Today’s Headlines

  • Paterson Appoints Longtime Real Estate Lobbyist to MTA Board (NYT, Newsday)
  • John Liu Joins Joseph Addabbo in Launching ‘Fightthehike08.com’ (News, AMNY)
  • NYCLU: Police Misconduct on Rise Due to Kelly’s Leniency (News)
  • Reasons to Be Grateful for Traffic Agents (News)
  • Remembering Rasha Shamoon (NYT)
  • City Installs Nine David Byrne-Designed Bike Racks (NYT, Post, Metro)
  • Old Mom-and-Pop Bike Shop Still Going Strong in Jamaica (NY1)
  • SoHo Alliance Blames Apple Store for Sidewalk Congestion (Sun, Metro)
  • Coverage of Party Conventions Brought to You By ExxonMobil (Think Progress)
  • Chinese Official Vows to Keep Beijing Auto Emissions Down (Reuters)
  • Larry Littlefield

    Anyone here have an open mind and prepared to think about something? Remember when I reacted so strongly to Konheim & Ketchum’s argument that Congestion Pricing should be subject to an EIS? Recall that I said the EIS process and related lawsuits has nothing to do with the environment, but is merely a game in which people make money and seek to keep unearned privileges (in effect privatizing the benefits of community) or get new ones? Read this.

    http://online.wsj.com/article/SB121919354756955249.html?mod=hpp_us_inside_today

    “At a time when most other cities are encouraging biking as green transport, the 65-year-old local gadfly has stymied cycling-support efforts here by arguing that urban bicycle boosting could actually be bad for the environment. That’s put the brakes on everything from new bike lanes to bike racks while the city works on an environmental-impact report.”

    “Cars always will vastly outnumber bikes, he reasons, so allotting more street space to cyclists could cause more traffic jams, more idling and more pollution. Mr. Anderson says the city has been blinded by political correctness. It’s an ‘attempt by the anti-car fanatics to screw up our traffic on behalf of the bicycle fantasy.’”

    “The plan irked Mr. Anderson. Having not owned a car in 20 years, he says he has had several near misses with bikers roaring through crosswalks and red lights, and sees bicycles as dangerous and impractical for car-centric American cities. Mr. Anderson was also bugged by what he describes as the holier-than-thou attitude typified by Critical Mass, a monthly gathering of bikers who coast through the city, snarling traffic for hours.”

    This guy, by the way, has plenty of time on his hands, as he lives on public assistance. I do my gadflying on my own time in addition to working, parenting, etc.

    “In November 2006, a California Superior Court judge rejected San Francisco’s contention that it didn’t need an environmental review and ordered San Francisco to stop all bike-plan activity until it completed the review. Since then, San Francisco has pedaled very slowly. City planners say they’re being extra careful with their environmental study, in hopes that Mr. Anderson and Ms. Miles won’t challenge it. Planners don’t expect the study will be done for another year.”

    It doesn’t matter how careful they are. Arguments can always be raised in court, an injunction could always be issued, and a lawyer with a goal of inflicting harm on the goal through delay by stalling the case can always do so.

    “Mr. Anderson is running for supervisor again this November — around the time the city will unveil the first draft of its bike-plan environmental review. He’s already pondering a challenge of the review.”

    So it isn’t even done yet, and he already knows he will sue based on its inadequacy. New York and California are perhaps the only places in the country, if not the world, where one sees such posturing in “liberal” and “progressive” garb in favor of privilege and selfishness.

    This could happen here.

    For those of you cheering on the attempt to kill Atlantic Yards not by having elected officials reject it, or even by having a court find that it violated some other law, but by dragging out the court process in a (probably successful) attempt to raise costs and postpone the start of the project into a recession where it cannot be financed, think not about the outcome but the principle? It doesn’t matter in the end what is right or wrong, just how much financial harm can be done via lawsuits – even those eventually found to be invalid – with lawyers making money the whole time.

    Imagine if the placard crowd got an injunction against bike lanes and summer streets, and then dragged out the court case for years. When an EIS was done, they could raise any number of arguments that it is invalid. Based on Atlantic Yards, they could raise one argument, go through an entire series of appeals, and then raise a new argument, and go through the same process as well, dragging it out twice as long.

    This is what “environmentalism” is in some ways – just NIMBYism that could be used (for example) to drag out any change in the parking regulations for years, or even kill Summer Streets. This is what the court system is. In some ways, this is what city planning is. If you actually care about the environment, planning or law, it’s really frustrating to see it hijacked.

    ___________________________

    Also, following up on the absence of corporate bicycle advertising and advocacy relative to the drone of automobile ads, it appears that Giant is bringing bicycling to Taiwan where it had been fading away.

    http://www.ft.com/cms/s/0/1bc4cd42-6d41-11dd-857b-0000779fd18c.html

  • Moser

    I think the SF case is an interesting clash of generational responses to environmental challenges.

    A lot of the enviro edifice built up since the 1970s was developed on the need to stop or retrofit things the establishment wanted to build – highways through cities, nuke plants, noxious factories.

    Today, with enviro sentiment more built-in to many parts of the public consciousness, and the need to reduce carbon emissions having become urgent, there is more of a willingness to implement the stuff enviros have been calling for all along – wind farms, transit lines, bike systems, congestion pricing. But the earlier systems of review are now being used to slow or stop a lot of this pro-environment implementation.

    A big question today is whether enviros can get their heads around the fact that laborious, across-the-board (and often bogus) review has become part of the problem, and that some categories should simply be expedited for implementation.

  • Larry Littlefield

    That’s an interestings perspective. The rules are based on the assumption that change is bad. And perhaps in the 1970s, change was bad, given what was happening. But that just plays into the hands of those privileged by existing conditions.

    The 1970s perspective may have also been driven by the racial politics of the time, and the fear of racial change — development could bring “outsiders.” You still hear that language used when, for example, Richard Lipsky is paid to oppose a new supermarket.

    Regardless of the reason, the environmental review apparatus is detrimental. I would argue it always was — it NEVER did what real environmentalists would have wanted. Since the EIS process is based on “local” impacts, the logical result is suburban sprawl — limit the number of resource using humans in any one place. That increases total environmental damage.

  • Thanks for this Larry. Unfortunately, I don’t have a subscription to the Journal, and the link doesn’t work. Is there some other way to post the article?

    The EIS process is broken in a lot of ways. Does anyone know if there’s been a review/study of EISs to see if they even predict conditions accurately?

  • Larry Littlefield

    I don’t have an online subscription, but the link works for me. Even when the WSJ intends to charge, it usually has a free summary.

    Other than pasting the whole thing here, which sounds like a copyright violation, I don’t have another suggestion unless another publication picks it up.

    This is not a one-off. How about all those “environmental” objections to wind farms off the coast? Natural gas isn’t carbon free, but it’s a good energy source for a transitional era, and “environmental” objections are blocking increased gas supplies for NYC by pipeline and ship. I’ve even heard of aesthetic “environmental” objections to solar panels?

    And not to get everyone all riled up, but where do you think those gatherings of 18,000 people projected at Altantic Yards ought to occur? Never at all? The Meadowlands? And where should the projected population of that project live? The exurbs?

    Sometimes there is a tradeoff between local conditions and global conditions. The best for the former is the proverbial house in the woods. And that’s all the EIS process really looks at.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The good news — not to get all down, but the tide has turned. The “smart growth” thing really has convinced a lot of suburban-type areas and jurisdictions across the U.S. to up density and permit mixed-use to create a “smart grwoth” downtown. We’ll have to see how it survives the housing bust — current press has a lot of big projects on hold from Mass to California. Still, the “gadflys” haven’t stopped everything.

  • Max Rockatansky

    The guy in SF is a crank, too much time on his hands and gets his jollys tweaking people’s noses. Too bad the judge fell for his bs. Hopefully once the city gets it’s ducks in a row they can implement their changes across the board.

    EIR can be abused but Atlantic Yards is a poor example. Ratner is developing the densest housing in the nation (by 2x). There are clearly negative impacts to the environment. Can’t really compare to bike lanes.

  • SmithBrotherJoe

    You obviously don’t know anything about the Atlantic Yards project! The lawsuits you deride are a direct result of the back room dealing and lack of process would have resulted in a disastrous, out of scale, monstrous boondoggle that would scar Brooklyn for decades and only benefit a greedy billionaire. I hope you are correct that the lawsuits will kill this.

    And the public’s lawyers are working at greatly reduced rates, 100% paid for by donations from over 6,000 opponents. The developer and state are using the most expensive team available, and paying for it with public money. You really should spend some time educating yourself about the facts: let me suggest you read the studies at http://www.councilofbrooklynneighborhoods.org to get started. You might also enjoy http://www.atlanticyardsreport.com for some amazing analysis by Norman Oder, or http://www.nolandgrab.org for day to day coverage.

    I hope you are not arguing that there should be no review process anywhere; that would just be idiotic.

  • There are still plenty of destructive proposals that need full environmental review, such as nuclear power plants.

    The problem is that the 1970s law listed traffic congestion, loss of parking, and so on as “environmental” problems that required analysis and mitigation. The mitigation is usually to widen roads and provide more parking – which actually makes the environmental impact worse rather than mitigating it.

    In reality, loss of parking and removal of traffic lanes tend to reduce driving. That is why they are removing lanes in Paris. We should just revise the law by eliminating traffic congestion, loss of parking, and probably a few other criteria as “impacts” that require analysis and mitigation.

  • Moser

    You can remove those types of impacts but still most things pro-active would stll run the risk of triggering a massive EIS. It would seem that we need a broader “beneficial” category like wind farms, bike lane systems and congestion pricing plans that require a lower standard of review.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “You can remove those types of impacts but still most things pro-active would stll run the risk of triggering a massive EIS. It would seem that we need a broader “beneficial” category like wind farms, bike lane systems and congestion pricing plans that require a lower standard of review.”

    There are threshold requirements in the EIS process, but one could sue on the grounds that something held to be below the threshold was above the threshold. After eight years of lawsuits, would it matter that a judge finally ruled that a bike lane did not require an EIS, and the bike lane could go forward?

    Did the Second Avenue Subway really need to wait for several years while an EIS was conducted? Sure there were issues to be discussed, like the placement of station entrances. The EIS process generally adds little to the discussion. They are written with future lawsuits in mind, and only read by those who file such lawsuits.

  • JK

    EIS’s are like any tool, they can be useful or abused. You can’t legislate common sense, and environmental laws are as much part of the political process as anything else. Places like Copenhagen and Portland, and even whole countries like Germany, have a much greater societal and political consensus around transportation policies than American cities do. They also give more power to the government to act on transportation and land use than the U.S. system does. However imperfect, and I’ve seen environmental review delay NYC bike projects like the Hudson Greenway connector at 83rd Street for years, I’d rather have an environmental review process than not have one. Fix it yes. Eliminate it, no. Chaos benefits the most powerful even more than order does.