Council Candidate’s Congestion Solution: Rush Hour Bike Bans

The Lo-Down, a blog covering the Lower East Side and environs, just wrapped up a slate of interviews with all the candidates running for the 1st District seat in the City Council: Margaret Chin, Pete Gleason, Arthur Gregory, PJ Kim, and the incumbent Alan Gerson. Along with John Liu, Gerson has been one of the council’s most vocal critics of recent safety improvements for pedestrians and cyclists. But after reading up on the views of his competitors, it’s doubtful that dumping Gerson in the September 15 primary — provided he makes it on the ballot — would put a more progressive voice in City Hall.

grand3.jpg1st District Council candidates say safety measures like the Grand Street lane are out of step with their community. Photo: Ian Dutton

The 1st District covers most of Manhattan below Houston Street and parts of Greenwich Village. Perhaps nowhere else in the city is better suited for walking and biking. Or at least that would be the case if not for the punishing traffic that overruns its streets every day.

When it comes to giving their potential constituents some relief from the auto armada, the 1st District challengers have plenty of deserving targets to train their fire on. But forget the placard abuse, the free ride for car commuters who pour over the East River bridges, and the city’s nonsensical truck toll system. Here’s what challenger Arthur Gregory said when asked what he views as the district’s most pressing transportation issue:

You can drive through Central Park at certain times. And certain times
you can’t. Have the bike paths the same way. When there’s congestion
because of cabs, people are going to work, they’re doing business, or
deliveries in the morning then you say, listen, you can’t really use
the bike paths now.

Okay, so Arthur doesn’t get biking as transportation, or the fact that bikes take up much less space than cars. His views on cycling would have come across as backwards even during the dark ages of the Midtown bike ban, 22 years ago. (If only he’d thought this bike thing through as much as his well-reasoned position on delivery truck schedules — read the whole interview, he says some good stuff.)

The thing is, the other candidates don’t compare all that favorably. In fact, they practically trip over themselves to condemn one of the most important cycling safety measures in their district, the protected bike path on Grand Street.

Chin gave the following assessment of the Grand Street bike lane:

Grand Street cuts across many different neighborhoods. You have
different needs and you have different usage, and no consultation. Just
an item on the community board agenda… That bike lane (between
Chrystie and Canal) is the stupidest thing, that’s what people in the
community say. It just created a lot of congestion. But the city says
‘we think it’s a good idea. We just think people will get used to it.’ Wait a minute. You can’t just impose that on a community.

This is a common refrain. It’s easy for the candidates to profess support for safer streets in the abstract, but what about specific projects like Grand Street, or the seemingly unassailable addition of pedestrian refuges to hazardous crossings? Their standard response: Say it’s no good and blame the community process that preceded these real-world improvements.

In the case of the Grand Street bike lane, that process involved a nearly unanimous CB2 vote in favor. The community board system has its flaws, but I think it’s fair to ask: If approval from the local CB doesn’t cut it for these council candidates, what sort of "community input" requirement would they like to see fulfilled before every attempt to make streets safer?

Signed consent from SoHo boss Sean Sweeney?

  • I read the full interview with Margaret Chin, and it seemed clear from the context that she was quoting other people when she repeated the “bike lane is the stupidest thing” line.

    Once again the focus is on the trees, individual comments that can easily be taken out of context, as opposed to the forest: the wellspring of community opposition to projects—like the Grand St bike lane—that are imposed by fiat by the Bloomberg administration. That is in my opinion what Ms. Chin is trying to express.

  • v

    that’s a new one. cabs are the solution to congestion, and bikes are the problem. where do they find these people?

  • V2

    Where do they find these people? Why community boards of course!

  • Glenn

    Here’s a novel idea: Ban Cars during the “most congested times”…Problem solved.

  • Shemp

    I read the Margaret Chin interview too and in fact she is even less coherent than the blog post here relates. In one paragraph she says DOT is concerned with nothing but traffic flow and in the next she complains that the Grand Street bike lane is inhibiting traffic flow. I didn’t see anything taken out of context the way Jonathan does. Chin is one of these CB types who thinks “the community” should be making all the decisions in New York.

  • da

    Great idea, Arthur!

    And why not have the sidewalks the same way too. When there’s congestion because of cabs, people are going to work, they’re doing business, or deliveries in the morning then you say, listen, you can’t really use the sidewalks now.

  • You know what makes car travel slower? Other cars! I only WISH I could slow traffic down from over in the bike lane. I can’t believe these people are running for public office. No wonder Chinatown is such a transportation cluster-f*ck.

  • How could it be taken out of context? It’s a sentence ending with “that’s what people in the community say” in the middle of a large block quote. That is the context.

    I ride the Grand Street bicycle lane home every day and I see people in the community using it extensively. Maybe Chin should talk to those people, too. (I’m thinking they would not call it stupid.)

  • Ben describes the quote as Chin’s “assessment.” Assessment implies a critical analysis and endorsement of the contents. When I read the quote, I thought that she was describing what other people were saying, without endorsing them.

    And on the subject of “community input,” Roberta Brandes Gratz writes in her 1998 book, Cities: Back from the Edge:

    Long-time residents are often die-hard skeptics. They see things as they are without fresh vision of what can be. They remember what things were and think nothing as good can replace that. They long ago gave up on downtown, took their loyalties elsewhere, and view suspiciously anyone who refuses to give up on downtown. In big cities and small, this crippling phenomenon is widespread.

    Not every community leader is Christine Berthet, who understands the value of livable streets. Most, it seems, view both Janette Sadik-Khan and Dan Doctoroff as interchangeable Bloomberg stooges.

  • I agree with Nathan’s interpretation. Chin may have avoided taking a position one way or another on the bike lane, but she clearly thinks that “the community”:

    a) is a coherent entity
    b) is adequately represented
    c) deserves absolute control over what goes on within its territory
    d) is united against the Grand Street bike lane

    On each of those issues, she is not only completely wrong, but completely out of touch with reality. Sadly, Gerson seems to be the same way.

    It’s interesting that I’ve read some information that connects her to some wing of the Communist Party. She seems to have changed her political stripes, but is apparently no less committed to the kind of one-party political-insider way of doing things that is typical of both the People’s Republic of China and the New York community boards.

  • What about Kim and Gleason, anyway?

  • V2

    In New York City newspeak “community” means community board. It doesn’t mean the people living within a neighborhood, or a specific religious or ethnic group. In community board world, it doesn’t matter what actual neighborhood sentiment is. What matters is the opinion of the, usually reactionary, core group. This group is made up of people who have sat through decades of interminable night time meetings. There are people like Chin in every board. They fervently represent a silent majority of car owners — even in districts where most people don’t have a car.

  • glenn

    Anyone who takes a cab to work on a regular basis could easily be described as the elite…and yet they are protrayed as salt of the earth types. What gives?

    And all of the above comments on Community Board are largely correct. “Community” sentiment is often directly at odds with the parochial members of local community board.

  • JEFF

    Cap’n, I think you’re right about Margaret’s past. I can’t find it now but I’m pretty sure she was part of an extremist party at some point in time. Which makes sense since it doesn’t matter to her if you get to work earlier than anyone else. Work is work.

  • But V2 and Glenn, as Ben pointed out, the Commuity Board endorsed the Grand Street bike lane. The definition of “community input” espoused by these candidates seems to involve consulting any sufficiently powerful resident or business owner who might possibly feel left out of the process, no matter how little they were involved before.

    I’ve now read the interviews with Kim and Gleason. They seem marginally more intelligent and responsible than any of the other candidates. Although they both defer to “the community,” it is true that the DOT’s community consultation process could be better. Kim’s take seems to be the most balanced:

    I’m a cyclist myself and I take the Grand Street path… but I understand that for people who live here, who have businesses here it is a tremendous burden. And that’s not to say that the bike lanes should or should not be there but the process by which that decision was made seemed to be heavy handed and it did not involve enough people in the community.

    .

    Gleason had this interesting quote about the ridiculously knee-jerk anti-pedestrian-Chatham-Square press conference:

    I stood off to the side since it was Margaret’s press conference… Alan Gerson showed up and bellied his way up to the forefront and took over the microphone.

  • Capn, I admire your four-point take posted yesterday evening. I think that there are probably local business-owner or landlord groups who are congruent with points a, b, and d. Those groups and their bought-and-paid-for representatives, like to confuse themselves with “the community” a lot.

  • Paul Liu

    I bet not one of the above 15 commenters lives in the district you are opining on! Do you?

    No, likely you are mostly a bunch of underemployed scolds from some other nabe or transplants to the city.

    Well, we who live and vote here could care less about your views. Get active in YOUR communities, if you want change. I bet you have never been to any, any community meeting in your neighborhood. What block or neighborhood association do you belong to?
    None!

    The fact that you would red-bait Chin is so ’50s. Did you learn that from your McCarthyite parents in the suburbs?

    You thought you were getting your way with Chatham Square. Chinatown taught you a lesson.

    We live here, we love our neighborhood and we vote here. Our activism does not consist of sitting in front of a computer screen talking back and forth to the same two dozen people day in and day out.

  • Paul: I am, in fact, a resident of the district and fully employed. I attend community board meetings regularly. And I’m sorry, I didn’t know that the fact that I moved here from somewhere else seven years ago gave me no right to complain about my elected officials and a few vocal members of the community trying to trump our right to safer streets.

    None of my neighbors own cars. Not one. The fact that several projects that directly benefit pedestrians have faced such absurd opposition in a district where so many people walk (and where dozens of pedestrians have been killed this decade) is puzzling, until I read comments like yours.

  • Paul Liu :

    I have three friends who were born and raised in District 1, two of them use the Grand Street bike lane almost daily.

    And for the record, PJ Kim has the most balanced and reasonable stance on the Grand Street bike lane situation.

  • Quickly looking for the streetsblog story where this would be most relevant–just going to pile on John Liu for a minute:

    I’ve emailed Liu’s office at least once about how annoying this is:

    Every time you email Liu (including if you follow an online action alert), Liu’s office puts you on his damn google group! See below.

    noreply@googlegroups.com to me
    show details 1:58 PM (3 hours ago)

    John Liu johnliu@liunewyork.com has added you to the JohnLiuNewYork group
    with this message:

    Welcome to John Liu’s network of friends and community activists. This email
    list was established to keep you updated on some of the latest news, issues
    and activities. Let’s work together to make change for the better!

    Here is the group’s description:

    * * * JOHN LIU 2009 * * *
    ==========================================
    Providing the Latest News and Updates from John Liu
    ==========================================
    LEADERSHIP * COMMITMENT * EXPERIENCE * RESULTS

    ———————– Google Groups Information ———————-

    The owner of the group has set your subscription type as “No Email”, meaning
    that you’ll need to visit the group’s home page to view new messages.

    Visit this group on the web by using this URL:

  • Paul Liu or John Liu?

  • Paul Liu

    Paul Liu = John Liu? LMAO!!!

    Hi, ddartley, I guess you think all Chinese look alike too? LOL

    Anyway, No one responded to my observation that they are all full of ideas for my neighborhood, but don’t say what they do for their own, other than type away fitfully and obsessively on this blog.
    Ha! As I thought, a bunch of interlopers who want to impose their views on our community.

    Except Chris who says he lives in the district.
    And you, Chris, do you REALLY live here? I checked the phone records and called the Board of Elections and you are unknown in both. I also emailed friends on CB1 and CB3 and no one has heard of you. You are telling the truth, aren’t you? If so, please identify where you live, the street is fine, no house number needed, in order to protect your privacy. Otherwise, I would say you are full of baloney.

    And LIam, I have friends who live in Boulder, just like you have friends who live in CD1. But what does that prove? You’d like Boulder. Lots of silly bike lanes.

    I defy any on this blog to get one person – one person – who lives or owns a business on Grand Street or Chatham Square who supports the DOT’s schemes. I bet you can’t!

    J’accuse!

  • Paul, I would share the name of a business owner one block from Chatam square that I know who supports DOT’s “silly” bike lanes (obviously not Chatam Square plans), but I won’t give you his business name because based on what you’ve typed here you’d probably call and harass him.

  • Marty Barfowitz

    Paul,

    Your Community Board keeps voting in favor of these DOT initiatives and pushing for new ones like the changes on Carmine Street. There’s a ton of support in Lower Manhattan for livable streets. But, yeah, Chinatown has some seriously retrograde merchants and the SoHo Alliance stopped representing the interests of the neighborhood some time around the end of the ’80s. We know that too.

  • Paul Liu

    “I would share the name..”
    but you didn’t, did you? More empty words.

    Frankly, my friend, I don’t believe you. And even if you are correct, I defied you to name someone on GRAND St who supports the bike lanes, not Chatham Square. Don’t follow instructions well, do you?

    And for the vomitous Marty, also not from my ‘hood:
    Duh! Carmine St. is in the Village, not in my community board.

    I won’t even waste time addressing your other unsupported and broad-sweeping claims.

    Now I know why I have never bothered to comment here before. I knew it would be a waste of time. It will be my last. Extremists do not easily listen to others point of view.

    Anyway, I do have a life, and a family, and a weekend ahead of me. I’ll let you spend your time doing what you do best: cackling together with the same coterie of extremists obsessively, day in and day out.

    Hasta la vista. I’m outta here baby. None too soon.

  • Actually, that satisfies your request. You said “DOT’s Schemes” not one or the other.

    You won’t be missed. Useless. (now lay on him and see if hill come back and make his statement baloney).

    MM, baloney.

    Speaking of DOT schemes, my friend and I had a great time at Summer Streets today.

    That DOT and their freakin’ schemes!

  • Paul Liu, you might be just joking with me, but if your gibe is serious, please don’t go there with me; I knew what I was saying. The story mentions JOHN Liu, so that’s why I mentioned JOHN Liu.

  • al oof

    i can’t stop being infuriated by the anti-bike lane on the basis of businesses not getting deliveries and/or people having trouble finding parking bullshit. 90% of nyc businesses cannot receive deliveries comfortably and never could. casual parking while you shop or dine is almost impossible in much of the city. it is not your god given right to cater to driving customers or receive deliveries right in front of your store just because you’re on grand street (or kent in williamsburg). suck it up.

  • LJ Ten

    I live in the neighborhood and discussed the bike lane with many neighors. None said it was good…largely because of the parking lane. If the parking lane were to be removed, traffic could flow again, and the bike lane would most likely be more accepted. Most people did comment that they rarely saw it in use, however. Margaret Chan was one of the people I spoke to about this, and she agreed that the car parking lane does not work.

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