Ignore tonight’s latest gathering of entitled car owners at your own risk. The “save our neighborhood” crowd has turned pro-car.
It’s being dubbed the “Fort Greene Town Hall on the City’s War on Cars.” The flier says, “City Hall has declared war on cars. We’re fighting back.” Then the group appropriated Holocaust language to make its point. “First, they took away traffic lanes. Then gas stations. Now, they’re coming for the parking.”
When did fighting for the livability of our neighborhoods turn into full-throated support for parking? When did encouraging cycling and walking with road diets, bike lanes, shared streets, pedestrian zones, lower speed limits and loading zones to accommodate delivery trucks turn into how dare you try to reduce the ability of drivers to race through my neighborhood? When did reducing car ownership become you’re ruining my street?
I really wanted to find out. Boy, did I find out!
The latest chapter of this ongoing bikelash saga all started innocently enough: I asked town hall organizer Schellie Hagan to write an op-ed articulating her group’s position that I would publish — without editing. Here’s what Hagan sent over:
One July night this summer the Department of Transportation eliminated parking on Greene Avenue. WITHOUT WARNING. Cars were booted and towed. Enraged owners turned on the DOT and got their parking back. For now.
No one doesn’t think retreat on Greene Avenue isn’t as temporary as a “temporary pedestrian plaza.” The DOT is taking away parking everywhere — a few spots here, a few hundred (400 on CPW) there — for any reason, including for electric cars not yet born.
Drivers have been the butt of DOT animus since Commissioner [Janette] Sadik-Khan and Vision Zero. Parking is the last straw. Drivers are fed up and angry and mobilizing. Not gonna take it anymore.
I told Hagan that I really wanted a fuller articulation of her position. I told her that I was offering her prime space on my livable community’s website to make a strong argument, but all she wrote was, “DOT wants to remove parking.” I told her that I think it’s vital for her side to argue its point and tell the public why removing parking from the public right of way is bad public policy.
Here’s what she wrote back: “I don’t have time to work on anything just now, and not sure why to do at all. I don’t ‘need to argue why removing parking is bad public policy.’ I don’t need to do that. If you want to argue it’s good policy, please, play on!”
I wrote back that I actually think she does need to articulate a position and engage with the broader public in this car-minority city. I told her that “Anything else looks selfish and self-serving. Curbside space is public space. So make your argument. I’ll print it!”
She disagreed: “I don’t work for you,” she wrote. “Please find someone else to write what you want. Or write it yourself.”
Ah, write it myself. So that’s where we are now.
I decided that since Hagan wouldn’t defend her position, I’d ask Council Speaker Corey Johnson about it. Johnson was at a press conference Tuesday morning to rally support for his “Streets Master Plan” bill, which calls for 50 miles of protected bike lanes every year. The speaker has been a strong supporter of elimination thousands, if not tens of thousands, of miles of public curbspace that is currently being used for the storage of privately owned property. Unlike Hagan, Johnson was happy to “work” for me.
“This is about saving lives,” he said. “When we need to make upgrades to our city streets for bike lanes, for further pedestrianization, for bus lanes, that is going to mean we have to remove some parking spaces. And that is the appropriate thing to do. We cannot allow private automobiles to be prioritized over the lives of New Yorkers who are trying to get around in a safe way. It’s about showing leadership and showing that it is time to reorient our priorities.”
I quote the speaker not just because he’s right, but because his comments underscore an incredible irony. I have been covering New York City for 30 years, mostly as a community reporter who covered neighborhood fights such as Riverside South, Atlantic Yards, and the Williamsburg-Greenpoint upzoning, and it’s incredible to see that the people leading the current pro-car/pro-parking bikelash — and who are doing so in the name of “saving” their “neighborhood” — are the same people who used the same language to stop boondoggle projects that misused public money and space to enrich developers.
I heard it on the Upper West Side earlier this summer when a condo board in one of the most expensive buildings in town sued the city to block a bike lane because it would remove curbside spaces they consider private space for their cars. The Upper West Side is where progressivism was born for Christ’s sake — it’s where people like those condo residents fought against the Time Warner Center tower on Columbus Circle (shadows in the park) and huge projects by Brodsky and Trump (massive impact on existing subway infrastructure).
Now I’m hearing it from Hagan. Ironically, Hagan (and her co-organizer Lucy Koteen) were at the forefront of the fight against Atlantic Yards, Bruce Ratner’s plan a decade ago to bring thousands of units of housing, a dozen skyscrapers and a basketball arena to Fort Greene and Prospect Heights — two very low-rise residential neighborhoods. Hagan’s rhetoric at the time was that these buildings would overwhelm her communities.
She was right then. So how come she can’t see that cars are overwhelming her neighborhood now?
I guess we won’t know. She doesn’t work for me.
Gersh Kuntzman is editor of Streetsblog. When he gets really angry, he writes the “Cycle of Rage” column. Prior posts are archived here.