were simply built with the same ratio of parking as its successful neighbors, it would only need 550 spaces.

What’s more, while the City Planning Commission required Extell to move a proposed auto showroom to a location where it wouldn’t harm the pedestrian environment as much, the City Council undid that requirement as well, according to environmental planner Dan Gutman. On parking and the showroom, Extell “seems to have recouped what the planning commission took away,” said Gutman.

That isn’t to say that the deal was all bad for the community. The urban design of the project has been consistently improved over months of debate and negotiation. For example, 90 percent of the project’s open space has been brought down to street level, according to a press release from Brewer’s office. That will make the area far more inviting to pedestrians than previous designs which put Riverside Center on an elevated platform, with blank walls facing many sidewalks.

The deal also has Extell putting more money towards a new public school than it had previously agreed to do and guaranteeing that at least some of the affordable housing they must build will be placed on site, both of which are high-priority for the community. The additional parking may have been allowed in order to compensate for those community benefits. After all, said Gutman, “Extell’s argument was always that we need the money. It wasn’t about whether there was a need for these spaces objectively.”

We have a call in with Brewer to find out more about why the Council upped the number of parking spaces in the project.

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Gale Brewer Pessimistic About Further Riverside Center Parking Reductions

Council Member Gale Brewer would like to reduce the number of parking spaces at Riverside Center, but doesn't think it's likely to happen. Photo: nyc.gov

Council Member Gale Brewer would like to reduce the number of parking spaces at Riverside Center, but doesn't think it's likely to happen. Photo: nyc.gov

Now that the City Planning Commission has called for 1,260 parking spaces at the Riverside Center development — instead of the 1,800 requested by the developer — the project moves on to the City Council for the final step of the city’s land use process. Traditionally, the local Council member representing the district is given a lot of deference by her peers, so we checked in with West Side representative Gale Brewer to see whether she’d be pushing for a further reduction in the number of spaces.

Brewer said that she still supports bringing the total number of spaces down. She said that she supported the community board’s recommendation, in this case 1,000 spaces. “I always support what CB 7 did,” she said. “I will do everything I can to get as close to that as I can.” Brewer had previously endorsed the goal of building only one floor of parking, or 1,100 spaces.

However, Brewer doesn’t expect to be able to bring the number below 1,260. “My guess is we won’t get it much lower than that,” she said. “We have a lot of Council members who have cars.” Negotiations in the Council hadn’t begun as of Friday, she reported.

Brewer also thanked the City Planning Commission for bringing down the number of parking spaces. “That was quite unusual, for City Planning to do that,” she said. “It was a good effort.”

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After NYPD Kills Bill, Council Pushes for Traffic Safety Data From DOT

Jimmy Vacca presides over a meeting of the City Council transportation committee, discussing four bills to provide more information about traffic safety and traffic calming. Photo: Noah Kazis.

Chair Jimmy Vacca at yesterday's City Council transportation committee hearing. Photo: Noah Kazis

The City Council Transportation Committee held a hearing yesterday on four bills that would release new information about traffic crashes and how the Department of Transportation decides whether to install traffic calming measures and traffic control devices like stop lights and stop signs. All together, the bills would cover a wide spectrum of information, but committee chair Jimmy Vacca said the goal of each is “empowering citizens who want to fight for traffic calming measures in their own community.” The measures drew opposition from DOT representatives, however, who seemed to bristle at the prospect of Council-imposed mandates even while pledging support for the intent of the bills.

The first two bills, Jessica Lappin’s Intro 370 and Rosie Mendez’s Intro 374, would both open up data about traffic crashes to the public. Intro 370, an amended version of Lappin’s “Saving Lives Through Better Information Bill,” would require DOT to publish on its website weekly information about all traffic crashes and traffic fatalities in the city, searchable by intersection. Intro 370 would also mandate the creation of an interagency traffic safety plan, developed and implemented jointly by all the relevant city departments.

Lappin’s original bill would have placed the responsibility for publishing crash data on the NYPD. The police came out against that bill and effectively killed it earlier this year, even though a former NYPD traffic chief said the agency could have easily complied. During today’s hearing, Lappin said that she amended the bill “based on feedback we’ve received from the Administration.”

Intro 374 would fill a big hole in the city’s crash data, requiring DOT to gather information on all bike crashes that get reported to the city. Currently, no data are reported about collisions between cyclists and pedestrians or other cyclists.

These bills each got a lot of support from the committee and those testifying. “Think about it,” said Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White, explaining the need for Intro 370. “Right now, community groups and elected officials like yourselves are often forced to make decisions that directly affect life and death, based on information from 2008, at best.” White also said he believed it would be more appropriate for the NYPD to be in charge of releasing crash information, as that department already collects and compiles it.

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Upper West Side’s CB 7 Wants To Pay For Sunday Parking

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The Upper West Side wants parking rules to apply on Sundays, too. Photo: dumbonyc/Flickr

According to a report in DNAinfo, Community Board 7 on the Upper West Side is taking the rare step of asking the city to end the giveaway of free curbside parking. The community board approved a resolution calling for paid Sunday parking in its meeting last night by a vote of 21 to 12, with five abstentions, DNAinfo’s Leslie Albrecht reports.

Sunday parking has been free all over the city since a 2005 vote by the City Council (inspired by a Freddy Ferrer mayoral campaign gambit) decreed that no one should have to “pay to pray,” overriding a Bloomberg veto. (Note to out-of-town readers: NYC churchgoers who ride the subway or bus to worship still pay to pray.)

After living with the results of the law for a few years, CB7 is looking to reinstate meter rates and increase turnover in scarce spaces.

“The result of the ‘pay to pray’ law has been almost zero turnover on many commercial blocks on the Upper West Side on Sundays,” explained CB 7 member Ken Coughlin, who voted for the resolution. “Merchants have been complaining that their driving customers can’t find parking spaces.”

Given that a 2008 study by Transportation Alternatives showed that in one 15-block area of Columbus Avenue, cruising for cheap metered parking adds up to 366,000 miles a year, free Sunday parking must add an incredibly destructive volume of traffic to the neighborhood’s streets.

To reinstate metered parking on Sundays, however, the Upper West Side needs permission from the City Council. Gale Brewer, who represents the area, said she has no plans to introduce such legislation. “It’s not going to move,” she explained. “The City Council passed legislation only a few years ago on the topic and my colleagues in Brooklyn and Queens feel very strongly on the subject.” Brewer believes that it wouldn’t be possible for legislation to carve out an exemption from the “pay-to-pray” law for one neighborhood, though she says her staff is looking into it.

Coughlin, however, suggested that there’s precedent for allowing different rules in different neighborhoods. “For example,” he suggested, “sidewalk cafes are allowed in some neighborhoods but not others.” If Brewer’s right that the council isn’t going to reverse itself on citywide Sunday parking, this legal point becomes the central question for Upper West Side residents looking for relief from excessive Sunday traffic.

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Five Months On, Bike Access to Buildings Law Showing Results

bicycle_access_locations_map.jpgThe location of every building with an official bicycle access plan. Image: City Council [PDF]
On the eve of Bike to Work Day, the New York City Council released new stats today measuring the impact of the Bicycle Access to Buildings Law. Five months after taking effect, the law has made it easier for well over a thousand New Yorkers to bike to work. An estimated 1,764 bike commuters now have somewhere to store their bike safely at work, thanks to the implementation of 176 "bicycle access plans." 

The law requires commercial buildings with freight elevators to allow cyclists entry to the building, as long as their employer consents to have bikes in the workplace. Surveys have repeatedly shown that New Yorkers who bike cite the lack of secure parking as the number one reason they don't ride to work.

According to DOT statistics, 346 tenants have filed formal requests for their buildings to create bike access plans. Many of those requests are still pending, with the buildings within the deadline for compliance. That's a level of participation "beyond my wildest expectations," said Council Member Gale Brewer, one of the law's sponsors. 

The real impact of the Bike Access Law might be far greater, said Transportation Alternatives' Wiley Norvell. "For every one of the requests that makes its way to the DOT," he said, "there are many more instances of buildings that are implementing bike access policies of their own accord." Watching City Council pass such a pro-cycling law was an impetus, he argued, for many building managers and landlords to better accommodate cyclists. 

For example, the press conference announcing these numbers this morning -- headlined by Brewer, Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and transportation chair Jimmy Vacca -- was held in front of Seven World Trade Center, where developer Larry Silverstein installed a slew of bike amenities without the prompt of a formal request for bicycle access. Another landlord with a major portfolio of office buildings, Trinity Real Estate, has also implemented bike amenities in many of its properties. 

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Can the New York City Council Wrest Crash Information From NYPD?

City Council Member Gale Brewer wants to open up traffic data to improve conditions for pedestrians and cyclists on Manhattan's West Side, a campaign that could lead to safer streets across the boroughs.

flipped_car.jpgBecause crash info remains hidden from the public, the only civilians who see the results of unsafe conditions are witnesses.
In February, Brewer sent letters to NYCDOT and NYPD asking that the agencies go public with information on traffic volumes, speeds and crashes. Brewer says DOT data combined with NYPD crash stats would give local leaders the complete picture they need when it comes to advocating for street improvements.

In her letter to Commissioner Ray Kelly, Brewer asked that monthly NYPD traffic and enforcement data be made available to community boards at district service cabinet meetings, where representatives from city agencies issue reports and gather neighborhood input. While district managers at these meetings may engage the Department of Sanitation, for instance, on truck routes or overflowing waste baskets, says Brewer, "One of the issues that [does] not come up is traffic statistics."

"You always hear about the police coming to a car accident or a bicycle accident," Brewer told Streetsblog, "but you don't get those reported in the same way that, God forbid, somebody gets shot or robbed. In the neighborhoods and at the community board, we want the police and the Department of Transportation to report on things that are not necessarily captured by CompStat."

Brewer also requested that NYPD begin publishing traffic data online, listed by date and precinct, which is how the department currently posts CompStat reports. If Brewer's letter doesn't do the trick, the Council has a bill in the works to compel NYPD "to make certain traffic-related statistics available through its website." For street safety proponents accustomed to NYPD secrecy, this effort holds groundbreaking potential.

"This is empowering information," says Transportation Alternatives' Paul Steely White. "There are parents, block associations and advocates who are handcuffed in their pursuit of safer streets without these numbers to back up their assertions. There is absolutely no reason for government to wall this data off from the public eye."

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Eight Electeds Back Protected Bike Lanes for Manhattan’s West Side

amsterdam.jpgProtected bike lanes would enhance safety for cyclists and pedestrians on Amsterdam Avenue.
Several representatives in the City Council and state legislature, as well as Borough President Scott Stringer, have signed on in support of protected bike lanes for Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues.

Last fall, Manhattan CB 7 passed a resolution asking DOT to prepare a proposal for protected lanes in the district, which stretches from 110th Street to 59th Street. In a letter addressed to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan earlier this week, eight electeds signaled their support for the resolution.

The letter [PDF] commends "DOT's ongoing effort to encourage safe, environmentally friendly and healthy modes of transportation" and offers to help the agency consult with local groups prior to implementing bike lanes on the West Side. In addition to Stringer, the signatories are State Senators Tom Duane, Bill Perkins, and Eric Schneiderman; Assembly members Linda Rosenthal and Dick Gottfried; and Council members Melissa Mark-Viverito and Gale Brewer.

DOT says it will work with West Side stakeholders as the agency develops proposals for the area.