Wednesday, November 12, 2008

The Mean Streets of SoHo

Politics... have always been the systematic organization of hatreds.
-- Henry Brooks Adams

Has anyone noticed that Grand Street has been turned into a rat maze?
In an industrial, manufacturing zone (why Chris Quinn and Hi-Rise Mike still let developers put up hotels in SoHo with no review) we have trucks that cannot turn the corner and children than cannot cross the street. We have parents that cannot cross the street with baby carriages. We have lots of space for bikes, though. Although, there are few bikes and lots of pushcarts, and homeless carts with bottles and cans. Of course, no one can stop to drop off their children or park overnight on one side of the street – now that there is “No Stopping.” Not to mention the fact that there are now cars parked in the middle of the street with grid-work lines galore. It looks like a board game.


There are other areas in the City which are extremely upset as well. It seems that in Brooklyn, 30 blocks have lost their parking on both sides of the street. Apparently, there is a Mayoral Directive that is not subject to any community review at all. Read the comment sections on StreetsBlog.

It's too bad we don’t have more artwork in SoHo instead. The billboards are still everywhere, though. None of the politicians or the Community Board did anything about that. No public or guerilla art was ever saved or supported; nor has there been any effort to give Bob Bolles park any support –- although, Alan Gerson gave a million bucks to just one Village park. And, pedestrians have been completly overlooked.

So, its the Department of Transportation, another of Bloomberg’s autonomous fiefdoms like the Building Department, which apparently decides what they want to do with minimal discussions (and great support from members of the Transportation Committee who do not allow disagreement from SoHo). D.O.T. just makes a decision without the residents and they simply implement their plans, as they did on Grand Street.


No one in SoHo knew about the Broadway islands either and no one in SoHo knew about the impending destruction of Grand Street. When Commissioner Janette Sadik-Kahn, Bloomberg’s current Commissioner of D.O.T., permits press conferences to announce their plans -- it is interesting to note that Transportation Alternatives (a bike advocacy organization) often appears at photo ops -- but no one from SoHo is ever invited – even when it affects our community. One can only wonder why. Is it perhaps because we either don’t know what is happening or may not agree with it? The controversy involving the Public Theatre is an additional case in point with respect to D.O.T.

Much of the current “planning” involving SoHo dates back to the reign of D.O.T. Commissioner Iris Weinshall, Senator Schumer’s wife, when the Houston Street Reconstruction was in its planning stages. THAT was the street, which was originally to have provided a cross-Manhattan route for bikes – which in a half-assed way, Grand Street has been elected to be. Even bike enthusiasts were in favor of Houston Street with curbs to protect them.


It was rejected by D.O.T. because of a study in, are you ready for this, Idaho, which claimed that that route was unsafe. Since Houston Street was comletely reconstructed, THAT was the street which should have benefited from a rational cross-Manhattan bike lane. It would have been a win-win situation for pedestrians, vehicular traffic AND bikers. What we wound up with is a route, which has been installed without notice or truly open meetings. Those who did know and attended from SoHo were silenced early on by the Community Board #2 Transportation Committee. At the Community Board it was badly advertised and very poorly decided. Opposition was not tolerated because D.O.T. mandated that it be done. The horrendous decisions were made for a community on narrow clogged streets in SoHo – with the help of a politicized Community Board. So, what we now have is a poorly designed, chopped up street which is ruining businesses (no parking or stopping allowed anytime), and which is confusing motorists, impeding traffic and limiting the flow of trucks in an area that is already overburdened by the Holland Tunnel.


But, that’s only part of the picture.

This is an example of a small group of NIMBYists running the Community Board Traffic and Transportation Committee – Chaired by Shirley Secunda and Ian Dutton who live in Greenwich Village – making poor decisions out of allegiance to the D.O.T. without permitting any serious input from SoHo. Residents would demonstrate if the Grand Street plan were ever tried in Greenwich Village.


This appears to be the local version of the Stockholm syndrome on that committee -- psychologically held hostage to the D.O.T.'s wishes and desires.
Board Chair Hoylman needs to revisit this decision and reverse it, if he has the guts to confront the Mayor and his flunkies.
Why? Because, the quality of life in SoHo demands it. We are a small community, not a testing ground for out-of-town
bike enthusiasts who want SoHo to be their playground. Do a bang-up job of protecting bikers on Houston Street where there is room for it and get rid of the junk and crazy stripes on Grand Street! Support for rational bike lanes have support. What has been done on Grand Street is completely unacceptable to residents.

Here’s the big problem: Everyone has ignored the plight of PEDESTRIANS - FIRST - in SoHo. That MUST be the priority.

Caregivers pushing baby carriages, elderly crossing the street, parents taking their children for a walk cannot do so without being accosted by cars, trucks, buses, and now bikes. We have new green pathways carved out of our streets, which makes an insane state of confusion – and no crosswalks for pedestrians. Residents cannot legally pull over their cars where they live to load or unload groceries or drop off children safely. In the few areas where there are crosswalks, there are no D.O.T. officers to protect them. Try to walk across the street on weekends at West Broadway and Broome Street, if you dare. No tickets are given out and pedestrians, who cross where there are D.O.T. officers, are often ignored if there is less than 4 inches between cars – even when the person has the light. On Bleecker Street and 7th Avenue South in the Village a whole team of cops ticket cars simply for not using a turn signal. There are no cops in SoHo, except the Midtown Taskforce a few hours a weekday at two intersections.
But, step on a green pathway and an irate biker will scream at you or hit you as they drive the wrong way on these paths. This is not Denmark, where street paths were planned out decades ago for the benefit of a society that supports biking -- which is NOT at the expense of pedestrian safety.
Shall we paint green paths on all Village thoroughfares, place protrusions in the middle of those streets, and park cars in the middle of the street and eliminate overnight parking in most areas? Remember, many of these streets are in landmarked areas in SoHo. And, there are only four cross streets in all of SoHo. But, we know that won’t happen. The D.O.T. Commissioner knows better to pick a fight with a Community Board that is stacked for the Village and against SoHo. We have no such support from our politicians.

We have broken or completely missing crosswalks, missing cobblestones, decaying or broken sidewalks, no protection from D.O.T. officers, and no pedestrian safety. NONE of the streets in Greenwich Village have been treated like Grand Street. None exist Uptown.


As a friend on the upper East Side recently said when asked about the Grand Street problem: “They wouldn’t tolerate this where I live.”
Are we, in SoHo, to be treated like guinea pigs for the D.O.T. Commissioner’s friends -- who would like to live and party in SoHo – and who would like to tell us how we should live? Are we the underrepresented neighborhood where the Community Board performs its experiments to save themselves discomforts?

We in SoHo, who provide the City with an arts heritage, put up with endless Film shoots, suffer from illegal billboards, breathe Downtown’s pollution from the Holland Tunnel, and bring money to the City coffers – get nothing in return. We get no support from Mr. Gerson, our Councilman, nothing but promises from Mr. Stringer, the Borough President, and absolutely nothing from the Speaker, Christine Quinn, who has let our community be developed mindlessly and then sold out to Bloomberg.

Remember this when you get your next fundraiser invitation.


Anonymous said...

I really don't understand why Little Italy is still under CB2's ever watchful eye.

And this entire Grand Street debacle is just terrible in so many ways, ALL the businesses are suffering tremendously. The single 10' driving lane is a joke, when you've got cars or trucks on either side of the street and say for an example a firetruck has to make it's way down Grand, there's going to be a lot of clipped mirrors and scratched sides.

Does the DOT believe that the few bicyclists who do ride down Grand (and I have yet to see one actually use the bike lane) are more "valuable" economically than the businesses on the street?

And why bother call this "the" east-west thruway for bicyclists when it STOPS at Chrystie street?!? Absolutely bizarre.

Sadik-Khan needs to stop with her temper tantrums when you disagree with her ideas and just walk away. Preferably to San Francisco where her "ideas", I'm sure, would be more welcome by all and not just a few.

Anonymous said...

You have so much to say but it's mostly misdirected anger. I agree that Houston would've been a preferable street for a bike lane. But that doesn't mean Grand Street is a bad place for one. Eastbound traffic can still use Spring, Canal, and even Grand is fine. And trust me, no one from "out of town" is coming in to Soho for a bicycling joyride. Maybe cyclists (or motorists) should complain about tourists crowding the streets with their baby strollers? Cyclists need safe cross-streets to get around.

I agree that cyclists should yield to pedestrians – when the latter have right of way. And they should follow the directions of traffic. And stay off of sidewalks. But there are reasonable exceptions.

And what is the big difference between Soho bike lanes and the ones in the Village? Green paint? The Village has many more miles of bike lanes than Soho, so don't act like Villagers are bike lane NIMBYs.

If you cared about Soho, your city and your environment, you would be seeking out ways to expand safe cycling, not restrict it.

Anonymous said...

Thanks for mentioning the terrible crosswalks in SoHo. Spring and Mercer is also terrible on both the north and south sides. I fear for my elderly mother and, frankly, for myself as well, especially in icy weather. The bricks are so uneven that it is easy to trip. Is there anyone I can contact to protest this?

Curtis Chorizali said...

bike - 1, you and your tears - 0.

we win.

RatherBeBiking said...

Lots of whining and unsubstantiated claims of businesses suffering terribly from the new bike lane... just wait till the summer and you'll see the lane really put to paces.

SAM said...

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