Memo to Marty: Let’s Go Ahead and “Balance Out” Prospect Park West

Today’s Andrea Bernstein interview with Marty Markowitz (transcript here) is a must-read if you want to get inside the head of the Brooklyn Beep and see the borough through the tint of his windshield.

marty_markovitz__300x300.jpgMarkowitz says he doesn’t want to "stigmatize" motorists. How about just slowing them down?

The specific issue at hand is the two-way protected bike path proposed for Prospect Park West (reminder: open house info session happening tonight), which Markowitz finds objectionable. In the interview, Marty floats the idea of using the Flatbush Avenue sidewalk as a northbound cycling alternative, which tells you most of what you need to know. Safer cycling on Flatbush would be a great addition to what DOT proposed for PPW, but as a substitute it’s laughable — a two-mile detour that makes no sense even if you’re getting around in a car.

And if Markowitz has given any consideration to the rampant speeding on PPW, he doesn’t show it. A DOT survey last March clocked 70 percent of drivers on PPW traveling faster than the 30 mph limit, with 15 percent driving 40 mph or faster. Last month, on an unseasonably warm weekend at the outset of spring, volunteers with Park Slope Neighbors found even higher rates of speeding, observing 80 percent of motorists exceeding the limit and 30 percent driving faster than 40 mph. All this lawlessness is happening a few feet from one of the biggest walking destinations in the borough of Brooklyn, but Marty doesn’t acknowledge it.

The following exchange between Bernstein and the Beep really gets to the heart of this dispute, and many others that come up when the subject is how to allocate street space:

AB: You don’t seem to much care for Janette Sadik-Khan. You’ve called her a zealot, why?

MM: She is a zealot. I can tell you this much — I respect her
professionalism. She personally is a very nice woman. I think she’s a
professional — I know she’s a professional. We just disagree in certain
instances where I’m acutely aware that she wants to make it hard for
those that choose to own their automobiles. She wants to make it
difficult, their life difficult. I really believe that.

AB: Why, why would she want to do that?

MM: Well, I think because she would like to see more people stop car usage and get on their bicycles. Or walk.

AB: Is that an unworthy goal?

MM: Within reason it is a worthy goal. If I personally walk more
than I currently walk and use the bicycle more than I currently use it
just for pleasure I probably would be in much better shape, for sure.
However, I represent everyone. Not just a segment of the population.
And I have to balance out those that feel that everyone should be on
bicycles and those that feel that they need their automobile and that
they shouldn’t be stigmatized.

To Markowitz, giving street space to cycling and walking isn’t justified if it throws the status quo out of whack. In this case, the starting point is a three-lane speedway with wide crossing distances and no dedicated space for bicycles. How does this "represent everyone," when 57 percent of Brooklyn households don’t own cars? (When Markowitz departed the State Senate in 2001, more than 64 percent of the households in his district were car-free [PDF].) On Prospect Park West, "balancing out" interests calls for exactly the type of solution that Markowitz has rejected.

Instead of seeing the PPW improvements as freeing people to safely walk and bike on a popular route, Markowitz gives the impression that he feels personally attacked — "stigmatized" — as a motorist. He envisions a DOT commissioner conspiring to "make life difficult" for motorists and frets that the removal of a few parking spaces on Prospect Park West will cause Park Slope car owners to decamp for Scarsdale.

I suppose this post might make Markowitz feel more stigmatized, but I have some reassurances for him. No one is trying to ban driving or extinguish private car ownership in NYC. The 1,300 people who signed a petition in favor of this project are just trying to calm traffic on Prospect Park West and give people safe options for getting around without a car. It’s true that people who drive won’t be quite as privileged on PPW as they are right now, but there will still be space to drive and park if this project gets built.

Parking in Park Slope might get infinitesimally more difficult, but it’s already a hassle. Imagine if it was easy and convenient to own and operate a car in New York City — subsidized parking structures filling up entire blocks, freeways where the East River used to be. Would you want to live there? Fuhgeddaboudit!

  • Erin

    OMG, Marty is so out of touch… Everyone else: Please come to tonight’s open house about the proposal to modify Prospect Park West! We need to make that huge road, immediately adjacent to the bustling and well-utilized Prospect Park, slower and safer for ALL PEOPLE, not just those in cars.

  • Anonymous

    Excellent post. It’s especially telling that Mr. Markowitz completely avoided the interviewer’s question about the traffic-calming aspect of this project and how it would affect the extremely high vehicle speeds on PPW. He prefers to make this a debate about cars vs. bikes, and to completely ignore pedestrians. Which would be one thing if it were on a highway, but this is the road right next to Prospect Park!

    (This comment is anonymous because I am a Community Board member appointed by Mr. Markowitz.)

  • Marty mentioned the “avid bicyclist” in the first minute, in a negative way. Kudos to Psystenance for identifying that trope.

    His comments on Nostrand Avenue Select Bus Service are even more mystifying. He slams the SBS for allowing free riders, but he’s not responsible for the MTA’s budget. Then he suggests that it should run on Rogers, because Nostrand is too crowded. Memo to Marty: better bus service is meant to bring more customers to the corridor.

  • He is as “in touch” as Robert Moses. His driver parks on the sidewalk EVERY DAY at Borough Hall. He clearly thinks walking and biking are leisure activities or things that should only be done when the doctor order it.

  • Should New York City Transit choose to convert most of the bus stops dedicated to the B69, which it plans to reroute from Prospect Park West to 7th Avenue as part of the larger package of MTA cuts, it’s very possible that PPW might not lose any parking spots. Parking spots opposite the the two bus stops nearest Ninth Street could be swapped to area now occupied by the bus stops, and those spots could then be dedicated to pick-up and drop-off zones along the park.

  • pher

    Re loss of PPW parking spots, am i correct in presuming that the recently announced rerouting of the B69 might free up some space for cars where bus stops used to be? It will be interesting to seehow or whether decommissioned bus stops are put to use

    And if he thinks the bike lane plan is crazy he will probably hate whatever the DOT zealots have in store next for Grand Army Plaza at the 4/29 presentation…

  • Where’s Marty?

    Marty Barfowitz that is?

  • fdr

    One look at Markowitz tells you he’s not very interested in biking or walking.

  • J:Lai

    Disgusting, but at least he’s not hiding his true feelings.

    I think Marty represents a pretty mainstream attitude in terms of:

    1) Bicycles are primarily recreational vehicles, and are therefore less deserving of infrastructure than cars and trucks.
    2) as a corollary, people who ride bicycles do so as a leisure activity, often to satisfy their need for smugness or hipness.
    3) The norm in Brooklyn (or insert any borough/neighborhood) is that MOST people NEED to use a personal car to get to work or transport themselves or their children to school/doctor/any other non-frivolous activity.

    The pro-car perspective is almost irresistable to politicians – you get to represent the working-class majority who just want to get to work against the smug, hipster minority who want to play in the streets all day.

    The reality, that car owners are a minority, that drivers are far more entitled than bikers (or transit riders or pedestrians), is just not getting across.

  • Bolwerk

    “MM: Within reason it is a worthy goal. If I personally walk more than I currently walk and use the bicycle more than I currently use it just for pleasure I probably would be in much better shape, for sure. However, I represent everyone.”

    Carry an argument like that to its logical conclusion and we really should never change anything!

  • Larry Littlefield

    Well I did show up to say I was in favor, but it was basically a dog and pony show without much controversy. It looks like it will go forward, but will probably not be usable end to end until the fall. If these investments are controversial, better to have them in by May rather than November, so lots of people will be used to riding them.

    One guy suggested closing the park and making the park road two-way for bikes, which would also have accomplished what this plan would for me — providing a better way to go northbound. But I think the Brooklyn auto-only constituency would have liked it even less.

    I was the guy with the (probably early 1940s) picture of Prospect Park West with two trolleys on two tracks alongside the park and just two lanes (including parking) for motor vehicles, which I called the “pre-existing condition.”

    I also brought a printout of a New York Times article from the 1880s talking about the “threat” to Brooklyn streets posed by the “deadly” electric power proposed for Brooklyn’s horsecar lines. “Many streets in danger” was the headline. I gave it to DOT, to put the Brooklyn Paper articles in context and fortify their attitudes.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Should New York City Transit choose to convert most of the bus stops dedicated to the B69, which it plans to reroute from Prospect Park West to 7th Avenue as part of the larger package of MTA cuts, it’s very possible that PPW might not lose any parking spots.”

    And Eighth Avenue would gain spots. I point I made when I was there. We had trolleys in a dedicated right of way, then a bus, then the ghost of a bus, so infrequent is its service that it is hardly a loss to loose it.

  • Emily Litella

    Can’t he just go with “every human life is precious, and if calming a street with bike lanes and other measures saves a life, then it is worth a delay of a few seconds or minutes”? I guess it depends on which human lives connect to ad revenue and votes.

  • Mike

    Larry, is that 1940s photo online?

  • Larry Littlefield

    No, it was a framed present from my wife 20-plus years ago (before the internet). I think she bought it at a local flea market.

  • eliot

    Someone needs to say it: the man is Mayor Quimby.

    That a man this dumb has any authority over America’s fourth largest city is all the reason you need to support abolishing the office of Borough President.

  • Be sure to calmly and politely let him know how you feel:

    Marty Markowitz
    (718) 802-3700

    The rest of them can be reached here.

  • Gary

    Try speed bumps. If you put them in, people will slow down or their cars will be damaged to the point where they will slow down of their own accord.

    Also, just because you don’t need/have/use a car does not mean that your view is superior to someone who does. Pedestrians, bikers and cars all have to share the space. Why do things have to be one way or the other? What incentives will be present, even after the creation of the bicycle lane, for people to use it? Will there be facilities for them to securely store their bikes at work? Will there be an awning overhead to keep the rain off them? Will there be a connecting network of other bike lanes that will make it sensible for people who are coming to or going away from this specific bike lane to do so via bicycle?

    To be fair, I’m not a New Yorker, so I don’t fully understand all of the issues here. I am however interested in Urban Design and too often I’ve seen good ideas like this one fail because they don’t actually meet the needs of a large enough group of people. Therefore I am legitimately curious about the questions I’ve asked.

  • Call now. He is here. I can see his car parked on the sidewalk

    Be sure to calmly and politely let him know how you feel:

    Marty Markowitz
    (718) 802-3700

    The rest of them can be reached here.

  • J. Mork

    Larry, the B69 is still useful — you just have to check the schedule. I wish you weren’t quite so willing to, er, throw it under the bus. Is appeasing drivers by offering them the bus stops really a precedent we want to get into?

  • J. Mork
  • The 1924 aerial photographs don’t show a trolley. Wikipedia says the streetcar was removed in 1950.

  • Larry Littlefield

    (Is appeasing drivers by offering them the bus stops really a precedent we want to get into?)

    No, but “you’d better start biking because the debts of prior generations will take away buses” is a connection worth making. And this simultaneous event makes the point perfectly.

    With this improvement in place, the bicycle would be by far the preferred mode of transportation from Windsor Terrace and points south and west up to the institutions at and east of Grand Army Plaza. I have 15 years of personal experience with that bus at the current level of service, going (starting with small children) to the library, museum, botanic garden, etc., and walking was better even at a mile and a half. It really was a ghost of a bus that was the ghost of a trolley.

    I had previously suggested eliminating it and extending the more frequent B68 up to Grand Army Plaza to link with the B41 (with the B67 shifted to Vanderbilt N of Flatbush), but that was $10 billion in MTA debt ago, so that’s out the window. Once a bus gets cut enough, because an undead zombie.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I consider this gentleman authoritative, and he puts the termination of trolley service on the B69 at 1949.

    The picture I have is looking south toward Bartel Prichard Square, with a signed “trolley station” with two trolleys in it — on in each direction — at the theater next to the IND stop. The marquee on the Sanders Theater features The White Cliffs of Dover, which I believe had a 1930s version and a 1944 version.

  • I saw a photo circa 1915 or so of the two-way trolley tracks just north of Bartel Pritchard Square in the archives at the Brooklyn Public Library last spring when I was researching the history of PPW and 8th Avenue. Not a single thing on the street except a trolley, if I recall correctly.

    J. Mork, agreed, we shouldn’t immediately cede the bus space to parking, but it’s unlikely in the near term that we’re going to see the bus on PPW. I’d prefer to see the park-side parking spaces nearest park entrance points (Garfield Place, 3rd Street, 9th Street, etc.) moved to the space occupied by the bus stops, and the former parking spaces turned into pick-up and drop-off zones. Bottom line, though, this should be a vast improvement for PPW.

  • No, but “you’d better start biking because the debts of prior generations will take away buses” is a connection worth making. And this simultaneous event makes the point perfectly.

    Well said; it’s hard to argue with that. But I still think that bus route is worth saving. And I still think that the bus cuts are in “political mode” meaning the MTA is still hoping to get some funding from somewhere to avoid some cuts. But we’ve also already established that I’m more optimistic/naive than you, Larry. It also seem like DOT is going to do the bike lane, anyway; so there’s no need to offer up the bus stops.

    Eric: I agree — the 2-way bike lane is going to be really great for PPW, even if no bike rider ever sets wheel in it.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “I still think that the bus cuts are in ‘political mode’ meaning the MTA is still hoping to get some funding from somewhere to avoid some cuts.”

    Yes and no. I think the MTA is also in efficiency mode, and that certain changes are permanent, including the bus reorganizations in Bay Ridge and Park Slope.

    Essentially the bus route map follows the trolley map, even though things have changed, which leads to over-full buses in some places and empty buses in others. And as mentioned, when service frequency gets low enough, you end up with an “undead” zombie bus route. And I’ve ridden the B69 from GAP down to Windsor Terrace on my way home, just because I like to use all kinds of services to vary my commute. Empty.

    When it had (borrowed) money, the MTA would get massive political pushback for making the kind of changes that are being proposed, even if there was only one white old lady left on the bus. The easy thing to do was nothing, which is why the routes never changed.

    Now I think you have a lemons out of lemonade situation. Even if money to expand bus service ever comes back, I don’t think the B69 goes back to Prospect Park West and the B71 returns. Service would be added elsewhere, or entirely new routes would be created. Perhpas my B68 to Grand Army suggestion would happen — in the year 2045.

  • Everything Will Be Just Fine

    The crazy thing is this: every time a project like this goes in the ground, all the punditry and negative voices go away when they see that nothing horrible has happened. The same will happen with this one: the project will go in, drivers will still get where they need to, the road will be safer, cyclists will have another option and new riders will bloom, and those living on P’Park West will have a more beautiful road that is quieter. Take note now blowhard Marty so you can be equally loud at the next project.

  • I was there Monday night too! I was fun to talk to some of the old bitties who came out to complain. “I’ve been living on PPW for 50 years and all they need to do is fix the lights, that will slow them down.” I tried to explain that the light are “fixed” and that with 3 lanes of traffic drivers have more room to weave around and try to get to the next light as fast as they can. They did not get it.

    Then she said “Ya got a giant park to ride your bike, why do you need to take away a driving lane, there is just gonna be more honking” I pissed her off… I looked her right in the eye and said, “Oh, by you logic we should just remove the sidewalk on the park side of PPW and let cars park on it, so we can add a 4th driving lane. Then there would be less honking. The walkers got a giant park if they just want to go for a walk.”

    Eventually, Marty will be replaced and these bitties will move to a gated community.

  • Angry Pete

    What does he care? Marty’s real function is to act as the fluffer for Bruce Ratner’s ED problem. The bank account in Grand Cayman is as well-stuffed as Marty.

  • rg

    Just ride’n through, no stables for the horse so I keep moving on… 😉 Adios

  • steveh

    So Quick Fix – Get a 7 Year Old Kid With a Bike.

    So as I look at this age old problem ( probably since the Duch had farms in the areas where the bushes were flat ) that I have been upset about since I was a child biking in NYC over 55 years ago. Here is the opportunity for a real solution to the considerably more complex problem than stated, which with a little open minded listening can be resolved easily.

    To this strip of roadway that exists between the B’klyn Botanical Garden and Prospect Park, an obvious and eloquent solution is truly a no brainer. Or this is a problem for a 7 year old with a bike.

    These NO BRAINS in opposition to one another will never see or acknowledge the obvious.

    Strangely enough, it’s clear they are for other reasons than claimed, both one quarter to half right.
    Since the age of 7, almost being run over biking on this strip, I’ve realized that obviously what’s needed and was probably originally intended, is a greater access and integration between the Botanical Gardens & Prospect Park, as well as safer traffic patterns and good safe bike lanes.
    For the sighted, there are clearly obvious solutions here which benefit all equally.

    Clearly the stretch of roadway has always been for too long without control for cars making it a greater liability to drivers, auto insurance companies, and people.

    Bicyclists would be much safer and more comfortable if separated by the existing natural barrier of trees from the roadway with cars and heavy trucks even at 20 mph.

    Entrances & exits as well as pathways are needed between this under utilized section of Bklyn Botanic Gardens & Prospect Park which is also under utilized. Crossing points for the roadway with traffic lights to regulate their speed making this strip less of a no mans land would improve safety and revitalize this corner of the city.

    Naturally since this is the more dicey side of the park being utilized, this strip also has great needs for better police coverage as well as 2 of those red light cameras to deter antisocial behavior by motorists.

    The benefits here are multi level, people would enjoy the vegetation of one of the more beautiful boulevards in NYC, ride with greater access to PP and BBG, as well as the areas between the Empire Blvd entrance to Prospect Pk East, Botanical Gardens South, BPL Central, PP North & Grand Army Plaza/Eastern Parkway, Flatbush Ave.

    This just takes the kind of common sense it takes a 7 year old with a bike to resolve.



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