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Fowler Square Workshop Thursday Night

February 15, 2012

Photo: Brooklyn Historical Society

Like any street in Brooklyn, South Elliot Place between Lafayette Avenue and Fulton Street has undergone tremendous changes in the intervening century or so since this photo was taken.  As I often noted with Prospect Park West, only a through a selective view of history can one claim that a new design will change the character of a street.  Yesterday’s authentic was once someone’s new.

The planned pedestrian plaza at what is now Fowler Square is ruffling the typical feathers and provoking the same tired arguments we see time and time again whenever this kind change comes to a neighborhood.  According to critics of the plan, closing one tiny stretch of street, about the length of two store fronts, could cause massive amounts of congestion.  Drivers are upset that they might have to go an entire extra block before making a turn.  (Never mind that to be a pedestrian in New York City is to constantly have to go out of one’s way just to cross a street safely.)  Others argue that creating more pedestrian space is somehow more dangerous than leaving them with a tiny sliver of a cement island on which to wait for the walk signal.

One neighborhood resident went so far as to say, “This isn’t Amsterdam — we need our street,” as if reading from the NIMBY playbook.  I’ve even read people say that there’s a “perfectly good” park just a few blocks away that people can use if they want to enjoy some fresh air.

Ultimately, these aren’t really arguments against a pedestrian plaza so much as they are displays of a reflexive and unthinking resistance to change.  Of course, much of this conflict is stoked by a media which likes to frame everything as a battle between different street users on Brooklyn’s “Mean Streets.”  But if there is a “war here between bikers, drivers and people who never even go near a car,” then based on the body count and the amount of territory they’ve seized for their exclusive use, I’d say that drivers won a long time ago.

Fowler Square is worth far more to the community as a pedestrian plaza than as a shortcut for a small minority of drivers.  To bring a safe and pleasant new space to a great neighborhood, please attend the Fowler Square Planning Workshop on Thursday, Feburary 16th at 6 pm.  The workshop will be held at the Lafayette Avenue Presbyterian Church, 85 South Oxford Street, between Fulton and Lafayette.

One Comment
  1. Guest permalink
    February 15, 2012 3:30 pm

    It drives (<— see what I did there?) me crazy that every time the residents on a street want to make a small change to that street to make it more accommodating to the people who actually live there they have to make a strong case for it. There is always a presumption in favor of cars when it comes to planning the streets.

    For this reason, NYC can't build adequate bike infrastructure fast enough. For each bike lane that's built DOT has to go to the community board for that area which gives its "advisory" opinion on it. Then there's a period where the board can reverse course if the loudest most obnoxiously anti-bike people on the board can engineer a rescission (Yes, I'm talking to you, CB 11 !). That is, if it ever even gets that far because the community board can just vote it down to begin with.

    And all of this is just for show anyway. The community boards are just appointed individuals who serve for a set term and are totally unaccountable to their communities. They don't even have to live there in order to be appointed. Working there or owning a business is enough. In addition, the DOT doesn't have to listen to the community board. There's nothing particularly democratic about the process. It's just clunky and bureaucratic and it's all done to show drivers (and merchants who hate protected bike lanes that their vendors can't double-park in) that there is a strong case for them. Because that's what you have to do when you want to create a bike lane. After all, you're taking street space away from motorists to whom it rightfully belongs. You better have a damn good reason.

    Never mind the fact that since more than 0% of people ride bikes everywhere in New York the democratic thing to do would be to have more than 0% of street space allocated for bikes, on ALL streets. There shouldn't be even one street in New York without bike lanes because there isn't one street in New York without cyclists. And those people are citizens of the city. Shouldn't they have a right to some of the public space? That should be all the case you need to make. Instead what you get is stuff like the Columbus Ave bike lane that starts and ends without connecting to anything else because you can't "make the case" for adjacent zones. And it becomes a positive feedback loop: we have crappy infrastructure so no one rides so you can't "make the case" for better infrastructure.

    Anyway that's just an example and this is really about how short-changed pedestrians are. Their situation is far more inequitable in my opinion. In a city where fewer than 50% of the trips are made by car, we shouldn't have to "make the case" for giving to pedestrians some of the 80% of public space that is just handed over to cars.

    But entitled motorists just want more and more space and are absolutely shameless about their selfishness. "It's my God-given right to drive wherever I want!" Of course there will never be enough space to accommodate all the cars, especially not in NYC so we're right to push back.

    Rant over.

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