Council Candidates at Fort Greene Forum Agree: Don’t Touch Parking

If you were hoping for inspiring leadership from the City Council on transportation issues after the next election, you may want to look somewhere other than District 35, which covers the neighborhoods just east of downtown Brooklyn. Two-thirds of households in the district are car-free, according to the 2000 Census. But while most candidates supported traffic calming improvements at a forum last night, they were unanimous in their opposition to removing on-street parking spaces, and many were reluctant to support policy changes that would cut down on driving in the district.

District 35 candidates, from left, Olanike Alabi, Laurie Cumbo, Ede Fox, Frank “Richard” Hurley, and Jelani Mashariki at last night’s forum. Photo: Stephen Miller

The seat, representing Downtown Brooklyn, Fort Greene, Clinton Hill, Prospect Heights, and parts of Crown Heights and Downtown Brooklyn, is currently held by Letitia James, who is running for public advocate. Candidates Olanike Alabi, Laurie Cumbo, Ede Fox, Frank “Richard” Hurley, and Jelani Mashariki attended the forum, sponsored by the Brooklyn Movement Center, Coalition for the Improvement of Bedford-Stuyvesant, Fort Greene Strategic Neighborhood Action Partnership, the New York League of Conservation Voters Education Fund, and Transportation Alternatives.

In response to a question from TA deputy director Noah Budnick about traffic calming and complete streets on Atlantic Avenue, Fox said that she supports street design that makes it easier to cross the major roadway and enforcement that cuts down on speeding, singling out dollar van drivers as particularly reckless in Prospect Heights. She also raised concerns about cycling, which she supports, saying that more cyclists need to follow the rules of the road. “We have some streets that are quite narrow. We have quite a lot of bicycle lanes on them, and I see some difficulty between bicyclists and drivers and walkers,” Fox said.

Hurley also supported pedestrian islands on Atlantic Avenue, while Alabi cited the need for more speed humps and curb extensions, praising the Prospect Heights Neighborhood Development Council’s effort to secure a Slow Zone for its neighborhood.

The candidates had a variety of suggestions to improve bus and subway service. Fox urged the MTA to completely restore service that was cut in 2010, keep fares from rising, improve frequencies on the A and C trains, and roll out Bus Time (the program is scheduled to expand citywide by April). Fox supported bus rapid transit as an option to expand capacity. “Making new train lines is really not efficient,” she said. “BRT is something that can be done easily, quickly, and very cheaply.”

Mashariki said that subway station booths needed to be staffed to assist riders looking to add money to their MetroCards, while Alabi said the MTA deserves credit for partial restorations of service cuts. She also wanted to see subway station renovations and extended accordion buses on routes serving Myrtle Avenue and Fulton Street.

Budnick also asked the candidates if they support the expansion of bike-share. “Yes, I like the Citi Bike, just don’t take our parking spots,” Mashariki said, to a round of applause from the audience. The other candidates all agreed with this position, except for Hurley, who opposed bike-share expansion. “The bikes are an inconvenience to everyone. They should be at parks and playgrounds,” Hurley said. “Until they do that, I’m not supporting it,” he told a voter after the forum.

Hurley was also skeptical of pedestrian plazas, claiming that by closing a block to cars, plazas inhibit emergency response. He also said they do not benefit neighborhood residents and instead primarily help businesses. “It’s not for the people who live around there,” he told Streetsblog. “When I drove into Times Square and I first saw that pedestrian plaza, I went, ‘What the hell?'”

Later in the forum, Cumbo brought up Hurley’s opposition to plazas. “I happen to be in favor of the plazas,” she said. While she raised concerns about how well cleaning staff are paid by the plaza maintenance partners, Cumbo said that plazas could serve as locations for community board meetings. In Jackson Heights, Queens CB 3 has hosted a meeting in a public plaza.

On the topic of community boards, Alabi said that term limits for board members should be considered, while Mashariki came out in favor of directly elected board members, and Cumbo said that student leadership from colleges and universities should be included on community boards.

After the forum, Streetsblog asked Alabi, Cumbo, and Fox if they support continued reduction or elimination of parking requirements. Last year, the city cut Downtown Brooklyn parking mandates in half, but has not pursued other major changes.

“It’s a case-by-case issue. We have a lack of parking in this district, so I would not support it for this district,” Alabi said. Cumbo said her initial reaction was not to support the elimination or reduction of parking minimums, but that she would need to do more research on the issue.

“We of course want to encourage people to use mass transit,” Fox said, though she did not support eliminating or reducing parking requirements. She believes that families or older residents moving into new apartments might also own cars and could exacerbate the existing on-street parking crunch if  they don’t have off-street parking. “It may not make the most sense to get rid of those parking requirements,” she said.

Fox and Cumbo were also hesitant to embrace congestion pricing or bridge tolls. “I’m always a person that looks for incentives to change behavior, not fees and fines to change behavior,” Fox told Streetsblog, using her mother as an example of someone who has difficulty using the subway and drives to Manhattan because there is no bus service.

“There are other ways that we can decrease the amount of vehicles in the city, and I don’t know pricing, or another fine, or another fee, is necessarily the way to go,” Cumbo said, suggesting carpooling as an alternative.

  • Alex Knight

    “‘The bikes are an inconvenience to everyone. They should be at parks and
    playgrounds,’ Hurley said. ‘Until they do that, I’m not supporting it,’
    he told a voter after the forum.” Because bikes are only for children and playtime? Where do these people come from? Who is voting for them? It is honest to God frightening that these are the people in power (or poised to be in power) in this city.

    And what is it with car owners commanding so much power, anyway? That’s an honest question. We know for a fact that most people in this city don’t own cars, especially in closer-in neighborhoods. Yet even in places like Fort Green with so few car owners, they still seem to wield a lot of political power. Same goes for 125th St. Are they just more politically active? More vocal? Higher rate of voting? I’m genuinely curious.

  • Guest

    WTF could Hurley possibly be doing driving to Times Square? I can’t think of a single destination within a mile of Times Square that a Brooklyn could do fastest in a car.

  • Anonymous

    It is a real pain to own and park a car in those neighborhoods and people are reminded of that fact all the time as they circle looking for on street parking and get stuck in traffic.They are constantly annoyed and annoyingly vocal.

  • Ian Turner

    I think part of it is that even many non car owners view cars as aspirational. They picture themselves as having a car someday, so they don’t want to push for public policies that would make that harder.

    The other thing is that although most New Yorkers don’t have cars, most of the New York political elite do have cars (mainly because of free parking), and drive everywhere. That includes politicians, community board chairs, public servants, etc.

  • Outside of the parking spot stupidity, this is my my favorite excerpt:

    Fox urged the MTA to completely restore service that was cut in 2010,
    keep fares from rising, improve frequencies on the A and C trains, and roll out Bus Time.

    No one seems to realize that these things all, you know, cost money.

  • Anonymous

    The bikes should be in the playgrounds? Apparently Mr. Hurley is not aware that bikes are explicitly prohibited in playgrounds.

  • Alex Knight

    Mr. Hurley seems not aware of many, many things.

  • Ari

    It’s partially change-aversion. Some people don’t like change, even if a particular change doesn’t negatively impact them.

  • Ari

    I miss Tish already.

  • 67% Car-Free

    Maybe Giuliani and Dinkins should try a comeback. These candidates sound like they just came out of a time capsule from 1990-94.

  • First off, districts are drawn to include people, not just voters. Many New Yorkers are not citizens and can’t vote in local elections. Many New Yorkers who are citizens are not registered to vote. Many New Yorkers who are registered to vote don’t bother. The rump who vote are most likely to have lived in the district the longest and probably have disproportionate car ownership rates.

    Also, to go along with Geck’s comment below, the hassles of car ownership are real, and as it happens, parking policy is something that community boards and city council members have a voice on.

  • Reader

    And car drivers are very vocal, frequently complaining to electeds and other officials. Hence, every City Council transportation committee bill.

    Pedestrians and cyclists need to complain more to the right people.

  • krstrois

    It’s never about fastest, it’s always about privilege and privacy. He probably has a placard . . .

  • Garoto

    Last week I sent emails to all the candidates about these issues, and not a single one responded. I miss Tish so much already. These guys all suck! I’m disappointed in Jelani especially, I would think an OWS person would have more progressive views.

  • Clarke

    Wait, is he actually admitting to being a real life Veronica Moss? http://www.streetsblog.org/2009/11/17/streetfilms-veronica-moss-goes-to-times-square/

  • krstrois

    I think part of the problem is that providing lower income people with easy access to cars and parking *is* seen as progressive and equalizing. This is an essential part of why we subsidize parking and overbuild it.

  • Rolando Peñate

    It’s disappointing to see such a weak field in my district… Who’s Streetsblog going endorse?

  • Anonymous

    [Fox] also raised concerns about cycling, which she supports, saying that more cyclists need to follow the rules of the road. “We have some streets that are quite narrow. We have quite a lot of bicycle lanes on
    them, and I see some difficulty between bicyclists and drivers and
    walkers,” Fox said.

    Dear Ms. Fox: please explain to the family of this person:
    http://www.streetsblog.org/2010/07/19/hundreds-of-neighbors-press-nypd-for-justice-for-slain-mother-of-three/
    how concerned you are about the menace posed by bikes.

    And I’d like to say to anyone running for public office: stop claiming you “support” bikes with one breath while damning them with the other. Bikes are here to stay, no matter what, and they’re only going to get more popular and essential. You can either wake up and actually support them, or you can watch as your views become unimaginably outdated.

  • Garoto

    They never respond to any emails, so how would we know?

  • Jason

    “We have some streets that are quite narrow. We have quite a lot of bicycle lanes on them, and I see some difficulty between bicyclists and drivers and walkers,”

    Yes, with most nyc streets having 3 – 4 lanes devoted to automobile storage and travel, clearly bicycles are the problem.

  • Nudge

    I was there, and my partner and I distinctly heard Alabi answer the bike share expansion question with “yes,” without the “if it doesn’t take up more parking” disclaimer. Did we mishear or did you?

  • Anonymous

    I have it on tape. You’re right. Fox and Cumbo said “Jelani’s answer.” Hurley said “no.” Alabi said “yes.”

  • Anonymous

    I also have it on tape. There was a brief moment of confusion after Alabi’s answer, so I checked with her after the forum. She said she agreed with Mashariki’s answer but wanted to abide by the request of the moderators to answer only using “yes,” “no,” or a one word response.

  • Joe R.

    If Ms. Fox and others are ready to listen, any number of cyclists could give her a bunch of reasons why they don’t follow every rule of the road, along with a bunch of suggested modifications to said rules which would make cycling both safer and more efficient. Of course, I doubt anyone who complains about bikes is interested in such a dialogue. They just want to keep the current system in place because they know it discourages cycling, and that’s what they really want-fewer bikes on the road so they can speed in their cars.

  • Nudge

    ugh. thanks for clarifying. I suppose it’s too late to try to draft a candidate?

  • Sad35Voter

    Or that bustime is already on-track to be implemented…

  • Sad35Voter

    This was a very disheartening event. No one seemed to have a grasp on transportation issues. Alabi was maybe the the least bad – and at least has transportation positions on her site. Cumbo seemed unknowledgable, and her endorsement of Bill Thompson really threw me, but of the candidates, I was most disappointed by Fox. She forwarded the intersection of Atlantic and Vanderbilt as in need of pedestrian improvements, claiming that it is very difficult to cross in the signal cycle, and that it is in need of a pedestrian island. However, a year+ ago the crossing time was increased, countdown clocks were installed, and an island was installed on the west side. She seemed to be making it up as she went along and I am incredulous that someone who claims to know the district would have just missed these changes.

    I walked in hoping to like Cumbo. I walked out saddened and considering Alabi.

  • Larry Littlefield

    And to be fair, the incumbent parking lobby wanted resident only parking to go along with Atlantic Yards, and for some reason didn’t get it. Who killed that one?

  • Ben Kintisch

    Yes, Tish will be a tough act to follow. Now, if you’ve heard positions that are not good enough to get mobilized, let the candidates know directly. I think, if you’re inclined to vote in this district, call up the office directly. “I’m a one-issue voter. I prioritize safer streets for my family and neigbhor. How are you going to advance that issue?” Remember your job is not to debate, but rather to state how important these concerns are as you decide to donate or volunteer.

  • Anonymous

    I wonder how much the “Jobs for New York” political action committee, funded by the Real Estate Board of New York, has influenced these candidates’ positions. Jobs for New York has reportedly announced independent expenditure campaigns in some Brooklyn districts that amount to $100 or more per likely voter.

  • Garoto

    Yeah, Cumbo has been so polished recently, but is as disappointing as Mosely has been. They are slicker than they have substance.

  • Disappointed voter

    This really is a horrible field of candidates, the ladies are slick and the guys are just dumb. Cumbo will probably be the most effective since she successfully built an institution in the district like MoCADA. Mashariki is the most disappointing and not very progressive. He will be the least effective considering his clear lack of policy awareness and his connection to the corrupt city homeless services.

  • Disappointed Voter

    You’re right Garoto, Last year in Brooklyn I remember an OWS candidate for Congress, that was also a cover story of the Village Voice. He pushed a radical progressive vision forward and shook things up in the democratic primary. You would have thought Jelani was not going to be “progressive lite”. Very sad.

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