5/10/03: Mailbag!

-----Original Message-----
From: Steven (SC)
Sent: Sunday, May 04, 2003 7:48 AM
To: brooklyn@transalt.org
Subject: to Aaron Naparstek (AN)

SC: Aaron, please take the time to read this, and to give it careful consideration. Although I agree with you in principal, your push to ban traffic altogether in Prospect Park will create a traffic nightmare in Park Slope, Windsor Terrace and surrounding neighborhoods

AN: Steven, There is no credible evidence to show that removing cars from Prospect Park will cause any more of a traffic nightmare than what we currently have. There is lots of very strong evidence -- from solid, conservative, automobile-centric, traffic engineering people (and from the NYC DOT itself) -- that banning cars from Prospect Park would, in fact, ease some of the traffic congestion from the big, cumbersome intersections and tightly knit neighborhoods surrounding the Park. In fact, we just tested this hypothesis and found it to be true. A few weeks ago cars were entirely banned from Prospect Park for about three weeks while the city re-paved and painted the Park Drives. There were no complaints from motorists or neighbors during this time. there was no real negative impact. there was, however, major positive impact for park users.

I'd urge you to be very careful about your assumptions about traffic. The evidence shows again and again that one of the best known ways to engineer the reduction of traffic is to reduce capacity and reduce available parking on the other end. Taking the Park Drives out of the traffic network is an ideal capacity reduction for New York City.

i'd also say that the principle of this thing is, in fact, important. and if, as you say, you agree in principle, you should stand by your principles. our great city parks should not be used as overflow rush hour traffic release valves. the city needs its parks for other purposes. putting traffic in the park makes the parks largely unsuable for the purposes they were designed for. imagine if we had a huge trash overflow problem in midtown and someone proposed storing lots of the excess trash inside st. patrick's cathedral. well, technically, that's a fine solution. lots of excess cubic footage in the cathedral, right? wrong. it's not a good solution. cars in the park is not a good solution either. St. Patrick's catherdral is one of NYC's most precious and sacred spaces, built and designed for one over-arching multi-purpose useage. same with prospect park. space is a precious precious commodity. sacred space even more precious. car traffic? we seem to have plenty of room set aside for that!

SC: unless other measures are taken.

AN: Agreed. Lots of "other measures" need to be taken to straighten out NYC, NY State and the USA's transportation policies and practices. We are way behind Europe. it's going to start to hurt us big-time. it already is

SC: Forget the DOT's studies

AN: Ummm... Why? Some very competent and expensive professionals spent most of the 1990's collecting traffic data around Prospect Park. Their data concluded that it wouldn't be all that big a deal for the Park to go car-free. DOT didn't like that conclusion and so they have taken your advice and forgotten the studies.

SC: they're too busy chasing revenues for overstayed parking meters to understand real traffic issues.

AN: Yep. NYC transportation policy is non-existent. It's driven by short-term revenue considerations such as parking tickets and tows. To me, this is insane, when the benefits of revamping the city's system are so great for so many.

SC: Just try to get down 7th Avenue at 3:15 PM on a weekday, or try to go down Prospect Park Southwest at 4:30 PM on a Friday, or try to go up Parkside Avenue at 3 PM on a Sunday, and you'll see the problem immediately.

AN: I've tried. I've seen. Driving in NYC stinks. I'd argue though that the only thing worse than being a motorist is trying to be a pedestrian, cyclist or resident walking, riding and living within a never-ending traffic jam. At least you have air-conditioning and don't have to listen to all the damn honking

SC: We live too far from our child's school for him to walk (2.5 miles), and too far from supermarkets, restaurants and decent shopping to walk.

AN: It's not really my business your personal transport choices, but if the city were set-up for cycling as many northern European cities are, 2.5 miles is a lovely 10 to 15-minute bike ride carrying a kid or groceries on your back wheel. You'd bump into your neighbors. You'd get some air and some exercise, some quality time with your kid...

SC: We cannot afford to live in a more convenient location

AN: I hear that.

SC: so we also have very limited access to public transportation, and quite frankly, cannot afford to pay for the 5-6 trips we often have to make a day back and forth between the neighborhoods where we work, go to school, shop and live.

AN: Increasingly we will not be able to afford those trips by car either. Energy turmoil and the end of the cheap oil age is an inevitable fact that this country is very much avoiding. It's totally irresponsible what we are doing right now.

SC: Not to mention the lost time because of infrequent bus and train service.

AN: Southern Brooklyn absolutely needs better public transit. Brooklyn was built on a streetcar system, you know. That's the most effficient form of urban transit that there is (after walking and biking). Maybe that's something worth bringing back. The streetcars are beautiful in German cities. A real pleasure.

SC: When we cannot use the Prospect Park Drive, the jaywalking, double-parking, congested streets of Park Slope

AN: I'd urge you to use 4th Ave and Prospect Park West as much as possible to get south of the Park, and stay away from the heart of the Slope. I'd also urge you to change your expectations about how fast one should be able to move by car through one of the world's densest and most complex urban areas. One of the reasons why your kid can't and shouldn't bike at night is because we have black, tinted-window 7,000 lb. Cadillac Escalades rolling down neighobrhood streets at highway speeds. Most of our public space is currently given over to car traffic. Pedestrians, cyclists and people who can't afford cars are the one who should have greater expectations of their transit opportunities. Not you in your car.

SC: if you would solve three problems of concern not just to motorists, but also to bicyclists:

AN: TA is a pretty focused organization. So I'm not sure that the three problems below are ours to solve. But let's see...

SC: 1) Crack down on trucks and double parking so that traffic will flow more smoothly.

AN: Well, trucks need to use the big avenues to deliver goods. And they need to park to drop-off goods. And as a city, we want goods to be shipped efficiently, quickly and cheaply. So, the problem, I'd say, is probably not the trucks but the private individual cars that hog city real estate all day in front of stores that need to receive deliveries. I'd frame the problem that way. Then start thinking about solutions from there. In Europe it's not a question who gets priority. Deliveries and businesses that serve the community do. Unused private cars go underground whenever possible. If it's not possible, good public transit is supplied to places where private autos aren't practical. Such as...

SC: 7th and 8th Avenue in Park Slope are like parking lots most of the day, literally lined with illegaly double-parked vehicles, mostly trucks. Get rid of them

AN: If we get rid of delivery trucks, how will you get your toothpaste and baked bread and morning coffee? Maybe trucks could be asked to come at night. But that's probably not so practical for other reasons -- noise, labor, etc.

SC: motorists would then not mind losing the park drive.

AN: The whims and desires of "motorists" or those who subscribe to the beliefs of "motorism," has gotten us into the mess we're in now. i'm not sure i care whether motorists "mind" losing the park drive. we all need to stop minding the needs of motorists so much and begin instead to mind the needs of all of the different possible modes of urban transport. bottom line: it's not possible to make Brooklyn motorists happy... unless we provide them with viable alternatives to motoring.

SC: 2) Crack down on jay-walking. This is a problem, especially in crowded neighborhoods like Park Slope, not just for motorists, but for bicyclists as well.

AN: Agreed!!! I hate it. Again, in Europe -- totally non-existent. It's cultural. So, it's changeable. But laws and police are not the only answer.

SC: We all have to learn to take our fair turn when it comes to right-of-way. Jay walking is selfish, dangerous, irresponsible, and illegal.

AN: When I was growing up, my public school kindergarten had a grade called "Citizenship." Why don't we have a class in NYC public school on civility -- on living in the city with other people?

SC: 3) Public transportation: $2.00 a ride? 30 minutes between buses? Closed and/or unattended subway stations? These policies do not encourage people to use mass transportation.

AN: Nope they don't

SC: To summarize, people have to get around the city in order to work, shop, and just live their lives. Out here in Brooklyn, the car is still the fastest, cheapest and most practical way to go.

AN: The car actually is the most expensive and least efficient way for people to get around the City. we just don't pay the costs out of our personal wallets on a daily basis. we're paying in ALL kinds of other ways

SC: (I spent more on replacing flat tires and bike maintenance this year than I did on my car!)

AN: one word for you: "kevlar." bullet-proof tires.

SC: You call yourselves Transportation Alternatives. Great idea. But if you want to get people out of their cars you will have to offer some real alternatives that allow people to move easily around the borough.

AN: cut TA some slack. TA is small and not financially powerful. it needs to focus to get its victories. we're trying. who else is working on this stuff? straphangers campaign, Transportation Alternatives, and no one.

SC: Like these: bike lanes on all streets and sidewalks, not just a few token scenic ones that take you from nowhere to nowhere; cheap public transportation (not $2 a ride!) that gets you where you are going without having to wait more than 5 minutes for a bus or train connection (like in Europe); a citywide ban on large trucks and oversize (private) buses that are not only dangerous and highly polluting, but take up far too much space on our narrow streets; a citywide crackdown on moving violations, especially failure to signal turns and lane changes. I support your cause in theory, and I drive as small and fuel efficient car as I can, but I can't cut my nose off to spite my face by eliminating the only really practical way for me and my family to get around most of the time, which is by car. Provide some real alternatives to driving in this borough, and people will take them.

AN: steven: please send your lettter to the NYC DOT, the MTA and all the elected officials you can think of. seriously. it's great. TA doesn't make policy. we don't build streets and public transit. the city and the mta do that. we try to invfluence these two powerful monoplies. getting them to change the way they operate is one of the most difficult and grudging tasks a man can work on. these agencies are behemoths. they are non-responsive. they are stupid. they worship at the shrine of motorism. at ALL costs. new yorkers are paying for it, americans are paying for it, and so is the world. it needs to change. TA is doing its small part to foment change.