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Eric Ulrich’s Cure for BQE Potholes: Stop Building Public Plazas

4:40 PM EDT on May 4, 2011

Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca convened a hearing this afternoon on NYC DOT's plaza program, a sequel of sorts to the bike policy hearing where opponents of the Prospect Park West bike lane got a big media moment and several council members laid out their windshield perspective on bike lanes for all to see. Today, by and large, the committee members had good things to say about re-purposing street space for plazas, but it was more than a little farcical to see the chair grill DOT assistant commissioner Andy Wiley-Schwartz about the plaza program as though it might just be a nefarious plot to, in Vacca's words, "drive car owners crazy."

We are talking about a program, after all, that's founded on the premise that many neighborhoods in New York lack park space, and that public spaces need community support and local partners to succeed. The plazas are entirely an opt-in proposition: Local organizations can choose to apply for a plaza, and DOT receives more applications than it can approve. It seems like New Yorkers would be this close to the spectacle of a hard-hitting City Council hearing on the amount of parking taken up by farmers markets, or the impact of block parties on traffic -- if those things were run out of the Department of Transportation.

Streetsblog's Noah Kazis will be filing a full report later on, but I think it's safe to say that the biggest farce today was Queens Council Member Eric Ulrich, who displayed what can only be described as stunning ignorance about how the city's transportation system works. Ulrich, you may recall, is the same young man whose contribution to the public discussion of street safety consisted of proposing an unworkable licensing scheme for cyclists. Here's how he began his time at the mic:

As I was driving to the hearing today, I couldn't help but think that we're living in the Twilight Zone, because as I'm driving on the BQE, and the roads are in horrendous condition, I'm driving to a hearing talking about pedestrian plazas, I just say to myself all the time -- this is a constant criticism that I'm always applying to the department -- is that why can't we just get back to basics and worry more about paving the streets than we are about installing bike lanes and putting in pedestrian plazas even if people don't want them. That's my biased rant for the day. (Editor's note: Much more biased ranting followed. You may be able to catch some of it on CBS2 tonight.)

That's right. In the mind of Eric Ulrich, duly elected City Council representative, the decrepitude of the BQE is not caused by the daily armada of multi-ton SUVs barreling toward the free East River bridges. Nor is it due to the pulverizing truck traffic generated by the one-way toll on the Verrazano Bridge. It has nothing to do with our stagnant gas taxes or wasteful spending on highway widening in the Catskills.

No -- it's because of the damned bike lanes and pedestrian plazas.

According to Ulrich, none of the three community boards in his district are interested in creating plazas. Council members Gale Brewer, Peter Koo, and Dan Dromm offered to take Ulrich up on his offer to offload his share of the plaza program to other districts.

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