Posts about Brooklyn
It's been fascinating to watch some of the coverage and debates over bike sharing in New York. In so many ways, it mirrors what happened in DC. At first, many people didn't understand it or opposed it. Once it opened, fears faded away.
DC saw some contentious public meetings about whether stations belonged in certain neighborhoods. That's all long gone. Now, when an ANC takes up bike sharing, it's usually either to push for more stations or debate whether a station belongs in one spot or across the street.
New York started with the "don't understand it" phase. Some, like Gothamist and Reuters' Felix Salmon, first jumped on the fact that it will cost $77 in overtime fees to keep a "Citibike" for 4 hours. That is steeper than it needs to be, but it's also looking at the wrong thing.
Very few people will keep a bike that long. The purpose of bike sharing is for short point to point trips, not long rentals. But a lot of folks initially placed the system into their mental box of "bike rentals," and evaluated it accordingly. That'll pass, if it hasn't already, once people actually get to try using it.
Last night, at a public meeting in Brooklyn Heights, a few residents argued against bikeshare stations on their streets. Bikeshare supporter Mike Epstein (who's also a personal friend) tweeted some of the objections from the meeting:
|Mike Epstein @mikepstein|
"This is a terrific idea" but "not compatible with residential streets" #bikenyc
|Mike Epstein @mikepstein|
This guy is afraid of a bikeshare station turning into a place for people to hang out, but says he likes the program and will join. #bikenyc
Has a single station in DC turned into a "place for people to hang out"? Not that I'm aware. But some people worried about that here, too.
A BID employee from Montague Street, in Brooklyn Heights, wanted to keep 5 parking spaces instead of add 39 bikeshare docks, while a MetroTech BID representative was pleased there aren't stations in their area.
DC residents know what will happen:
|Bryant Turnage @turnageb|
They'll eat those words once it's live. RT @mikepstein "I love bike share, but I don't want it on my block." #bikenyc meets classic NIMBYism
|Kriston Capps @kristoncapps|
@turnageb @mikepstein It's going to be so annoying when everyone comes around on #bikenyc and NYers are all so proud they invented bikeshare
The system will open, and residents will realize that bike sharing is nothing like their worst fears. Neighbors will clamor for stations. Actually, many already are. Residents in Park Slope, which isn't getting Citibike yet, are eager for expansion.
Meanwhile, pass the popcorn.
Before the holiday break, the Washington Examiner published a poorly-researched article about bike lane opposition. But instead of jumping onto an anti-bike lane revolt, DC press and opinion leaders quickly saw through the rhetoric and put forth a more nuanced and sensible reaction.
As other cities, like New York, struggle with fiery opposition to bike lanes, DC can hope to travel down a more level-headed road, where cyclists, drivers and all stakeholders are able to work together to make roads safer and smoother for all.
The article, by Hayley Peterson, focuses on the 15th Street, NW cycle track's extension into downtown. Peterson talks about objections from "business owners," but only one of the three opponents quoted is actually a business owner. One thinks bikes should be on the sidewalk, which is actually illegal in that area, south of Massachusetts Avenue.
Later, the real owner of one of the businesses objected to the article, saying they actually eagerly support the lane. That employee was actually talking about parking meters, not bike lanes, which are of course different things. The article complains about the loss of parking spaces, but it's very few.
To their credit, other members of the DC press corps immediately had a very skeptical reaction. Recognizing the poor reporting on display, TBD's Dave Jamieson writes that "it just sounds like some unorganized and specious grumbling." And Mike DeBonis noted on Twitter that some of the parking spaces in question were actually in front of the Examiner offices. Perhaps there's an ulterior motive behind the piece?
Plus, officials from the Downtown BID gave quotes in support of the lane. Ellen Jones said that property owners were involved in the planning. The lanes have been discussed in community meetings and with stakeholders for over a year. When discussing plans for a number of cycle tracks in March, DDOT Bicycle Program Manager Jim Sebastian said that "it seems quick, but we've been working on this for a while."
Another article by Peterson, published on the same day, compares DC to New York, which is experiencing a stronger "backlash." In that piece, too, Gerri Widdicombe of DC's Downtown BID says, "I know in New York they are having a bike lane revolt. I don't think we're there yet." In fact, it's unlikely DC will ever have the level of rancor on display in New York.
It's not clear how much of New York's "revolt" is widespread negative public sentiment versus the objections of relatively few amplified by hostile press outlets. On Staten Island, the local paper claimed that because people speed on a road, the city should remove a new bike lane, and Mayor Bloomberg bowed to that pressure, as well as some from Hasidic leaders in Williamsburg against "scantily clad cyclists."
A bike lane on Prospect Park West in Brooklyn has worked well and gained many supporters, but drawn opopsition including the family of Senator Chuck Schumer and some hostile columnists, though without success thus far. New York's first cycle tracks, on 8th and 9th Avenues, have gained community support for extensions after a bit of initial opposition.
Certainly any bike lane could upset some people, as have a few lanes in DC. A responsible Department of Transportation listens to the complaints and tries to design lanes to alleviate them as much as posible, but that doesn't mean they should remove the lanes if some modifications will address legitimate concerns.
For example, after some 15th Street residents complained about the large yellow pylons possibly reducing the curb appeal of houses, DDOT switched them to more widely-spaced, shorter white pylons when modifying the lane to two-way operation.
Still, cycling advocates inside and outside government benefit from having as many supporters as they can get beyond just regular cyclists and business groups. That motivation underlies WABA's Resolution to Ride Responsibly, which asks cyclists to pledge to be good riders.
The resolution generated some backlash of its own, largely over a tone which seemed to imply all cyclists need to do better as opposed to emphasizing that most cyclists are already riding responsibly. But WABA is right that the "scofflaw cyclist" stereotype is interfering with further advocacy.
The biggest reason Peterson's critique flopped was that the impact of the 15th Street lanes was ultimately very small. As DC moves ahead with more bike lanes, like those on L and M Streets, NW, opposition may grow.
DDOT can best blunt that by working with stakeholders and keeping the public well informed about plans instead of keeping details secret until the last moment, and cyclists can also build support by acting collaboratively with drivers and pedestrians, on the road and in public meetings.
Update: Edited the post to clarify that sidewalk cycling is not illegal everywhere, but is illegal south of Massachusetts Avenue downtown, which is the area that the Strayer campus director was talking about.
Why does a proposal for a sidewalk cafe generally draw widespread praise, but a suggestion to use public space for skateboarding engender scorn? Is there really something better about dining versus skating, or is it simply that younger, poorer, and/or more minority residents skateboard, whereas eating at an outdoor cafe is beloved by wealthier, whiter, and older people?
Both are activities that take up some public space, generate some noise, and provide enjoyment to those participating. Yet most sidewalk cafes are uncontroversial and even eagerly welcomed by nearly all, yet when Dan Reed mentioned yesterday how skaters were starting to use the new Silver Spring plaza, several commenters advocated banning all skaters from the face of the earth.
An interesting analogue is Brooklyn's Fulton Mall. This is a pedestrian-only street lined with retail and atop a number of transit lines. Yet when I first went there, my first reaction was that it seemed run down or blighted. But it turns out that Fulton Mall is "by some measures the third most financially successful commercial street in the country, with ground floor rents commanding over $200 a square foot," Daniel Nairn notes in his review of a new book on Fulton Mall.
Why the disconnect? How can an extremely high-value retail corridor look so poor? To a large extent, it's because black people shop there, and people with a wide variety of income levels. As a result, the stores resemble those we're used to seeing on commercial streets in poor neighborhoods.
The authors suggest that the perpetual calls to "revitalize" Fulton may be more situated in particular cultural values than anchored to actual numbers.There are other aspects of Fulton Mall that everyone agrees are problematic. For example, there are no benches, and many of the upper floors of the buildings are entirely vacant. Historic buildings have garish facades covering up their beautiful detailing. However, the street has many small, independent shops, good ground floor permeability, some street trees, and excellent transit.
"Fulton Mall continued to be judged not by the literal value of the goods sold but by the cultural value that the mainstream applied to them, thus trapping its public image as a failure. Given these terms, what could success look like?"
Rosten Woo surmises that the real motivation behind the various revitalization schemes has not been to create a more successful retail environment, but rather to create a public amenity attractive to the new affluent white residents moving in to the brownstones and condos around it.
We need to avoid the tendency to assume that good urbanism only looks like whatever we like. Good urbanism is about creating places that many people want to go, where they are safe, where there are activities, and where they don't have to travel long distances or be forced to use automobiles to satisfy life's everyday needs.
If those people are black teenagers and they want to roll around on little boards, they should be accommodated just as much as if they're 30-something white couples with strollers who want to pop into a baby boutique. That assumes that the people in question aren't committing crimes, but as Dan has noted, skateboarding gives many teens something to do that doesn't involve mischief.
We see a similar dynamic in the debates about bars or dog parks. Bars generally appeal to younger people, and some older residents share their fists at the proliferation of bars. There needs to be a balance between accommodating social gathering and not creating too much noise too late at night or creating magnets for crime. Dog parks appeal to dog owners, of course, and likewise there needs to be a balance between letting dogs get exercise and not having too much barking too late at night, or poop that doesn't get cleaned up, or other side effects.
Cafes and skating likewise create some side effects (trash that can attract rodents for cafes, for example), but bars, dog parks, summer outdoor movies, playgrounds, cafes, and skate areas are all ways groups of people can and should utilize our public spaces. And all, whether skating kids of any color, seniors, parents, recent college grads who like to drink, dog owners, or anyone else, are entitled to have some public space for their enjoyment.
Update: To clarify, I'm not arguing that skateboarding should be encouraged or even allowed in every public space, just like dog exercise or picnicking or softball should not be accommodated in every public space. However, some of yesterday's comments leaned more toward "skateboarding is an evil that should be stamped out," instead of "skateboarders should get their own skate park in Silver Spring so they don't need to use the plaza." Each public space can accommodate a different set of activities, but communities should design their mix of public spaces to provide opportunities for the full range of uses residents would like to make of their spaces.
NYT article about streetcars has prompted blog posts everywhere about the topic. I'm so glad... but can we please move beyond blog posts entitled "A Desire Named Streetcar"?
A streetcar mapper named Matt': Track Twenty-Nine's Matt' created a streetcar map. It's a nice looking map and a good starting point. I'd quibble with a few of the alignments, and we need several lines east of the river. But wherever we put them, we need a streetcar network yesterday (hopefully even half as good as the network of yesterday).
Union Station still being dumb: NBC sent a news crew to interview the bicyclist whose bike was taken by Union Station officials for being "ugly". And, quelle surprise, during the interview a security guard tried to stop the crew from filming, just as they did to Fox in June and despite Congresswoman Norton's browbeating. Via CommuterPageBlog.
Rowhouse parking requirements steering Brooklyn toward havoc: While much of New York City has no parking requirements and the high transit ridership that comes with it, parking requirements in other areas
The New York Times claims Brooklynites aren't hating the Red Hook IKEA quite as much as they anticipated. The water taxi to Manhattan and shuttle buses to downtown Brooklyn, which run every day and are available to non-shoppers, make the neighborhood more accessible. Hopefully they will stay; IKEA has only promised to keep them running on weekends.
There's also a new waterfront esplanade, though it's marred by the giant parking lot IKEA created atop a historic graving dock. That parking lot has only been used twice, despite strong sales at IKEA; according to the store manager, the lot is only for "insurance." Hopefully they will decide to sell this useless lot so it can have more stores, housing, or a park one day; this is why cities like NYC and DC need strategically-targeted maximums. (Oops, I talked about the OP parking proposal. Sorry!)
In other Brooklyn parking news, Councilmember Simcha Felder wants to replace all meters with multi-space meters. These would enable paying with credit cards. Felder also wants NYC DOT to set up pay-by-phone citywide. It's an especially great idea because once NYC has multi-space meters and pay-by-phone everywhere, it's technologically easy to implement performance parking in high-demand areas of the city.
NYC Councilmembers are less pleased about losing their reserved spaces outside their district offices. Mayor Bloomberg took away these special privilages for four Councilmembers after controversy. They still have placards allowing them to park illegally, however, so they don't entirely have to stoop to following the same rules as ordinary citizens.
- Cyclists are special and do have their own rules
- M Street cycle track keeps improving, draws church anger
- Judge denies injunction against closing schools
- O'Malley announces first projects using new gas tax money
- ICC losing bus service in classic bait and switch
- Can Loudoun grow while protecting its rural areas?
- Silver Spring mall could get massive facelift, new name