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

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.”

Eric Ulrich

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.

  • J

    The pothole problems on the BQE is solely the result of too many cars too much of the time. From what I’ve heard, many portions of the BQE desperately need pothole repairs, but the repairs can only be made with quick-curing concrete, which is not nearly as durable as regular concrete. Using regular concrete would require lanes to be closed for long stretches of time as the concrete cures, dramatically reducing capacity on the constantly-clogged roadway. Basically, the road is too congested to fix it properly, and quick fixes only work for a short amount of time. Mr. Ulrich has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

  • J

    The pothole problems on the BQE is solely the result of too many cars too much of the time. From what I’ve heard, many portions of the BQE desperately need pothole repairs, but the repairs can only be made with quick-curing concrete, which is not nearly as durable as regular concrete. Using regular concrete would require lanes to be closed for long stretches of time as the concrete cures, dramatically reducing capacity on the constantly-clogged roadway. Basically, the road is too congested to fix it properly, and quick fixes only work for a short amount of time. Mr. Ulrich has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

  • J

    The pothole problems on the BQE is solely the result of too many cars too much of the time. From what I’ve heard, many portions of the BQE desperately need pothole repairs, but the repairs can only be made with quick-curing concrete, which is not nearly as durable as regular concrete. Using regular concrete would require lanes to be closed for long stretches of time as the concrete cures, dramatically reducing capacity on the constantly-clogged roadway. Basically, the road is too congested to fix it properly, and quick fixes only work for a short amount of time. Mr. Ulrich has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

  • J

    The pothole problems on the BQE is solely the result of too many cars too much of the time. From what I’ve heard, many portions of the BQE desperately need pothole repairs, but the repairs can only be made with quick-curing concrete, which is not nearly as durable as regular concrete. Using regular concrete would require lanes to be closed for long stretches of time as the concrete cures, dramatically reducing capacity on the constantly-clogged roadway. Basically, the road is too congested to fix it properly, and quick fixes only work for a short amount of time. Mr. Ulrich has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

  • J

    The pothole problems on the BQE is solely the result of too many cars too much of the time. From what I’ve heard, many portions of the BQE desperately need pothole repairs, but the repairs can only be made with quick-curing concrete, which is not nearly as durable as regular concrete. Using regular concrete would require lanes to be closed for long stretches of time as the concrete cures, dramatically reducing capacity on the constantly-clogged roadway. Basically, the road is too congested to fix it properly, and quick fixes only work for a short amount of time. Mr. Ulrich has absolutely no idea what he’s talking about.

  • Vacca Watch

    The head shot should be of Vacca – he’s the one on a permanent fishing expedition to attack DOT and the one offering up these chances for people like Ullrich. Streetsblog, T.A. etc have given him a totally free pass since he started this with the disgraceful hearing on the bike program in December.

  • daddy

    Dumb kid.

  • daddy

    Dumb kid.

  • eLK

    I took the subway today and didn’t hit a single pothole. It also made very good time. Just sayin….

  • carma

    i took a NJ transit bus and watched a movie on my ipod. Then i took the subway and had a seat and catched some zzzz.

    More pleasant than getting my axle busted on the bqe with the craters.

  • Anonymous

    I have less of a problem w/ Ulrich, who just simply doesn’t believe in livable streets, then with Vacca, who claims to support, but then only promotes a windshield perspective and invents these bullshit devices to play “gotcha” so he can get a smug soundbite w/ Marcia Kramer. This guy needs a wedgie and a public outing in the worst way…

  • Steve Nuozzo

    Ulrich’s lack of basic knowledge and active ignorance on subjects of vital importance to his constituents makes him a prime candidate to be the front-runner for the Republican nomination in the 2012 presidential election.

  • krstrois

    Holy crap, he is 25. I will go laugh and cry at the same time now.

  • Eric McClure

    Attention New York City Council: we have 8 million pedestrians in this city! Get a freaking clue!

  • Hilda

    SInce there are less potholes in pedestrian plazas, following this logic, we should just make more pedestrian plazas. There will thereby be less potholes to fill, and maybe Ulrich will be able to think straighter…

  • The Eyes The Eyes!

    You can see it in his eyes. This guy is brilliant. Look into his eyes.

  • NM

    I’m thrilled to see he wants to ‘get back to basics’! Finally, we can put our resources into healthy, cheap, simple and non-lethal technologies for getting around – what could be more basic than that?

    Obviously, he simply misspoke. He couldn’t possibly have used that phrase to refer to wildly expensive and dangerous highways that were never approved by the community boards, that wouldn’t make any sense.

  • Anonymous

    Well, that means I’ve lived in NYC longer than him. Does that make me a Real New Yorker, or should I “go home.”

  • Anonymous

    To be fair, the BQE is in great condition compared to most roads in Michigan, but not as nice as the highways in the states we subsidize like Tennessee or Idaho.

    I happened to surf by the PIX11 news promo tonight, and the graphic read “Bloomberg Hates Cars!” followed by a clip of this clown-child comparing NYC to Baghdad, which I’m sure he knows all about.

    According to Wikipedia, he worked for the TSA at one point, so I guess he has transportation expertise (at least about the ball-fondling part).

  • carma

    Actually, the BQE is still horrible, even if michigan may be worse. Southbound immediately past the koscizousko, is a nightmare. potholes are everywhere. uneven road surface makes it hazardous to drive over 25 mph. The right 2 lanes ARE a warzone, the left most lane is slightly better. I see this recurring after every winter, but this year has been particularly worse. horrible winter, and yes, maybe dot is slacking in repairing this.
    B/c of the poor road surface, traffic is always backed up way before the LIE merger. Yet the amazing thing is, there is still constant construction due to the planning stages of the replacement of the kosciuosko.
    why cant they just rip the roadbed and close down the highway one night and redo the damn thing.

    Unfortunately, the whole bqe does need a complete rebuild eventually. it is a mess. and no, you cant just make it into a blvd, b/c it is a major truck route.

  • Anonymous

    @carma: Without a doubt, it’s insane, and semi terrifying to drive on for fear that it might just crumble completely. I avoid it all costs these days. I was just snarkily (is that a word?) pointing out that it is about average as far as infrastructure condition goes in this country–which is tragic. All the roads, including many of the bike lanes, in NYC are completely shot after this past winter. I ran the NYC half Marathon through Times Square and I was afraid to look up for fear I would turn my ankle in one of the thousands of holes in the ground. Maybe the need to re-do everything is a good opportunity to re-think as much as possible, though?

  • carma

    i was biking down Grand ave in queens a few times this month, and i cant believe how many potholes have just “sprang” up. it wasnt the cars i was trying to avoid, but the amount of craters which makes me look down instead of looking at the big picture of the road.

  • Streetsman

    I think if Councilman Vacca spent less time zipping across Brooklyn and Queens on expensive elevated highways, and a little more time down on the streets in the neighborhoods those highways tower over, like Greenpoint or Clinton Hill or Sunset Park, he’d see there are actual vibrant communities down there with a great need for more livable, walkable streets. And they’re sick of putting their tax money into paying for this expensive infrastructure just so people in fancy far-flung areas can drive over these neighborhoods at top speeds, making noise and spewing fumes, without allowing for even this tiny fraction of transportation money going to making neighborhoods nicer places to live rather than drive across. It doesn’t have to be an either/or equation – the council has the power to set the budget. If they want to spend even more taxpayer money on road repair, they can allocate that. But the idea that “the basics” is elevated highways, while pedestrian accommodations in walkable communities is some kind frilly waste, is completely upside down. Not all New Yorkers live in council districts where private homes have nice lawns and pools, and neighborhoods that have beaches and national parks and wildlife refuges and wide open spaces. Some of us rely on the city streets to be our open spaces and think THAT is the basics our city should be focused on, not JUST the interstate highways.

  • James

    I wonder why he didn’t take the subway to his meeting… too good for public transportation now that you’re a fancy councilman?

  • James

    I wonder why he didn’t take the subway to his meeting… too good for public transportation now that you’re a fancy councilman?

  • AlexB

    Haven’t we been engaged in repairing the BQE without shutting it down for years? Wasn’t it recently widened by hanging new lanes off the existing structure so traffic wasn’t affected by the construction? Hasn’t the state DOT budgeted hundreds of millions for fixing the Gowanus Expressway? Oh, and how much do public plazas cost?

    This guy obviously has no understanding of how complicated projects are designed, built, and financed and has no comprehension of how effective, cheap, and easy the public plazas and bicycle improvements are at improving neighborhoods. I can’t believe he was elected to public office. It’s a joke.

  • vet

    He’s a twit. Brilliant he’s not. He’s just an opportunist trying to curry favor among one segment of his constituents. He fancies himself as the best thing since sliced bread, but in reality, his act is quite stale.

  • Bolwerk

    Ulrich’s kind of belligerent ignorance is what one should expect from a Republikan, but it’s no surprise to me that people like Vacca aren’t much better. The transportation chair should be a transit booster, not a suburbanite stuck behind a windshield.

    A lot of stupid transportation policy just comes down to quantitative illiteracy. If you have a six family house with two parking spots in front of it, it standards to reason that you can’t park cars for six families in front of it. Likewise, these cretins complaining about potholes are the very people who howl when it comes time to decide a funding formula and decide they don’t want to pay the costs of their own driving – and then wonder why driving isn’t leisurely.

    And don’t trucks actually cause exponentially more damage than the multiple of their weight vs. cars?

  • Bolwerk

    Ulrich’s kind of belligerent ignorance is what one should expect from a Republikan, but it’s no surprise to me that people like Vacca aren’t much better. The transportation chair should be a transit booster, not a suburbanite stuck behind a windshield.

    A lot of stupid transportation policy just comes down to quantitative illiteracy. If you have a six family house with two parking spots in front of it, it standards to reason that you can’t park cars for six families in front of it. Likewise, these cretins complaining about potholes are the very people who howl when it comes time to decide a funding formula and decide they don’t want to pay the costs of their own driving – and then wonder why driving isn’t leisurely.

    And don’t trucks actually cause exponentially more damage than the multiple of their weight vs. cars?

  • Joe R.

    Speaking of potholes, I hit a doozy about two weeks ago, roughly 9 or 10 inches deep. I was on Horace Harding Blvd one night going west, about 2 blocks past Francis Lewis, and boom! The jolt snapped my home-made GPS bracket clean in two (the original went kaput late last year, also due to NYC streets). Thankfully, the GPS itself wasn’t damaged despite hitting a concrete bus stop at ~22 mph. Surprisingly, no damage to the rims, either, and I maintained control of the bike enough to avoid falling. When I walked by the same spot a few days later, the hole was filled. That’s unusual for around here. Unless it’s a crater, which this was, potholes usually don’t get taken care of until the street is repaved. The only good that came out of it was I spent the better part of a day machining a new bracket out of solid aluminum, which should be able to deal with whatever NYC throws at it. Here’s some pics of my broken bracket, the GPS with scratches from the fall, my new bracket, and the GPS log when the event occurred (circled in red):

  • carma

    i love how your altitude went from 30ft to -48 feet!!! does that mean you literally fell into a CAVE?!?!?! lol..

    OUCH!!

    clearly, potholes are more dangerous to bikes than cars. in a car, falling into a pothole breaks your axles. on a bike, a pothole breaks YOU!.

    so, it is important for DOT to fill potholes quickly. and in that case, i say, fix the roads before spending on plazas.

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