City Abandons “Clear Curbs” Program That Reduced Traffic Congestion And Made Roosevelt Avenue Safer

Local merchants, citing lost business, offer little hard evidence that safer, quieter streets have hurt the bottom line.

Some business owners object, but Roosevelt Avenue has been far less congested under a city plan to eliminate curbside parking during rush hours. Photos: Laura Shepard
Some business owners object, but Roosevelt Avenue has been far less congested under a city plan to eliminate curbside parking during rush hours. Photos: Laura Shepard

The Department of Transportation has abandoned a rush-hour “no parking” program that had dramatically reduced traffic on Roosevelt Avenue after some politicians and local businesses complained that the freely moving roadway was hurting store owners.

The agency had unveiled the so-called “Clear Curbs” rush-hour parking restrictions this winter, “in an effort to develop additional tools to manage traffic congestion” — and the program largely worked in that context.

During weekday rush hours, traffic flowed so smoothly from Broadway to 90th Street that the streets often looked empty — a significant change from the unsafe, video-game feel of Roosevelt before the restrictions. The program and stepped-up enforcement completely eliminated double-parking, which endangers cyclists as they merge with cars to go around.

“It’s better for me,” delivery man Gustavo Grajales told Streetsblog. He bikes from his workplace in Sunnyside to his home in Jackson Heights.

Fellow delivery worker Manuel Lopez agreed, recounting a time he was doored by a driver on Roosevelt — a fear that didn’t leave him until Clear Curbs, he said. Mayra Vega, a bike commuter, said she also felt safer with the open curb lane.

But all that open space looked like lost business to some merchants and their putative leaders.

“The streets went from congested to deserted; it looked like they were closed, like right before a street festival,” said Leslie Ramos, the executive director of the 82nd Street Partnership — but she did not mean that in a positive way.

The roadway does get quiet — of car traffic — during the morning and afternoon rush hour.
The roadway does get quiet — of car traffic — during the morning and afternoon rush hour.

Ramos is one of many locals who demanded that the city kill the pilot program, citing alleged loss of income by area business. She argued, without providing evidence, that Roosevelt Avenue is more important to the larger tri-state Latino community as a destination for goods and services than a thoroughfare. She argues that the city misunderstood the customers who patronize its businesses.

But Ramos may also misunderstand local traffic.

“It’s better because before it was a mess,” said Maria Rivera, who works at an employment agency on Roosevelt Avenue and said her customers arrive by train or walk. Clear Curbs has not had a tangible impact on her business, she said.

At Sebra Salon and Spa, near 80th Street, all six of the customers waiting for appointments at 6:30 p.m. on a recent weeknight had either walked or arrived by train. All seemed perplexed by the question of whether Clear Curbs was working; none was inconvenienced by it.

But the salon manager, William Albana, claimed Clear Curbs was deterring customers and that he was losing $300-$400 per day as a result of a policy that bars parking between 7 and 10 a.m. and again from 4 to 7 p.m.

Albana walks to work, as do most of the salon’s 15 employees. He said that two employees who formerly drove started taking the train when Clear Curbs went into effect. (Ramos disputed that Clear Curbs successfully moved some commuters from cars onto subways, saying, “If people can take the subway, they’re already doing it.” She added that for some area workers, driving is a physical or economic necessity, though very few in the area own cars.)

As with most disputes over the proper use of public roadways, misinformation is widespread (and, indeed, business owners protested Clear Curbs even before it was implemented, suggesting that some merchants would never be objective about it). Giovanna Flores, the manager of El Pequeño Coffee Shop, claimed without evidence that her business had cratered because customers from Long Island, Connecticut and New Jersey stopped coming for her Ecuadorian breakfasts on weekday mornings.

And Andres Saavedra, the owner of a small aquarium store, claims that his sales are down at least 35 percent this year, though it is hard to see how a rush-hour parking ban would hurt business to an aquarium store that doesn’t even open until 10 a.m. — after the Clear Curb morning parking restrictions end.

A spokesperson from the Department of Transportation said the agency “will adjust the Clear Curbs pilot moving forward while continuing to explore other ways to address congestion on our streets.” That said, the program remains in effect in several other congested areas of the city, with DOT only altering it on Roosevelt.

It was “extremely aggressive and disrespectful,” Ramos said of Clear Curbs. “Our streets are not just about cars and bikes, they’re about people’s livelihoods. If they saw how people use the street and not just the traffic patterns, they would’ve come up with a different policy.”

Yet even Ramos admitted that congestion can also hurt a business’s bottom line.

“The police should now enforce double-parking,” Ramos said. “We don’t want all enforcement to go away.”

 

  • AMH

    I was initially skeptical of Clear Curbs (especially since it was framed as a substitute for congestion pricing), but it clearly makes the street safer for cyclists and even pedestrians (ignoring the ease with which drivers can now veer onto the sidewalk and into a building). It’s always safer to ride next to a clear curb, and visibility when crossing is greatly improved.

  • macartney

    What did it do for bus speeds along Roosevelt Avenue? Do bus riders matter in this city?

  • In every single story I saw about this program on the news – every single one – I only saw interviews with shop owners and the partnership and community groups. There were sometimes statements or lines read that one of the goals was to increase bus speeds. But NEVER did I see any bus riders interviewed. And three times in the period they put clear curbs in place I have never experienced a bus trip down Roosevelt that went that fast. It is a shame bus riders don’t matter.

  • Andrew

    Has anyone asked these shop owners how they get to work?

    I have a hunch that the shop owners who are most steadfastly opposed to parking restrictions are the shop owners who drive to work. In other words, it has nothing to do with their business or their customers – it’s all about their own personal convenience.

  • Driver

    The corridor was previously a mess of congestion and double parking. Some people are certainly driving to these businesses.

  • bggb

    If there’s significant lost business, these businesses are free to provide actual evidence.

    Otherwise a reasonable assumption is that while a handful of people were driving there, it is not a statistically significant number. Nor is there evidence that those drivers, if they exist, aren’t just parking more responsibly, such as on side streets.

  • Joe R.

    Don’t think most of that wasn’t either the business owners or their employees. If traffic is now indeed so little it looks like the streets are closed, perhaps most of that traffic was people who worked in these businesses circling around looking for spots. I highly doubt that many people drive in from NJ, CT, or LI just to go to a coffee shop as one business owner claimed. The real truth is most likely the business owners and their employees resent the loss of “their” parking in front of where they work.

  • Urbanely

    Idk about the crowd for that coffee shop, but the Indian stores on 73 between Roosevelt and 37th are a huge draw for Indian people from LI, and even NJ and CT.

  • Joe R.

    Why should that be a surprise? News reporters drive everywhere. They’re not going to care that the buses they don’t use ran faster. Even when we have major weather events, the first thing they report on is which roads are affected, not what is going on with the mass transit most NYC residents use.

  • Joe R.

    Perhaps, but do they come at rush hours when this parking ban is in effect? If it’s anything like the Chinese stores in Chinatown and downtown Flushing, they draw people from elsewhere mainly on weekends and holidays.

    Besides that, I’m sure there’s still ample parking on the side streets. Finally, if a business really does depend on customers who drive, shouldn’t they provide parking? Your business model isn’t viable if it depends upon NYC providing free or reduced rate parking on public streets.

  • Andrew

    There are viable transit options from those locations to Queens. There are also legal parking spaces for those who opt to drive.

  • Andrew

    evidence

    Whoa, that’s crazy talk.

  • Urbanely

    I don’t claim to have the answer to any of those questions, just wanted to point out that yes, the neighborhood gets regular visitors from the locations you mentioned. I lived there for several years and loved it.

  • Joe R.

    I don’t doubt what you said. I just question if there is really much impact to the bottom line of businesses. If there were a significant impact, you would see lots of shuttered storefronts. If there’s a measurable but minor impact, it could be due to other factors, perhaps a change in the economy. Point of fact brick and mortar stores have been seeing a steady decline in business for a while now. Any decline in business could just be a part of that larger trend.

    On top of this, as I said below a business model which depends upon NYC supplying free or cut-rate parking isn’t viable. Streets must be designed first and foremost with safety in mind. Only after that can you start accommodating the needs of commerce.

  • Uchenna Kema

    This is where I can tell well, you guys aren’t local to the area. A lot of the latino and ethnic community who was outpriced and or who moved on up to Long Island drives down here to shop since their community is here (its like how if I want to go to SI I am forced to drive since its absurdly slow everywhere that isn’t St George and even then the ferry is FAR from things.

  • AnoNYC

    There are Latino enclaves on LI. And those who are priced out are more than likely to have moved into or close to those areas. I’m sure many locals might visit from time to time, but they are not the transportation priority. They can also look for a legal parking space.

  • Joe R.

    It’s irrelevant whether or not this is the case here. NYC transportation policy should be primarily to benefit those who live in NYC. We shouldn’t prioritize people driving in from outside NYC, or the convenience of business owners, over the majority of NYC residents.

  • jeremy

    It works, quick…. lets stop it and make it bad again

  • cjstephens

    What I find so appalling is that the “Clear Curbs” program is nothing more than…. enforcing the existing rules. It’s not rocket science. But apparently even following the simple rules (don’t double park) is too onerous for some.

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