Marty’s Message: If You Disagree With Marty, You Don’t Count

At yesterday’s day of action on Prospect Park West, one contention from the opposition especially didn’t sit well with everyone who turned out to support the redesigned, traffic-calmed street. With hundreds of bike lane supporters gathered on the sidewalk a few feet away, Borough President Marty Markowitz’s chief of staff, Carlo Scissura, told the assembled crowd that the new PPW is the vision of just “one person,” referring to transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.

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A Park Slope constituent contacted the BP’s office to set Marty straight, and received a response from a Markowitz staffer. Here is an excerpt:

In your email to the borough president, you referred to the 1000 or so people from the community that signed a petition in support of the bike lane. With this, I assume you are referring to the Park Slope Neighbor’s petition. The borough president’s position regarding this petition is simply this: he rejects the assertion that Park Slope Neighbors is in any way representative of this community. Though you may disagree, the borough president’s criticism is not unfair. Park Slope Neighbors has primarily focused itself on advocating for the kinds of transportation changes the DOT implemented on PPW. Having positioned itself as a transportation advocacy group, seeking traffic calming in Park Slope, they have sacrificed a claim to impartiality. This is not a critique of the merits of their case, simply a statement of fact that they can not have their cake and eat it too: they can not purport to being objective or representative if they are going to also take strong advocacy stands for the particular type of transit policy DOT is implementing. Consequently, the borough president is well within his right to challenge their findings and dispute the relevance of any survey they issue. Again, as an issue advocacy group they are inclined to find data supportive of their positions. Consider this: for every signature they obtained on that 1000-person petition, how are we to know how many people from the public did not sign on because they did not agree with its stated purpose. If I stood on a street corner and asked you to sign a petition to ban dogs completely in Prospect Park, you would likely not sign it (hopefully) though I’m sure I could get a plenty of people to do so. I could then cite the numbers of people who signed the petition as proof that the community agrees with my position.

People, just give up with the organizing, awareness building, and public assembling already. If you want to be active in your community and make change happen, that’s nice and all. But if you want Marty to listen, first you’ve got to agree with Marty.

  • IsaacB

    There’s a term for pedestrian over and underpasses: rape-o-matic.

  • Erik

    Let’s apply this staffer’s logic to Marty Markowitz:

    There are about 1.4 million registered voters in Brooklyn. Markowitz got about 240,000 votes in the last BP election.

    By this person’s logic, I can safely assume that the other 1.16 million voters in Kings County disagree with Marty’s policies.

    I am, therefore, in the comfortable majority on the bike lane issue.

  • J

    This is barely on topic, but Montreal has significantly fewer signalized intersections than NYC. In general, the larger street gets the right of way always with a stop sign on the side street. Whether you are a pedestrian, on a bike, or in a car, it is often damn near impossible to cross the large street if you’re on the side street. No one on the large street slows down, in fact they speed up, since there is nothing to stop them. This significantly reduces the connectivity of the grid, since there are effectively intersections that are impossible to cross.

    Removing signals and signs altogether only works if you can get cars to consistently go a slow enough speed where they aren’t needed, I’d say around 10 mph. This requires intense design, and would likely cost a good deal of money. Small European towns and residential areas have done it, but I think there are more practical solutions for Brooklyn.

  • “If the street is too busy for pedestrians to safely cross, then you put in overpasses or underpasses.”

    Wouldn’t it be easier to give them all jet-packs?

  • Joe R.

    “Wouldn’t it be easier to give them all jet-packs?”

    LOL. Given that most pedestrians have poor spatial awareness even in two dimensions, I dread the consequences of giving everyone jet packs.

    Seriously though, what is the aversion to pedestrian overpasses/underpasses by everyone here? The crime thing seems to be a red herring. During the times when they would be needed and used the most, there would be plenty of people using them. During non-busy times where they might be subject to crime, there would be enough breaks in traffic to cross the usual way.


    I’m not suggesting doing away with traffic signals altogether here if it’s going to mean reducing speeds to 10 mph. That’s intolerably slow for a lot of cyclists, never mind motorists. I know I hate it when I’m stuck behind even a 15 mph cyclist with no chance to pass ( unless I’m going uphill ). Rather, I would think overpasses/underpasses solve the pedestrian crossing issue. For cars and cyclists, maybe have one street every mile or so which is signaled so they can cross the main throughfare during heavy traffic times. At most then you’ll have to go half a mile out of your way to reach a signaled intersection. A light only once a mile more than makes up for the inconvenience of sometimes having to go out of your way a little if you’re going crosstown. We can also do things a lot more intelligently with the lights here in NYC. For example, have traffic sensors on low-traffic cross streets instead of having the light go red every cycle. We could have lights go to flashing yellow at night when traffic is light.

    And no, this isn’t really barely on-topic for this discussion since the letter did mention putting in traffic lights on the PPW path. It’s better we nip ideas like that in the bud lest the city decide to start sticking traffic lights even on isolated bike paths just because the bike haters want to make bike travel as inefficient as car travel by requiring frequent, often unnecessary, stops.

  • Oh, you really are pushing the overpass thing, Joe. I hear that from well-meaning people so often that I’d better get some practice responding. Let me see if I can sum it up in a few sentences.

    Think about the overpasses and underpasses you know. Since you live in Queens, think of the overpasses across the LIE, and the underpasses across Queens Boulevard. Neither of them are exactly the safest, most comfortable pedestrian environments, are they?

    Basically, pedestrian overpasses and underpasses suck for the same reasons that highway tunnels suck.

  • mike

    Overpasses and underpasses are a terrible idea, not only because they’re ugly and dangerous, but because they mean that we’ve given up. Calm traffic, toll cars, do whatever else you can, but don’t give in to a motorhead perspective that pedestrians are the exception and not the rule.

  • J. Mork

    Mike nailed it. Why should an urban environment be based on the idea that pedestrians are impeding motorized traffic? It’s the opposite that’s true. Why should I have to wait 4 minutes to cross Flatbush avenue on foot if I want to buy a gallon of milk?

  • J. Mork

    Here, William White can say it much better than I can.

  • J. Mork

    Whyte. (when is the edit post feature coming?)

  • Joe R.

    Well, you guys are all ganging up on me here. 😉

    First, you’ll probably find nobody more opposed to the idea of automobiles in an urban environment than myself. I fully agree overpasses or underpasses mean we’ve simply given up. The thing is it seems no matter how much we’re able to reduce driving, there will always be a wealthy, well-connected contingent who wants to use their limousines, and who will prevail whenever we try to make streets more liveable. I don’t like it. In fact, I hate it that even now this motoring minority ( and in Manhattan especially it is a very small minority ) has their way to the detriment of everyone else. Those stupid pedestrian barricades Guiliani installed along 5th Avenue are a perfect illustration of this. Nevertheless, this is the world we live in for now, and we have to consider solutions which are palatable to all groups. In a perfect world, most parts of NYC wouldn’t allow private cars. The remaining traffic would be so light we just wouldn’t need many traffic controls. Lots of people would bike. Everyone ( except motorists ) would be happy. Maybe the city will be this way in a generation or two. For now though we’re stuck with the present lousy situation.

    Second, I couldn’t care less if the traffic lights which allow pedestrians to cross severely delay motorists. In fact, this might be a good thing if it gets people to drive less. The problem is as much as they delay motorists, they either delay cyclists even more on account of their timing, or simply end up being largely ignored, as is typically the case now. If we want to promote cycling as a cleaner, more efficient, faster alternative to driving, then putting traffic lights at every corner to allow pedestrians to cross flies right in the face of this. The cyclist basically has the choice of constantly breaking the law ( and risking a traffic ticket ) if they want to maintain an average speed which is a good percentage of their cruising speed, or obeying the law and often having their average speed reduced to walking speed ( this obviously negates the primary advantage of cycling over walking ). Sure, we can perhaps try and time the lights for cyclist speeds, but even that isn’t a perfect answer because there is no one universal cycling speed. I might say time the lights for 18 to 22 mph because that’s typically what I cruise at on level road. Another cyclist might want to go only 10 mph. And then you get into the problem of gradients. If there’s an uphill, 18 mph will be too fast even for me, so you’ll have to slow the timing on uphill sections ( and speed it up on downhill sections ). Bottom line is traffic lights simply don’t mix well with cycling no matter what you do. Maybe the only idea I think would work is to have blinking yellows along the main arterials late nights. That way at least people riding off hours can mostly avoid stopping.

    Third, sure Cap’n Transit, some underpasses or overpasses aren’t comfortable enviroments. By underpasses on Queens Blvd. I’m assuming you mean simply using the subway stations to cross. I do this all the time, although I can imagine an elderly person having a bit of trouble with those steep subway stairs. As for the ones over the LIE, they’re OK the few times I’m used them. It’s less inconvenient than needing to go 5 blocks out of my way to cross. Truth is most streets are already ugly, so adding a few overpasses isn’t going to make things much worse. Incidentally, since you mentioned the LIE, the service road is one of my favorite places to bike, despite the high car speeds, simply because the number of lights is very sparse. I think there are only 9 or 10 in the 4.3 mile street from West Alley Road to Main Street. For whatever reason it seems I only hit red on one or two of the lights. I can usually average 17 to 18 mph for the portion of the ride along the service road ( it’s a bit slower westbound because of that nasty uphill which starts about 3 blocks past Utopia Pkwy ). If only all the streets were like that.

    Fourth, since Cap’n Transit also mentioned road tunnels, I happen to think they’re a great idea but only if you can bury the entire road, rather than just parts of it. I hear you on your point that sooner or later traffic must exit the tunnel. I’m not thinking of tunnels for local streets, but rather burying the expressways which cut so many neighborhoods in two. This will become more feasible once we move to mostly electric cars as it negates the need for ventilation. Real estate taxes on the structures built over the expressway would more than pay for the costs of burying it. You’ll finally reconnect the neighborhoods formerly divided by the expressway. Great idea on all levels in my opinion.

    Anyway, my overriding point here is that if we wish to encourage cycling, it’s going to be an uphill battle given the present infrastructure. I really think the best solution of all would be a network of elevated cycleways which can be used for most of the journey. Lights don’t represent a huge time burden if you’re only on regular streets for a few blocks of your journey. With elevated cycleways, the need to reduce or retime lights to take account of cyclists goes away. This in turn means you can put in as many lights as you want so pedestrians can safely cross. If this slows down motorists, my attitude is too bad. We never should have ceded as much space to motorists in this city as we have in the first place.

  • PBK

    @Mike is exactly right.

    The reason for the irrational, visceral opposition to the bike lanes, is it challenges the drivers’ long held (and accurate) view, that they should be able to drive wherever they want, whenever they want.

    Everyone else, such as cyclists, are only suffered ‘by their leave’

  • Joe R.

    J. Mork,

    Thanks for the link to William Whyte’s book. Fascinating reading recommended for anyone interested in liveable streets.

  • J. Mork

    Cool beans Joe. I had that as a textbook in a college class that I took only because it satisfied the multicultural requirement as well as some other requirement. Totally opened that suburban kid’s eyes.

  • donnie

    Articles like this only give the Borough President more attention, press, and worse of all, the perception that they actually have power.

  • Marty, Is this something you can agree on?

    copenhagenize Mikael
    The crime of women cycling in Iran:


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