Expecting DOT Street Safety Projects to Deliver More Than the Minimum

Spring Street in Soho is getting striped bike lanes -- but street safety won't come at the expense of on-street parking. Image: DOT [PDF]
Spring Street in Soho is getting striped bike lanes and sharrows, which doesn’t prioritize safety above the preservation of on-street car parking. Image: DOT [PDF]

A DOT plan to add painted bike lanes and sharrows to Spring Street [PDF] doesn’t go far enough to prioritize walking and biking, says Community Board 2 transportation vice-chair Maury Schott.

Last Thursday, DOT presented the proposal to the CB 2 transportation committee. Two-thirds of the audience supported the plan, meeting attendees said, and neighborhood NIMBY ringleader Sean Sweeney was a no-show. In the end, the plan received a unanimous 10-0 vote.

The lack of opposition, however, may be a sign of DOT timidity more than anything else. “The proposal by DOT was, to say the least, minimally intrusive,” Schott told Streetsblog. “It was as much as you could hope to do without making the commitment to remove parking on at least one side of the street.”

Although DOT has been on a roll this year with proposals for road diets and protected bike lanes, the agency’s designs usually don’t subtract much parking. Avoiding the removal of car storage may head off small-scale political fights, but it also limits the impact of the city’s street safety projects.

Schott said he wants to see DOT prioritize safe walking and biking over on-street parking, rather than the other way around. In Lower Manhattan, where about 80 percent of households are car-free, the politics should be especially favorable for major changes. Many people at last week’s meeting, Schott said, were also frustrated by “half-measures” from the agency.

“So far, many people feel that Vision Zero is a lot more talk than it is action,” Schott said. “The whole rhetoric of Vision Zero is that New York is a pedestrian-friendly or a pedestrian-dominated city. If you want to say that, then the first thing you have to realistically do is say that supporting the private ownership of private automobiles should not be a priority in any way.”

Even if some people must own cars to, for example, reach jobs in the suburbs every day, Schott said, most Manhattanites can make do with car-share or car rental. And people who come to do business in Manhattan — if they drive at all — don’t usually expect parking right in front of their destination.

“I guarantee you there are tens of thousands of privately owned automobiles that do little more than sit on the street and get moved for street cleaning,” Schott said. “You can’t do both things. You can’t have a pedestrian-friendly city and subsidize the ownership of private automobiles for a substantial amount of the population.”

While Schott might feel more strongly about the issue than some of his fellow board members, he knows he isn’t alone. “There are a lot of people who feel the same way as I do on the board but aren’t willing to listen to the griping of people who have convinced themselves that they have to have a car,” he said. That’s how the gripers can set the agenda for the city’s street safety plans, even in an area like Community District 2 where the vast majority of residents don’t own cars.

“We’re dealing with a city that for 70 years has been built and managed for cars,” Schott said. “You can’t just make little changes around the edges and expect any substantial improvement in the problems that has created.”

The plan to paint bike lanes and sharrows on Spring Street will come up for a vote at the next CB 2 full board meeting, scheduled for April 23 at 6:30 pm in the auditorium of the Scholastic Building, 557 Broadway.

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