Skip to main content

Yo, Bloomberg: It's time to solve the Brooklyn transit problem

Brooklyn may be booming, but what good is it if the streets in the borough’s core are clogged, pedestrians are stymied, and the landscape unwelcoming? And why are we so far behind European cities, and even New Jersey? It's time, said participants at a forum last night on “Traffic and Transportation in Brownstone Brooklyn,” to pressure public officials and city agencies to think more broadly.

"Today we look at traffic like it’s the weather—a force of nature,” observed Aaron Naparstek, the moderator and organizer of the forum. “But that’s not so. It’s a human-made problem.” Several creative examples from other cities were cited during the evening: London minimizes car traffic with congestion pricing. Paris turns an expressway into a waterfront urban beach. Copenhagen prizes bicycles. Bogota, Colombia builds lanes for bus rapid transit (BRT). Even downtrodden Detroit has built a park around a downtown crossroads. A current exhibit at the Municipal Art Society emphasizes Livable Streets.

The Atlantic Yards angle

The forum, sponsored by the Park Slope Civic Council drew more than 200 people on a chilly night to the Old First Reformed Church. The topic was far broader than the Atlantic Yards project, though both developer Forest City Ratner and the city Department of Transportation (DOT) declined to participate, saying that “the discussion was maybe premature,” PSCC President Lydia Denworth told the crowd. (Later, she told me that both entities had said they were waiting for the Empire State Development Corporation to release a Draft Environmental Impact Statement regarding the project.)

City Council Member David Yassky, who at the ESDC scoping hearing in October testified cautiously about Atlantic Yards, got to speak before the panel began and declared, “This is far from premature. This is exactly what we need to be doing right now. I think the traffic and parking issues… are a first-order obstacle.” Even if the scale of the project can be reduced and the community benefits can be locked in, he said, “unless there’s a serious and concrete plan” regarding traffic, “I think the project has to be resisted on that ground alone.”

The DEIS will address some of the issues, Yassky said, “but I don’t want to count on it…. We have to demand from the city some fairly big responses.” Also present were several other public officials or their representatives, and representatives from borough and city agencies.

Public spaces, not auto spaces

Flatbush Avenue and Downtown Brooklyn came in for much criticism—even as the nearby brownstone neighborhoods remain lures. “This is one of the greatest challenges I’ve seen in a major city, trying to restore a core area that’s been dominated by traffic,” declared Fred Kent, president of the Project for Public Spaces (PPS). “I can’t think of any intersection in the core of Brooklyn that’s comfortable to walk through.”

Still, he offered a sign of progress. “There are no great public spaces in Downtown Brooklyn,” he said, but a director of an unnamed Brooklyn Local Development Corporation had invited PPS in for a meeting to begin to address that.

Like other panelists, Kent suggested that other states—not merely European cities—were far ahead of New York. “We’ve trained 600 traffic engineers in New Jersey,” he said. “No project in New Jersey can be scoped out without placemaking.” He said that traffic engineers in New York typically take a “project approach,” which looks at issues narrowly. A “place-driven approach,” by contrast, invites community input and a broader perspective.

Blame Bloomberg

"The DOT is not into this idea,” Kent said. “They can be brought in, with enough pressure.” Jon Orcutt, Executive Director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign criticized the city’s transportation policy as “muddle through, hope nothing really bad happens, and give developers what they want.”

Orcutt pointed out that the Downtown Brooklyn Traffic Calming Study was still on the shelf, and that the rezoning of Downtown Brooklyn and the Greenpoint-Williamsburg waterfront “took place with virtually no thought of transportation.” Only subsequent pressure from influential entities in Downtown Brooklyn led to a follow-up traffic study.

“We just came through a political campaign where traffic and transportation did not register one blip on the screen,” Orcutt said, contrasting New York with the political maturity of London, where candidates competed to promise they’d get cars of the street. One of the problems, Orcutt said, is that authority is spread across a multitude of city and state agencies

But the solution, he said, “is appreciating how bare-knuckled New York City politics and blame the mayor.” It can work. Activists from car-choked Staten Island got Mayor Bloomberg to put traffic there near the top of his agenda, and in his State of the City address delivered at SI’s Snug Harbor on January 26, the mayor announced that he had given city agencies 60 days to produce new traffic initiatives for a growth management task force.

Development impacts

Some kind of Brooklyn transportation coalition will have to create an agenda for Brooklyn, he said, and indeed, the meeting last night was just a start; panelists will be making presentations before other civic groups. One of the first thing such a coalition must do, Orcutt said, is to “get a real picture of the impacts of development.” He said the city pattern, for the West Side Stadium and other such projects, is to “give the developer what they want” and then adjust the impacts on the EIS.

And Orcutt had some cautiously optimistic words regarding Atlantic Yards. “I have a bit of a better feeling from the Ratner EIS, which is not a city project.” Why, he was asked later. Because the developer seems to have a greater grasp on some of the challenges: “From talking to them, they understand the issue of transit access to the site.” Yes, but the numbers deserve some more explanation.

Earlier, Kent took a swipe at Frank Gehry, architect for the Atlantic Yards plan, quoting Gehry as having said, “I don’t do context.” Gehry’s creations “may be placeholder icons,” Kent said, but “they’re placeless buildings.”

Practical steps, bold steps

Karla Quintero, project coordinator of Transportation Alternatives, provided a preview of a new study, titled “Traffic’s Human Toll: How Cars and Trucks Affect New Yorkers’ Quality of Life.” The results not unsurprisingly show that people living on lightly-trafficked streets find their environments more pleasant than those living on heavily-trafficked streets.

A Brooklyn transportation coalition would have a lot to talk about. The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, Naparstek pointed out, is studying the possibility of Bus Rapid Transit on Flatbush Avenue: “This is the kind of thing we can get behind.”

A residential parking program is also a possibility, especially since the Atlantic Yards project could generate intense demands for parking spaces.. Orcutt said citizens must pressure their elected officials, “but you don’t want a study… You need to say: ‘we want a test.’”

One questioner lamented that Grand Army Plaza is inaccessible to pedestrians because of high-speed traffic. "It would be a great question for DOT," Naparstek observed, but Kent had a more audacious suggestion: close streets around it as a test, and see what happens. After all, Paris creates a beach every summer.

Where do the cars actually go, when a city closes streets? "The traffic disappears," Kent responded. "They realize they can get there other ways." Orcutt followed up, saying, "The infrastructure tells you what to do." Easier said than done in Brooklyn, but expect the conversations to continue.


  1. Hi! I just found your blog. I haven't had time to read through it but I'm bookmarking. I've compiled a lot of info about Charlie Gargano (none of it favorable)over the past few years.

    What I wanted to mention here is my suspicion that his son, Lawrence, was the contractor on at least one of Forest City's (FCR's parent) Sterling Glen Communities assisted living projects. Forest City built a Sterling Glen home in Bayshore on Long Island and that's the one I have in mind. If I'm right, then there may be others.

    Wish I could be of more help. Some of my comments about Gargano and his links to Eagle Building Technologies can be found over at the TPM Cafe.


Post a Comment

Popular posts from this blog

Barclays Center/Levy Restaurants hit with suit charging discrimination on disability, race; supervisors said to use vicious slurs, pursue retaliation

The Daily News has an article today, Barclays Center hit with $5M suit claiming discrimination against disabled, while the New York Post headlined its article Barclays Center sued over taunting disabled employees.

While that's part of the lawsuit, more prominent are claims of racial discrimination and retaliation, with black employees claiming repeated abuse by white supervisors, preferential treatment toward Hispanic colleagues, and retaliation in response to complaints.

Two individual supervisors, for example, are charged with  referring to black employees as “black motherfucker,” “dumb black bitch,” “black monkey,” “piece of shit” and “nigger.”

Two have referred to an employee blind in one eye as “cyclops,” and “the one-eyed guy,” and an employee with a nose disorder as “the nose guy.”

There's been no official response yet though arena spokesman Barry Baum told the Daily News they, but take “allegations of this kind very seriously” and have "a zero tolerance policy for…

Behind the "empty railyards": 40 years of ATURA, Baruch's plan, and the city's diffidence

To supporters of Forest City Ratner's Atlantic Yards project, it's a long-awaited plan for long-overlooked land. "The Atlantic Yards area has been available for any developer in America for over 100 years,” declared Borough President Marty Markowitz at a 5/26/05 City Council hearing.

Charles Gargano, chairman of the Empire State Development Corporation, mused on 11/15/05 to WNYC's Brian Lehrer, “Isn’t it interesting that these railyards have sat for decades and decades and decades, and no one has done a thing about them.” Forest City Ratner spokesman Joe DePlasco, in a 12/19/04 New York Times article ("In a War of Words, One Has the Power to Wound") described the railyards as "an empty scar dividing the community."

But why exactly has the Metropolitan Transportation Authority’s Vanderbilt Yard never been developed? Do public officials have some responsibility?

At a hearing yesterday of the Brooklyn Borough Board Atlantic Yards Committee, Kate Suisma…

No, security guards can't ban photos. Questions remain about visibility of ID/sticker system.

The bi-monthly Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park Community Update meeting June 14, held at 55 Hanson Place, addressed multiple issues, including delays in the project, a new detente with project neighbors,concerns about traffic congestion, upcoming sewer work and demolitions, and an explanation of how high winds caused debris to fly off the under-construction 38 Sixth Avenue building. I'll have more coverage.
Security issues came up several times at the meeting.
Wayne Bailey, a resident who regularly takes photos and videos (that I often use) of construction/operations issues that impact residents, asked representatives of Tishman Construction if the security guard at the sites they're building works for them.
After Tishman Senior VP Eric Reid said yes, Bailey asked why a guard told him not to shoot video of the site, even though he was on a public street.

"I will address it with principals for that security firm," Reid said.
Forest City Ratner executive Ashley Cotton, the …

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park graphic: what's built/what might be coming + FAQ (post-dated pinned post)

This graphic, posted in February 2018, is post-dated to stay at the top of the blog. It will be updated as announced configurations change and buildings launch. Note the unbuilt B1 and the proposed--but not yet approved--shift in bulk to the unbuilt Site 5.

The August 2014 tentative configurations proposed by developer Greenland Forest City Partners will change. The project is already well behind that tentative timetable.

How many people are expected?

Atlantic Yards/Pacific Park has a projected 6,430 apartments housing 2.1 persons per unit (as per Chapter 4 of the 2006 Final Environmental Impact Statement), which would mean 13,503 new residents, with 1,890 among them in low-income affordable rentals, and 2,835 in moderate- and middle-income affordable rentals.

That leaves 8,778 people in market-rate rentals and condos, though let's call it 8,358 after subtracting 420 who may live in 200 promised below-market condos. So that's 5,145 in below-market units, though many of them won…

The passing of David Sheets, Dean Street renter, former Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality

David Sheets, longtime Dean Street renter, Freddy's bartender, eminent domain plaintiff, and singular personality, died 1/17/18 in HCA Greenview Hospital in Bowling Green, KY. He was 56.

There are obituary notices in the Bowling Green Daily News and the Wichita Eagle, which state:
He was born in Wichita, KS where he attended public Schools and Wichita State University. He lived for many years in Brooklyn, NY, and was employed as a legal assistant. David's hobby was cartography and had an avid interest in Mass Transit Systems of the world. David was predeceased by his father, Kenneth E. Sheets. He is survived by his mother, Wilma Smith, step-brother, Billy Ray Smith and his wife, Jane all of Bowling Green; step-sister, Ellen Smith Alexander and her husband, Jerry of Bella Vista, AR; several cousins and step-nieces and step-nephews also survive. Memorial Services will be on Monday, January 22, 2018 at 1:00 pm with visitation from 10:00 am to 1:00 pm Monday at Johnson-Vaughn-Phe…

Some skepticism on Belmont hockey deal: lease value seems far below Aqueduct racino; unclear (but large?) cost for LIRR service

As I wrote for The Bridge 12/20/1, The Islanders Say Bye to Brooklyn, But Where Next?, the press conference announcing a new arena at Belmont Park for the New York Islanders was "long on pomp... but short on specifics."

Notably, a lease valued at $40 million "upfront to lease up to 43 acres over 49 years... seems like a good deal on rent for the state-controlled property." Also, the Long Island Rail Road will expand service to Belmont.

That indicates public support for an arena widely described as "privately financed," but how much? We don't know yet, but some more details--or at least questions--have emerged.

An Aqueduct comparable?

Well, we don't know what the other bid was, and there aren't exactly parcels that large offering direct comparables.

But consider: Genting New York LLC in September 2010 was granted a franchise to operate a video lottery terminal under a 30 year lease on 67 acres at Aqueduct Park (as noted by Gov. Andrew Cuomo).


Barclays Center event June 11 to protest plans to expand Israeli draft; questions about logistics

At right is a photo of a poster spotted in Hasidic Williamsburg right. Clearly there's an event scheduled at the Barclays Center aimed at the Haredi Jewish community (strict Orthodox Jews who reject secular culture), but the lack of English text makes it cryptic.

The website explains, Protest Against Israeli Draft of Bnei Yeshiva Rescheduled for Barclays Center:
A large asifa to protest the drafting of bnei yeshiva in Eretz Yisroel into the Israeli army that had been set to take place this month will instead be held on Sunday, 17 Sivan/June 11, at the Barclays Center in Downtown Brooklyn, NY. So attendees at a big gathering will protest an apparent change of policy that will make it much more difficult for traditional Orthodox Jewish students--both Hasidic (who follow a rebbe) and non-Hasidic (who don't)--to get deferments from the draft. Comments on the Yeshiva World website explain some of the debate.

The logistical questions

What's unclear is how large the ev…