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The State of Our Borough President is Questionable

February 4, 2011
I was first made aware of Marty Markowitz’ theatrical entrance to last night’s State of the Borough Address by this tweet from City Council member David Greenfield:
I guess Greenfield, who sent twenty tweets during yesterday’s City Council hearing on Wal-Mart, only interrupting his flow to retweet a message about alternate side parking, was too entranced by Marty’s theatrics to pick up his Blackberry after the BP’s grand entrance, because that was the only tweet he sent last night.  So I had to wait for the full text of the speech to be released to find out more.  If you were wondering how Marty would manage to take up the banner of a small group of millionaires living along Prospect Park West and fit their concerns into a speech that was otherwise about bragging rights for the borough, you won’t be disappointed.  Here’s what he had to say about a certain bike lane.
As I’m sure you noticed, I made my entrance tonight on what I like to my senior cycle [sic], so I hope you understand that I am not against bicycles. I’m not even against bike lanes. I’ve supported their creation around Brooklyn, including 9th street near Prospect Park and the Brooklyn Greenway that runs from Greenpoint to Sunset Park.
This is a common line of defense for someone who really hates something.  “Why, some of my best friends are bike lanes!  I’ve got a bike lane who serves me my lunch every day at my country club!”
But for the majority of New Yorkers, it is simply not feasible to make bicycles their primary mode of transport, and unfortunately that’s the direction I believe the City’s policy is heading. They are trying to stigmatize car owners and get them to abandon their cars, when the fact is, even many bicyclists also own cars!
No one is honestly making the claim that the majority of New Yorkers should use bicycles as their primary mode of transport.  In fact, you only ever hear this claim when bike lane critics such as Marty and Norman Steisel put it into the mouths of straw men.  It’s also worth pointing out to Marty that the majority of New Yorkers, over 50%, do not own cars, and even fewer of them use them as their primary means of getting to work.  I’m guessing the number of daily car commuters is even tinier among Park Slope residents.  (Hit me up in the comments with an exact figure if you have one.)  The majority of Brooklynites have spoken: it is simply not feasible to make cars their primary mode of transport.

Cycling is no substitute for mass transit, and there are still tens of thousands of Brooklynites who live far from public transportation and who rely on a car to reach their jobs and live their lives. But of course, we must have a comprehensive plan that insures the safety of drivers, walkers and cyclists.

We already have “a comprehensive plan that insures the safety of drivers, walkers and cyclists.”  It’s called the Prospect Park West Bicycle Lane and Traffic Calming Project.

The BP is one hundred percent correct that tens of thousands of borough residents live far from good transit options, especially in this time of service cuts and MTA budget raids.  At least a few affected people could, conceivably, bike to a subway or bus stop before continuing on their journey.  It happens–and has happened now that there’s a bike lane on PPW, for example–but I wouldn’t want Marty to accuse me of advocating that for all Brooklynites so I won’t dwell on it.

Instead, let’s dwell on the fact that Marty’s speech didn’t include even the slightest hint of compassion for those transit-starved Brooklynites, unless they own a car.  Marty’s only mention of a subway had to do with the rehabilitation of the 4th Avenue-9th Street subway station and only then in the context of a revitalized, presumably condo-lined 4th Avenue, which won’t really help people in the outer parts of Brooklyn under-served by transit.  And unless he deviated from the text I read, he mentioned buses zero times.

And we should all remember to show respect to one another—drivers, cyclists and pedestrians, everybody who uses our streets. I have been a vocal critic of the Prospect Park West bike lane because I think it is a perfect example of how not to install a bike lane. It has disrupted the aesthetics of one of Brooklyn’s most beautiful thoroughfares and made it more dangerous to cross the street safely, especially for seniors, young children and parents with strollers.

As I’ve written before, the aesthetic argument is a tricky one.  Should we run a trolley down PPW again?  Get rid of the cars?  Even if we didn’t, there’s nothing stopping me from parking a graffiti-ridden junk heap on PPW, so long as it meets inspection and registration requirements and I move it for alternate side parking.  Would that meet his aesthetic criteria?  My guess is that Marty only cares about the aesthetics as one sees them from within a moving car.  The rest of Marty’s claim is, of course, not true and he offers no statistics to back up his claims because there are none.  There’s simply nothing about shorter crossing distances and slower car speeds that’s more dangerous for seniors, kids and, speaking as one, parents with strollers.  I won’t even link to the DOT studies, as I’m getting carpal tunnel syndrome from doing it over and over again.

As Marty reminds us to show respect and play nice, maybe he should apologize to the Janette Sadik-Khan for calling her a zealot and to her department, which he accused of organizing a conspiracy.  But, you know, poor Marty.  He’s really asking for respect from those disrespectful cyclists.

Marty’s speech would be fine if he stuck to the rah-rah-sis-boom-bah cheer leading tone for which he’s known.  I’m all for the BP’s office being filled by someone who wants to cut ribbons and eat cheesecake.  But his detour into the Prospect Park West bike lane, especially when there are so many other serious issues facing Brooklyn residents these days, speaks to his paranoia, misplaced priorities, and utter lack of seriousness about safe streets or really any matter of policy.  But what would anyone expect from such an unserious man?

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One Comment
  1. eveostay permalink
    February 4, 2011 10:19 am

    Great post. I wish Marty was on twitter so I could call him an ass every day.

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