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DOT Official: All Our Free Parking Justifies Keeping Curb Space for EVs

If only someone could do something about the parking!

Photo: Kevin Duggan|

Level 2 chargers like this one in Carroll Gardens, Brooklyn, are coming to a sidewalk near you. And that means streets like this will never get protected bike lanes.

A top city official used tortured logic on Wednesday to justify the city's move to siphon curbside road space for electric vehicle charging — claiming the existence of on-street car storage in the city means EV drivers "need" permanently reserved space to recharge their batteries.

“Unlike most places in the country, half of our vehicles are stored on the street overnight,” Department of Transportation Deputy Commissioner Eric Beaton testified at a City Council budget hearing.

“They don’t necessarily have a place to charge in their own garage, and that’s why we need to provide both on-street, overnight charging… as well as fast charging.”

Advocates have warned that allotting street space for EV charging will make it nearly impossible to reallocate that space in the future for other purposes — effectively institutionalizing driver control over the street in a transit-rich city where half of all households don't even own a vehicle.

By cementing EV owners' control of the curb, the Adams administration is effectively doubling down on mistakes of past city leaders, who in the 1950s allowed car owners to store vehicles on roadways overnight, critics said.

“Half of New York City's cars are stored on the street because we let them,” said Sara Lind, co-executive director of Open Plans, in response to Beaton's comments. (Open Plans shares a parent organization with Streetsblog). 

“DOT and the administration are fully capable of changing the status quo and rethinking curb parking,” Lind said. “This just feels like an admission that, despite their recent curb action plan, DOT isn't thinking critically about the curb or the future of our streets."

The Adams administration plans to deploy as many as 10,000 curbside chargers on sidewalks around the city over the coming decade — potentially thwarting its own work to rethink curb space for better uses such as outdoor dining, expanded sidewalks, bike lanes and delivery and for-hire vehicle zones.

DOT plans to focus EV charger installed in areas “where a lot of people park on the street,” Beaton said. It's unclear where in the city that is not the case, but Beaton cited "the densest core of Manhattan, where there’s a lot of garages" and "deep in some of the boroughs where people have driveways" as low on the list of priority areas for curbside chargers.

DOT leaders and Council members peppered each other with criticisms during the nearly four-hour budget hearing. Lawmakers honed in on Adams’s failure to meet the Council's Streets Plan requirements to build out bus and bike lanes, delays to the McGuinness Boulevard redesign, and "open streets" issues. 

What 'Streets Plan'?

Council Transportation Committee Chair Selvena Brooks-Powers and DOT Commissioner Ydanis Rodriguez got into a back-and-forth about why the agency came in below the mandated mileage for bus and bike paths for the second year in a row. DOT met 72 percent of the benchmark for cycle lanes and 19 percent for bus lanes.

The southeast Queens lawmaker slammed the city for doing so poorly on buses in particular — despite her own record of trying to get rid of a busway in her Jamaica district two years ago. Rodriguez responded by hinting to the role of opposition from Brooks-Powers and her colleagues in preventing progress. He told Brooks-Powers DOT needed more support from local elected officials, specifically citing political opposition to a bus project on Fordham Road in the Bronx last year. 

“There has been a clear prioritization on bike lanes over bus lanes, where the buses are moving people in outer boroughs and communities of color, lower income communities,” Brooks-Powers claimed. 

“I wanted to see a bus lane on Fordham, like the offset bus lane makes sense — we couldn’t make it, there was not the support there,” the DOT chief said. 

Contrary to Rodriguez's claims, the agency does not need buy-in from elected leaders to redesign streets. Council members and advocates wrote the Streets Plan law specifically to push the life-saving infrastructure upgrades beyond the usual back and forth with street-safety opponents.

McGuinness mess

The beleaguered redesign of McGuinness Boulevard in Brooklyn also came up, with local Council Member Lincoln Restler pressing DOT leaders to give a timeline on when they would finish the southern section of the overhaul from Calyer Street to the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. The city installed a watered-down design on the stretch north of Calyer to the Pulaski Bridge late last year after opposition and interference from a local film studio and its powerful allies in City Hall.

Just last week, a collision at the intersection of Nassau Avenue made clear the dangers of the roadway’s current design, which DOT originally planned to reduce from two lanes in each direction to one, while adding a protected bike lane, a proposal that is now one year old

“We don’t know what’s happening now, we were promised an answer in the spring. My community is clamoring, demanding for safety on McGuinness,” Restler asked. “Is there any timeline when we are going to get an answer whether this mayor is actually committed to making McGuinness safe?”

DOT declined to give a schedule, but officials claimed the scaled-back revamp north of Calyer Street, where they installed a curbside bike lane without cutting car lanes, was working, despite electeds charging in a letter last year that it failed to improve pedestrian safety and that the bike lane was constantly blocked by illegal parking. 

“We were getting started on the north section, and we’ve done that, we think it’s working well, there’s a few more pieces to finish up,” said Beaton. “We’re evaluating all the data and we’ll get back to everyone shortly with how we’re going to move forward.”

Open Streets

The city’s recent moves to scale back popular open streets also came under fire on Wednesday. On Willoughby Avenue in Fort Greene, contractors have been late to set up barricades to keep out drivers ever since its hours halved from 24-7 to 12 hours a day this year, Council Member Crystal Hudson told DOT officials.

“We’ve heard that when it’s time for the barricades to be up, they’re not up on time, so that people are not being able to safely walk through the open street,” Hudson said.

Beaton said his agency would look into it — adding that their contracted crews can struggle to put up barricades all at once. 

“They are supposed to be out at certain times," he told Hudson. "If we have a number that all open at the same hour, they can’t move every barrier at exactly the same moment, but if they’re regularly happening late, we’ll go and see what’s happening on Willoughby."

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