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On Skillman Avenue and Community Boards in General

June 8, 2018

Jumping off of Streetsblog’s recap of last night’s maddening Queens Community Board 2 meeting, I wanted to highlight a few things David Meyer mentioned in his report. This includes former NYC DOT policy director Jon Orcutt’s comment on Twitter…

…and DOT’s statement today:

The design that was presented last night articulated our responsiveness to the top concern, which was parking loss. Over the past few months, DOT reworked the design to preserve as many parking spaces as possible, and in some instances, including in the commercial core, with no parking loss on the south curb of Skillman Ave and north curb of 43rd Avenue, respectively.

DOT always appreciates community board feedback , but considers the vote to be advisory on substantive safety projects. We will review our options for moving forward and continue the dialogue with the Board and other local stakeholders about making these streets safer for the local community and all Queens residents who use these corridors to shop and commute.

DOT’s statement is good, but here’s the thing: It should come before the meeting, not after. To be fair — and as their statement says — when it comes to this particular project, DOT has bent over backwards to accommodate the board’s parking concerns. As much as I think reducing on-street parking should be a longterm policy goal of the city, if the politics of doing so preclude making our streets safer immediately there’s nothing wrong with making concessions here and there to get projects in and done.

But the bigger problem remains. It’s something that I’ve seen time and time again as a public member of my own local community board and an occasional attendee at board meetings in other neighborhoods. Too often, DOT reps go to these board meetings seeking a resolution in support of their plan. Up/down. Yes/no. That’s a recipe for scenes like last night. It allows for the binary decision-making power unelected community board members currently hold and leads to a handful of parking-obsessed know-nothings having control over the entire city’s transportation network. Unfortunately, by going along with this process, DOT cedes most of the battle, so to speak, before it’s even begun. And so it takes months if not years to make any sort of progress, if it’s made at all.

The commissioner and the mayor need to change the formula. They need to send the very talented and experienced members of DOT’s bike- and pedestrian-safety teams to these meetings and allow them to begin their presentations by saying, in one form or another, “We are not here to debate whether or not we are going to fix this street. We are here to seek your input on some of the finer points of the plan, such as where you think loading zones should go, if there are any places that may require extra signage or markings, and if there are other locations where safety remains a concern. While we will take constructive suggestions and appreciate the board’s institutional knowledge and local expertise, we will not entertain any ideas that involve not moving forward with the project.” That’s how it would work with a new water main and that’s how it should work for safe streets.

Since board votes are advisory only, this is ostensibly the current formula, but for far too long it’s been allowed to be hijacked by the types of avid motorists and car storage fetishists who populate the average community board roster. It’s a vestigial process left over from the JSK years when a lot of these street designs were new and unfamiliar, at least to people who never seem to go anywhere outside of New York or, if they do, learn anything while they’re there.

DOT needs to reclaim the planning process from the beginning and not have it be held up like this. Major reform is needed, but all it would take is a strong opening statement.

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5 Comments
  1. Lauri Schindler permalink
    June 8, 2018 1:06 pm

    Amen.

  2. June 8, 2018 3:18 pm

    You are absolutely correct when you say that the way to deal with Community Boards is to invite them to give input on a project’s details, while presenting the project as a whole as a done deal. To give the impression to a Community Board that it has the final say is a huge mistake.

    Community Boards are, as you mention, purely advisory. In less polite terms: they are klown kolleges where self-important local busybodies can run around until they tire themselves out. That these assemblages of lunatics and half-wits are ever taken seriously in matters of planning is infuriating.

  3. TOM permalink
    June 11, 2018 4:25 pm

    Fascists. Can’t have the people upending the ‘experts’.

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