Last night’s Municipal Arts Society panel, “Shared Streets: Making It Work,” mainly covered familiar ground for those who have been following the city’s efforts to repurpose its streets over the last four years. Participants touted the improved bus speeds along Select Bus Service routes, the safety gains where protected bike lanes have been installed, and the economic boost of pedestrian plazas in Times and Herald Square. Two things jumped out at as noteworthy, though.
First, DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan announced that the department will be accepting applications for a fourth round of its plaza program. When you include both the plazas constructed through the city’s capital program and those built on a “temporary” basis with paint and planters, the latest round will bring the total number of plazas in the works up to 50.
Then, former Traffic Commissioner Sam Schwartz offered some perspective on the current media backlash against the DOT and the Prospect Park West lawsuit. “It’s been hard for as long as I can remember,” he said, “and that’s a very long time.” He said that he too got sued, in his case by the parking garage industry over a 1980 plan to charge single-occupant vehicles for entering the Manhattan central business district. He claimed that business leaders were marching on City Hall and taking out full-page ads in the newspapers that read “Commissioner Schwartz, stop fouling up New York.” The word “foul,” added Schwartz, was a replacement on the part of copy editors.
Schwartz also dismissed the particular strain of opposition that has tried to paint improvements to transit and bike and pedestrian infrastructure as elitist. When he was in office, he said, “it was just the opposite argument. It was the poor people that would be coming into the wealthy neighborhoods. So I think this too shall pass.”