Manhattan CB 5 Listens to Reason, Endorses Union Square Plan

union_square_design.jpgPedestrian plazas and bike lanes should calm traffic and tame the dangerous northwest corner of Union Square. Image: NYCDOT

After some vocal complaints spurred compromises to NYCDOT’s ambitious original proposal to redesign the streets near Union Square, Manhattan Community Board 5 held strong last night, voting 24-1-1 to move forward with the fundamental safety features of the plan. Rather than cave to the most belligerent core of anti-bike residents and NIMBY businesses, the board actually strengthened its resolve in the face of irrational and uncompromising opposition.

DOT’s plan for the area would extend Broadway’s protected bike lane down to Union Square, shrink 17th Street to a one lane, one-way street with a contraflow bike lane, and build a traffic calming pedestrian plaza. By eliminating excess capacity along Broadway, the plan will slow down cars and greatly enhance pedestrian and cyclist safety. 

Last night’s meeting of the full board took place after three transportation committee meetings on the topic, each of which was marked by outspoken opposition to the redesign. The same familiar faces showed up last night as well. "If the issue is safety," yelled an 18th Street resident who gave her name as Sylvia, "then surely this plan is overblown, chaotic, in fact unrelated." Another 18th Street resident went on about the "policy of deceit and obstructionism from the DOT." 

The members of CB 5 were not swayed. CB member Joe Ferrara had voted against the plan in committee, largely because of resident opposition. After talking with opponents, however, he had a change of heart. "I get the sense that this is a cry for a stop, not necessarily engagement," he explained. Ferrara contrasted the opponents to DOT’s representatives, whom he called "extraordinary on the communications front." DOT’s effort to compromise without sacrificing safety convinced Ferrara to switch his vote to a yes.

The lopsided vote was also the result of strong institutional support for the redesign. Representatives from the Flatiron/23rd Street Partnership, the Union Square Partnership, NYU and the Union Square Greenmarket all testified in favor of the safety improvements. 

Recalling similar changes on Broadway near Madison Square, Jennifer Brown, the Flatiron Partnership’s executive director, told the board that "we were concerned about whether the traffic pattern would work the way they said." Those concerns have melted away. In her organization’s most recent survey of its members, she said, the changes to Broadway received a 91 percent approval rating.

  • Danny G

    So… bike lane down the East or West side of the street?

  • J

    This vote is a major testament to DOT credibility. They presented their plan, listened to the public’s opinion, and tweaked things in order to satisfy legitimate concerns. CB5 has shown remarkable leadership by identifying and standing up to those only interested in obstructionism.

    Yes, it was a long and painful process and yes the plans aren’t quite what they might have been. However, the end result is a great safety improvement, an improved DOT reputation, and a greater awareness that there are some loud voices that simply aren’t interested in honest debate. The awareness of these voices makes it easier to identify and discredit them. All in all, a rousing success.

    Any word on when this will be implemented?

  • J

    It’s down the west side of the street (right hand side when riding). I’m assuming the transition from left side to right will happen within Madison Square. To get to the 5th Ave lane, you have to cross Broadway as well, so this transition won’t be difficult at all. A more recent presentation is here:

    http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/downloads/pdf/20100610_broadway_union_square.pdf

  • Thanks for the fine report and analysis, Noah.

    To amplify the bit about the credibility of the opponents, Ferrara related anecdote that led him to the conclusion that the opponents of the plan were not interested in construciv engagement. He explained that he had personally approached two of the most vocal opponents to try to learn about their concerns, emailed them, but the emails “went into a black hole” and he received no response. Another telling point came when the lawyer for the absuive ABC Carpet store owner argued that the cyclists in the proposed bike path would injure his customers and visitors on the east side of Broadway, when in fact the plan had been adjusted to run the bike path along the west side of Broadway. That lawyer was either really stupid or making a deceitful statement in violation of his ethical responsibilities as a member of the bar. Another board member related a discussion with an opponent in which it was revealed that the opponent’s prime gripe was that the plan could increase the motor vehicle trafic she saw out of her window on Park Avenue South.

    The key to dealing with this kind of opposition is engaging it, questioning it, and getting at the underlying motives.

  • Danny G

    With a lane on the right-hand side of Broadway and on the left-hand side of Fifth, there would be a somewhat symmetrical situation on either side of the Flatiron Building. The adjustments that would be needed for the bike waiting area on the north side of 23rd might be kind of awesome, and even result in a few Craigslist ‘missed connection’ postings.

  • I disagree with Bikes Only. Don’t engage these lunatics. It’s not worth anyone’s time. This is opposition to things being different in the future. People will come up with all kinds of reasons for stuff they like to stay the same. The status-quo is incredibly popular. This debate is not a well considered disagreement on the subject of bike lanes or public plazas. It’s emotional, gut-level stuff. Local cranks are opposed to the bike lane because they’re opposed. They’ll find a thousand reasons to hate street closures and new traffic patterns too. The only way to convince these people is to go forward with the plan and wait until they realize they like it.

  • Local Crank

    @ Dan Berkman: That’s incredibly hateful.

  • J

    Dan,

    I must disagree. Some people have legitimate concerns and some don’t. If you discredit everyone opposed to you, you’re really just discrediting yourself. By engaging the opposition, you can separate those with legitimate concerns from those who are just unreasonable/crazy.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Rather than cave to the most belligerent core of anti-bike residents and NIMBY businesses.”

    These are the exceptions. Much of what is supported on this site benefits local businesses and residents collectively, by prioritizing their use of the street over through traffic. At some point this may become an issue, though we are far from that point.

    What motivates local residents and businesses who oppose these proposals in their own community? They are so in favor so their own automotive interests over their own community that they can’t even support measures that benefit their own community at the expense of those just passing through.

    Whatever you may think about your car, everyone else’s is a quality of life problem.

  • I’m talking about incoherent NIMBY flavored opposition to livable street projects. In the face THIS TYPE of opposition it’s important to keep in mind that the actual issues involved sometimes take a back seat to other less nuanced concerns. It needs to be acknowledged at a certain point that building consensus with people who think there’s a DOT bike lane conspiracy is less important than getting things started. Hopefully more CBs can start to make the distinction between reality based concerns and overblown rhetoric.

  • BicyclesOnly

    Danny G.’s speculation on the east-to-west side migration is classic! Missed connections! 🙂

    BUT: does this mean we’ll lose the “big green fork” where the B’way path splits between 5th and B’way? That was starting to become my favorite bit of NYC iconic bike infrastructure (and the fork kind of quotes the Flatiron ….)

  • Glenn

    Let me recap how far we’ve come against bike lane opponents.

    First they laughed at us. In 2006 when a bunch of us started engaging CB8, we pushed for a reasonable network of class 2 bike lanes on First and Second and a couple of Crosstown routes on 90/91 and in the 70s. In 2006 we were laughed at about our bike lane plan and told that we were scofflaws and that biking was purely recreational in NYC.

    Then they fought us. We got the class 2 Crosstown route even over community board objections on the 91st Street playstreet.

    Then we win! Currently we have Class 1 lanes “planned” for 2011 on First and Second. At the meeting this week where DOT was before CB8 two board members called for urgency in completing the bike lanes in 2011 and no one opposed that view!

    Keep writing letters to Mayor Bloomberg and we will win a East Side Bikeway on First and Second sooner!

  • I’m so jealous of New York’s ability to actually get major livable streets projects like this done. Here in San Francisco, we have a culture of listening to the crazies, trying to pacify everyone, thus preventing many good projects from moving forward. There will always be NIMBYs and those who value cars above people, but we don’t have to listen to them!

  • Alan Miles

    @Bicyclesonly Not to defend the ABC carpet guy, but ABC has space on both the East and the West sides of the street. He said during the meeting that his customers for the location on the West side of the street would suffer under this plan. The comment is disingenuous because it doesn;t matter which side of the street it’s on, the bike lane is in front of one of his buildings.

  • I used to really like ABC carpets. They seemed to be emphasizing how eco-friendly they were. I guess they just think it’s a marketing thing that can exist outside of the community actually being more environmentally friendly. Never shopping there again

  • BTW – you can email ABC carpets and home to tell them you won’t be shopping there.

    Ruginfo@abchome.com
    abcruginfo@gmail.com

  • I used to really like ABC carpets. They seemed to be emphasizing how eco-friendly they were. I guess they just think it’s a marketing thing that can exist outside of the community actually being more environmentally friendly. Never shopping there again

  • BicyclesOnly

    Alan,

    I’ll take the correction; I don’t shop there. I do, however ride past it often, and it has always seemed to me that the ABC custoners were trying to access the store on the east, rather than the west side of the street. There has been a bike lane/sharrow on eitger side of the street for a few years now, and I’ve tried riding down both sides. The activity seems to be on the east side–where SUV-driving patrons would often sit there in the bike lane with zero regard for cyclists.It was a very dangerous situation for cyclists. Let the lesser number of ABC customers who shop on the west side of B’way traverse the new bike path with some caution, looking both ways before they cross, and everyone will be safe and get along.

    As for the ABC owner and his lawyer, I watched them both do and say plenty of outrageous things at multiple meetings, so the fact that the claim of a potential conflict on the west side of b’way may have merit doesn’t do much to redeem them in my eyes.

    In the end though, I have a feeling we’re all going to get along once the project is up and running.

  • J

    Glenn,

    Also, as these good livable streets initiatives take hold, other parts of the city will start clamoring for them. We will truly win when the issue is not whether or not to pursue these projects, but who gets them. It’s starting to happen – just look at the folks in East Harlem screaming for the same improvements coming to the East Village. The UWS CB has repeatedly stated that they wished they had gotten the improvements that went to Chelsea on 8th/9th aves.

    The way to do achieve this broad-based support is by building a strong aura of credibility and using good design. Decades of secrecy/intransigence and mediocre design didn’t help the cause. Honestly, who would support a Sixth Ave style bike lane today? Not many people. With a proven track record over the past few years, it looks like DOT has finally nailed both of them, and each project will be less of a fight.

  • John from Queens

    This stream of bile about “NIMBY” sentiment (ie the people that are long term NY’ers) really makes me dislike these radical–radically pro yuppie –proposals; and the bicycle enthusiasts that come with them. When Bloomberg goes, so will these new lanes.

  • ChrisC

    John, you’re an idiot. You’re suggesting it’s “radical” that streets should accomodate cyclists, but of course it’s perfectly normal that they should accomodate motorists. Get a clue you idiot. Streets are for cyclists AND motorists AND pedestrians.

    As for the rest of you, let’s keep up the good fight. I won’t be happy until there is a strong network of bike paths connecting all of Manhattan. One should never be far from a separated bike lane or fully-separated bike path.

  • Great news about acceptance of the endorsement of the Union Square Plan.

    Can’t wait.

    Wonder if any will be in place for the annual Summer Streets?

  • v

    Carpets are about as eco- as oil spills.

  • ohn, you’re an idiot. You’re suggesting it’s “radical” that streets should accomodate cyclists, but of course it’s perfectly normal that they should accomodate motorists. Get a clue you idiot. Streets are for cyclists AND motorists AND pedestrians.

    As for the rest of you, let’s keep up the good fight. I won’t be happy until there is a strong network of bike paths connecting all of Manhattan. One should never be far from a separated bike lane or fully-separated bike path.

  • Great news about acceptance of the endorsement of the Union Square Plan

  • As for the rest of you, let’s keep up the good fight. I won’t be happy until there is a strong network of bike paths connecting all of Manhattan. One should never be far from a separated bike lane or fully-separated bike path.

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