CB2 Chairman Punts Queens Greenway Vote Over Loss of Parking

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From Transportation Alternatives’ Queens Committee Chair Mike Heffron:

At the Queens Community Board 2 general meeting on Thursday, May 1, with no vote by board members, Chair Joe Conley delayed the board’s input on the Department of Transportation’s planned pedestrian and cyclist improvements to Vernon Boulevard, an important link in the proposed Queens East River Greenway. DOT can move forward with the Greenway plan with or without CB 2’s approval.

The DOT plan [PDF] calls for removal of the majority of parking along the East River side of Vernon from 45th Ave to its termination at Main St. In place of parking the DOT plans to put down a painted bike lane in both directions, with painted buffers between the lanes and auto traffic. Also proposed are additional traffic calming improvements along Vernon and a pedestrian relief Green Street to be installed at Queensbridge Park. Two weeks prior the proposal was unveiled to CB 2’s Land Use Committee, which voted unanimously in favor.

Community board members had a lot of questions, and there was a lot of confusion about where parking would be removed. There also seemed to be confusion about the actual widths of streets, as well as thoughts that the bike lane be placed on 11th St., farther from the river. One member wondered if there was a need to provide anything for cyclists at all. There was also concern that the crossing along Jackson Ave. is "too dangerous" and that cyclists should instead be routed down to the river and back up Borden Ave. to access the Pulaski Bridge. Conley had issues with double parking in the Hunters Point commercial area — an area where parking will not be removed and no bike lane is proposed. Because of the parking issue and "congestion" in the area Conley felt that it would be too dangerous to suggest cyclists ride with traffic there.

DOT’s Ryan Russo pointed out that removing parking now, before zoning changes bring in new residential buildings, will encourage new residents to move to the area without their cars. He also noted that cyclists, like most commuters, will take the path that best serves them, that DOT can’t dictate that riders take an out of the way route because it may or may not be safer, and that DOT can best serve everyone by improving safety on presently favored routes. He also repeated several times that parking will not be removed in the Hunters Point commercial district. But Russo had no one from the community to back him up, as the public input period was held at the beginning of the meeting, over an hour before his presentation.

With the hands of several community board members still in the air, Conley decided to table the proposal because "parking is an issue still in Hunters Point." And with no vote, he unilaterally ended discussion and requested that DOT come back with a revised plan. This despite the earlier unanimous vote by the Land Use Committee supporting the proposal and the fact that Community Boards only have "advisory" power over decisions such as these.

The first half of this project, which runs through CB 2’s jurisdiction, was slated to begin in June. TA’s Queens Committee will continue to fight to make sure it starts as close to June as possible. This is a speed bump, not a dead end, but it is another important lesson on the power community boards hold over livable streets initiatives.

  • JF
  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Personally, I support increasing bike lanes. That said, I think there is little point in community boards voting on proposals to develop them. DOT has made it completely clear that it welcomes feedback, but it is going to do what it is going to do, community boards be damned. The agency is grateful for votes in favor, but ignores votes in opposition, so why bother vote at all? It’s a little like the recent election of the new president of Russia.

  • Dave

    So Conley says the streets are better used for free car storag than for bike lanes. Baloney.

    Remind me again why there is such opposition to the introduction of Residential Permit Parking? Why isn’t it actively being pursued as a very-watered down version of CP?

    Restrict parking, citywide, on residential streets to two hours unless you live, register your car and pay taxes locally. Stop the 60% of commuters into NYC who park for free on the streets; stop the illegal registering of cars outside the city (a law which is never enforced); increase tax revenues by forcing residents to play local taxes if they want to park for free.

    What are the objections to permit parking? I can’t think of any that hold water, especially if we pander to the poor and don’t charge for it (which we should).

  • momos

    Jeffrey: Your comments suggest that community boards are democratic and accurately reflect the views of the community. I almost choked on my coffee reading this.

    Let’s not forget that community boards themselves are not elected — their voting members are appointed by borough presidents — and that they have unlimited term limits, making them ideal political patronage mills (even if their budgets are small). It’s the rare community board meeting that isn’t dysfunctional and dominated by a few ranting extremists who completely distort sound public-interest decision making.

    Comparing NYC’s community board system with the form of participatory neighborhood governance in cities like Porto Alegre and Curitiba in Brazil should make every New Yorker hang his head in shame.

    In so many ways our city has been surpassed by others in the rest of the world: BRT in Bogota, bike sharing in Paris, train stations in Berlin, subways in Beijing, congestion pricing in London, pedestrianization in Melbourne, bicycling in Copenhagan.

    The story is no different with local government. Porto Alegre has pioneered an incredibly successful local district governance system using a participatory model that has succeeded in vastly improving government services, building sewage systems and good housing in favellas and implementing environmentally-sound planning — all according to the terms of local communities.

  • Community Boards are a necessary piece of the process. If they are thoughtful, collaborative and realistic in their requests, they can often get good modifications to plans or even wholesale changes.

    If the process drags out and there is no action from the board after local public input or just a rejection without an alternative plan, I believe the agency should move forward if it believes that public safety will be improved by the change over a local NIMBY/populist desire for more free street parking. In fact, I think the DOT has a duty to both seek public input and a duty to override it if necessary. At the end of the day, the DOT is on the hook for improving public safety on the streets – not the Community Board.

  • momos

    Glenn: I agree.

    But to be more precise: local community input is a necessary piece of the process. In NYC this occurs via the extremely flawed institution of the Community Board.

    Let’s not conflate local input with the institution itself. Everyone knows it’s the rare Community Board that is thoughtful, collaborative and realistic. We need a far more inclusive and accountable system in NYC than the Community Board, which isn’t even elected!

  • In fairness to Joe Conley, I’ve heard from many people that this community board is much better run than most. Putting the public comment time at the beginning ensures that public comments are heard at a time when everyone is awake and functional, instead of making commenters sit through hours of zoning debates.

    Mike has informed me that CB2 will be having a special meeting this Tuesday, May 13 at 6:30 at Sunnyside Community Services. Among the topics that will be discussed are another pair of bike lanes on Skillman and 43rd Avenue. I’m hoping that these lanes will have an easier time, since they do not require removal of parking, and they are supported by a broad coalition in the community, including the Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce. Joe has expressed support for safety improvements on Skillman Avenue, and these bike lanes will slow traffic.

    http://saferskillman.org/?p=55
    http://saferskillman.org/?p=50

  • taylor

    I live in Astoria and bike this route all the time. The intersections at Broadway and at the Pulaski bridge are terrible both for cyclists and pedestrians.

    Walking to the Sculpture Garden or Costco at Broadway involves putting one’s life in the hands of motorists drunk on the excitement of discount bulk shopping, as the traffic/pedestrian signals at that intersection are simply a joke. It’s often easier to walk a bit up or down Vernon, dash out into the road and hope that no recently-licensed teenager is coming around the bend at 60MPH. (Speeding is a major problem all along Vernon.) Broadway/Vernon is the T-intersection of two two-lane roads and yet it manages to be one of the most menacing places to pedestrians and cyclists Astoria. Also, I used to live a block off of Vernon near Broadway and there is never a shortage of parking. (I can’t speak to the parking situation in Hunter’s Point.)

    I also feel like I should be clutching a rosary every time I get off the Pulaski bridge from Brooklyn, as it presents you with a choice to be made going downhill on a blind curve with about 8 feet to decide: make a hard right onto highway-sized Jackson (with no bike lane and an immediate bridge-entrance 6-point intersection to navigate) or take the sensible approach and fly directly across Jackson and into the relative safety of pedaling the wrong way down 49th.

    Anyway, does anyone know when the next TA Queens Committee meeting is?

  • Agreed Momos – it’s not clear to me how the community boards can be improved beyond a large infusion of more thoughtful, cooperative and intelligent people representative of their local community. Direct elections might be an answer – or maybe there is a better process altogether of building ideas together.

    The DOT could come and determine the current situation is not safe and needs fixing. They offer the community a chance to determine their preferred solutions, either from a set of alternatives or to build one from scratch.

  • Clarence

    It’s been almost ten years, but back when we were trying to get some bike improvements and traffic calming structures in Brooklyn (Community Board Six) we tried to piece together on our T.A. Brooklyn Committee an informal survey of how many people on our community board had vehicles.

    From the people we could identify – which I remember being at least half the board – it was almost 90%.

    The rate of household car ownership as a whole back then in our CB? Somewhere around 35%

    So a Community Board isn’t necessarily representative of its citizens.

    It’d be interesting to find that # out for all boards presently…

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Remind me again why there is such opposition to the introduction of Residential Permit Parking?)

    Perhaps the objection is to having drivers pay more of the use of scarce street space than non-drivers. Local streets have always been equally funded by drivers and non-drivers, via local taxes, not federal and state gas taxes. And the free bridges are still free.

    So guess what? Drivers won’t pay more, drivers shouldn’t get more. Take it away.

    “From the people we could identify – which I remember being at least half the board – it was almost 90%. The rate of household car ownership as a whole back then in our CB? Somewhere around 35%.”

    That is true of the entire political class, from top to bottom.

  • Hilary

    Some of the opposition to residential permits is from residents of apartment buildings, who by rights have as much right to the use of the streets as single family home dwellers. They may rent cars, use zip cars, or just have visitors with vehicles. Metering streets is obviously better for them than permits. But apartment dwellers (especially those without garage spaces) are more likely to be renters, not owners, and THEY are the people whose voices are least heard on the community boards.

  • Eric

    Interesting point, Clarence, and it makes perfect sense. CB members tend to be long-time residents and homeowners, rather than newer transplants and renters. Hence their political connections — necessary to receive an appointment from the Boro Prez or Councilmember — and the greater likelihood of car ownership. And, by extension, a greater propensity to fight for free parking rather than things like bike lanes and greenways.

  • Clarence

    Again, going from a long memory here, but I do remember a speed hump was proposed being placed on one street within the CB. It was voted down because one of the board members said it was along her car commute.

    That might have been closer to the time of 2001-02, when Aaron was more getting involved with Brooklyn T.A. Aaron, any recollection?

  • CB2 is certainly better than some CBs but the system isn’t always terribly representative it’s district, particularly changing neighborhoods like Astoria, Sunnyside and LIC. And each CB operates under it’s own loose rules, but in the end they are completely advisory so there is always a weird question about how seriously the agencies involved will take their advice.

    The next TA Queens Committee meeting is this Monday, 5/12, from 6:30p-8p at the Greater Astoria Historical Society at 35-20 Broadway up on the 4th floor. All are always welcome.

  • Jeffrey Hymen

    Let’s see, where to begin? momos states, my “comments suggest that community boards are democratic and accurately reflect the views of the community.” I don’t see how s/he got that from what I wrote. All I said was, ‘I don’t see why community boards (should) feel compelled to vote on bike lanes,’ and I explained why.

    I completely disagree with the momos’ statement, “It’s the rare community board meeting that isn’t dysfunctional and dominated by a few ranting extremists who completely distort sound public-interest decision making.” Perfect? Hardly. But this statement is grossly perjorative, as is the follow-up; “Everyone knows it’s the rare Community Board that is thoughtful, collaborative and realistic.” I’ve worked with perhaps ten community boards and I would say that the opposite is true.

    I could go on at length about community boards — Elect the members? Does anybody remember how wonderful school boards were? — but that’s not the topic here. I just don’t care to have my words twisted around.

  • Dave

    Larry/Hillary:

    So you are saying that the situation is vastly different in New York than in every other major city that has permit parking. As with everything else NY has to come up with something different that will only lead to more debate and nothing getting done.

    If I ready you right, because the non-drivers should have equal rights to the streets let’s let anyone use them just to prevent local residents from having priority? So commuters, illegal registrants and yes Aunt Flo from Hackensack have the same rights as residents whose taxes fund the streets?

    That really doesn’t make sense. Restrict parking to local taxpayers, sell visitor passes like LA does, and take away parking spaces to allow bike lanes and other non-parking uses.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “So you are saying that the situation is vastly different in New York than in every other major city that has permit parking.”

    Yes, because the underlying political philosophy of those in charge is that public resources should be allocated not based on need, or willingness to pay, but on the perpetuation of unearned privileges.

    That’s what New York politics is about, and will be about until the current cast in the state legislature (which also includes the Boro Presidents who appoint the community boards) is overthrown.

  • Hilary

    NYC is very different from every other. A high percentage of its population are renters, not owners, for starters. It has a far more developed transit system. There must be ways to reward NYC residents who do own cars to register them here, but using the rights to a street space is not the way to do it.

    We all agree on turning over more of that street space to bicycles, so don’t confuse that issue. We’re talking about how to allocate the rest of it.

  • JF

    One of the good things about term limits is that it shook up the community board process:

    http://www.qgazette.com/News/2003/0312/Political_Page/011.html
    http://www.qgazette.com/news/2005/0316/Feature_Stories/022.html

  • momos

    Re #16 Jeffrey:

    Your original post begins with the disclaimer that you’re in favor of bike lanes and then goes on to compare the DOT to the Kremlin (“The agency is grateful for votes in favor, but ignores votes in opposition, so why bother vote at all? It’s a little like the recent election of the new president of Russia.”)

    Your larger point is that the DOT should consult more with the local community.

    We agree on that point.

    I’m only saying that by suggesting this should be done via CBs assumes that CBs are authentically democratic voices of the community. In my experience, they are not. Maybe I was too harsh by saying they’re ALL dysfunctional — surely there are some good ones and apparently you’ve seen them in action — but my point is that the CB system fundamentally is flawed. It’s one reason why the DOT only half embraces it.

    This is especially true if you compare the CB system with other approaches, such as the participatory model made famous by Porto Alegre, Brazil.

    I’m not arguing about whether local opinion should matter. I’m arguing about the process of involving it.

  • bureaucrat

    the best approach would be something like london where the boroughs (kind of equivalents to our CD’s in size) have more independence and funding – more decentralized power.

  • Dave

    The CB’s only seem to represent the NIMBY-ers and the retired who can no longer afford to live in the neighborhoods that have become pricier than their checkbooks (kind of like co-op boards run by old-timers passing financial judgment on people much much wealthier than they are.)

    Any significant change in parking, tolling or transport policy needs to be pushed from above (hello Mike where are you since the tragedy of CP-killing by anti-city Silver) as the locals will push for no change at all to anything at all.

    Take the power from the ill-informed and self-serving locals and push through whatever you can without the interference of Albany. Forget pathetic Deb Glick’s non-existent outer-borough workers and daily hospital visitors and do what is best for the city as a whole.

    RPP citywide. Toll all the bridges. Two-way and rational tolling at all crossings. And tell the teachers that they can take the subway to work like everyone else.

  • My girlfriend and I were out for a bike ride to Greenpoint yesterday and took Vernon Blvd. at Broadway. The ride there was a bit nerve wracking and on the return trip I opted to ride on the sidewalk just past the Queensboro Bridge. The sidwalk is about 10 feet wide and far safer than Vernon and its speeding cars. With no pedestrians on the sidewalk it seemed like we weren’t intruding on anyone’s turf, other than the cops who pulled us over after one block. Clearly they had a quota to meet and even with a full explanation from us on how dangerous we felt the road was, we were issued summons for riding on the sidewalk. The female cop who was on the passenger side was kind enough to explain that if we went to court and explained the situation that our tickets would be thrown out. Of course, this entails taking a day off to go to Kew Gardens and then waiting in line. So be it, we will be there. Additionally, I no have a new cause to involve myself. There really should be a bike lane on Vernon Blvd. This is a cultural and parks corridor, the views of the city are great and the water is right there. For now it’s a choice of keeping as far from the zooming vehicles as possible or risking the cops busting you for riding on the deserted sidewalks. Too bad it has to be this way, let’s hope that changes.

  • Patrick

    As a cyclist who stayed in Hunters Point during a visit for the Five Boro ride I didn’t have much of a problem on Vernon (at least over the course of Saturday & Sunday).

    However, I completely agree with Taylor that the Queens exit off the Pulaski Bridge is very intimidating. Crossing Jackson at that confusing intersection is scary and both 49th and 50th Avenues are one way the wrong way to get you to Vernon or the waterfront.

    I rode on the sidewalk on the SE side of Jackson down to 50th and then rode with traffic across Jackson and turned left on Jackson to get to 51st Ave. to Vernon. There’s got to be a better way, esp. with the new bike parking.