Club Soda and Salt

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Posts Tagged ‘urban planning’

The soft bigotry of bike lanes

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on April 25, 2010

I posted a couple of months ago about the difficulty the livable streets movement has in connecting to the low-income communities that should be our natural allies. While some of the blame lies with the movement itself, sometimes the issue of a complete street becomes just another front in the much bigger gentrification wars. This doesn’t seem to be as big an issue in the Bay Area, but back in New York it crops up all the time. For example, a bike lane project in the Navy Yard area of Brooklyn (which is home to a very large housing project: Farragut Houses) went up against some rather heated rhetoric last week:

Rev. Mark V.C. Taylor, pastor of the Church of the Open Door, a black congregation on Gold Street, read prepared remarks accusing DOT of displaying a “deep and profound racism that masquerades as change,” adding bike lanes for “young white newcomers.” “DOT’s concern for black cyclists is non-evident,” he said, concluding by asking DOT to “transport ideas like this into the waste bin with ideas like slavery.” About a third of the audience belonged to Taylor’s congregation.

You’d hope that a black pastor would be a bit more careful about comparing things to slavery, but here we are. The interesting thing here, though, is that you didn’t see the typical claim that taking space away from autos has negative impacts on black and low-income areas. Rather, Pastor Taylor refers to “black cyclists” above, and some of the complaints focused on the fact that turning Flushing into a one-way street would force bus riders to wait on the highly unpleasant Park Av, a perfectly legitimate complaint in a transit-dependent and not always safe area.

Moreover, the complaints seem generated less by a desire to keep parking spaces than by resentment for gentrification, of which the bike lanes are perceived as part. Back to the post on Streetsblog:

From what I heard, a major question from long-time local residents wasn’t necessarily “Why a bikeway?” but “Why now?” A few people spoke about riding bicycles when they were kids and wanted to know why the city wasn’t proposing this sort of thing 20 or 30 years ago.

In other words: why don’t any of these activists give a shit about bike lanes until white people start moving in? It’s not a fair perception – as Streetsblog points out, this greenway has been in the works since the early 90s, and certainly transit and bike advocates in New York have agitated for better access in a number of neighbourhoods like the South Bronx, Flatbush, and Sunset Park. That said, the DOT’s newfound enthusiasm for these projects has coincided with a noticeable uptick in gentrification throughout Brooklyn in particular. It’s frankly not shocking that these improvements are getting caught up in the broader gentrification issue, and as long as the two are linked, we can expect more vitriol like the stuff from the good pastor.

I have to admit that I don’t know how to solve this problem. As with anything, having more black faces in the movement and doing better outreach to community leaders (like pastors) would certainly help. And the news isn’t all bad – as the post points out, surveys conducted in the nearby projects indicate that cycling is a common mode of transport. But as long as bike lanes and other street improvements are seen as harbingers of gentrification, we can expect pretty severe headwinds in places like Brooklyn.


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Death by a thousand curb cuts

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on February 1, 2010

From ehoyer on Flickr

Spend any time driving in San Francisco, and you’ll notice that there isn’t a lot of parking. Then, just before you give up and put the car in a garage, it dawns on you that while there aren’t that many spaces, there also aren’t that many parked cars. Instead, driveway after driveway chops up the curb, leaving the street space unusable. Curb cuts are everywhere, of course, but San Francisco buildings seem particularly fond of them.

The effective transfer of public property to private hands is bad enough, but there are a lot of other reasons to dislike curb cuts. They increase conflicts between pedestrians and vehicles, they set up hazardous situations as cars back out onto busy streets, they encourage sidewalk parking (an epidemic on some blocks of the Mission), and, when you’re talking about a commercial street, garages aren’t nearly as good for walkability and economics as storefronts.

You’d think that with all these externalities, you’d have to pay. Well, not yet, but the city is finally going to start charging $100 per year for the privilege. A pittance considering that off street spaces go for $200 per month in some neighbourhoods, but at least it’s a start. Perhaps as the city’s finances continue to deteriorate, owners of curb cuts will be made to pay a fairer share.

And, full disclosure: we currently lease a parking space in our building, and a curb cut is involved. I think that the owner (and us, by extension) should be taxed heavily for it.

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In which I talk about traffic policy again

Posted by clubsodaandsalt on December 30, 2007

As discussed here and elsewhere, Trinidad is currently suffering from a serious traffic problem, which is the focus of an article in the Express today. Somewhat surprisingly, one of the traffic officers interviewed hits the nail on the head:

The main cause of traffic: Too many cars. ASP Jackson stated that there were more than 400,000 cars on the nation’s road according to the Licensing Division. He said he would not be surprised if there were significantly more.

“What is the need for all these cars? Families that used to have one car, now have two and three,” said ASP Jackson.

Pretty much. Among the trappings of economic development: greater access to private vehicular transportation. Naturally, respondents in the article mention things like “more roads” as being the solution, but any transportation engineer worth her slat will tell you that that’s a short term solution. Besides, it’s also a solution that comes at great expense, what with having to tear down homes, businesses, and farmland to accomodate the new cars. In reality, the solutions that are likely to be effective aren’t likely to be popular:

  • Eliminate the massive gasoline subsidies
  • Introduce congestion pricing in downtown POS
  • Toll the major highways
  • Reform parking policy — no more free parking in POS, and stop building parking garage after garage!
  • Improve public transportation: build the promised train lines, keep going with the ferries, and make the PBR into a BRT corridor (and please please don’t allow private cars onto it as some people suggested! That is insanity!)
  • Improve bike and pedestrian friendliness of downtown POS and environs

These are the quicker solutions. Of course, there’s also the important long-term solution of focusing on transit-oriented development, which gets no attention that I can see in Trinidad (just look at all the weak attempts we make to emulate the worst of American suburban sprawl; Trincity is particularly horrifying).

You’ll  be shocked to hear that the government isn’t talking about any of this, even as it drives construction in POS to a fever pitch. After all, solutions are hard, and buildings are shiny! Instead we depend on traffic management serendiptity to save us. After all, God is a Trini.

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