The Street Wizard of Copenhagen is coming to New York. That's a big deal, and great news for bicyclists and pedestrians: Danish planner Jan Gehl made his name by formulating little fixes — a plaza here, a planter there — that vastly improved pedestrian life in his home city and others from Milan to Dublin. New Transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, along with Planning commissioner Amanda Burden, took a field trip to meet him last month, and she told us last night that she's hiring him for Big Apple projects. Sadik-Khan won't say yet what he'll be working on in New York, but his firm, Gehl Architects, studies street use and designs ways to encourage it — so we suspect Department of Transportation leaders want him to make local landmarks more pleasant for walking, biking, or waiting for the light to change. Maybe he'll unchoke the Times Square bow tie, for instance, or propose ways to cross Brooklyn's Grand Army Plaza in less than 30 minutes. Presumably he's open to suggestion. —Alec AppelbaumEarlier:What Does Socialite/Planner Amanda Burden Do on Vacation?
Okay, we're prepared to make a prediction: Marvelous Mike Bloomberg is going to win his congestion-pricing battle. Spitzer and the Bush administration are both on his side, State Senate leader Joe Bruno has said nice things, and at the Assembly hearing on his plan — held today at the Bar Association Building in midtown, and the only hearing scheduled on the matter before the legislative session ends later this month — Bloomberg more than held his own. He successfully parried the major misgivings about the plan — that its costs would mostly fall on moderate-income 718-ers and that its cameras would compromise personal privacy — and urged the state to join his bid for some $400 million in federal setup funds before the late-summer deadline.
As the battle over congestion pricing builds toward hearings in the State Assembly at the end of this week, the MTA — a state agency not always on the same page as City Hall — is starting to look like a Bloomberg ally. At a hobnobbers' breakfast this morning, MTA chief Elliott Sander offered his warmest words yet for what he adroitly renamed "value pricing." Staring at potential operating deficits of more than $1 billion annually by 2010, Sander acknowledged the plan's alluring promise of revenue and predicted that his agency could "align demand with supply" to accommodate riders who ditch their cars.
Don't count on Bloomberg's congestion-pricing plans quite yet, you northern city-slickers. Seems the great state of Georgia might beat us to the federal money the mayor is counting on to fund the implementation of his plan. Outside a New School forum on urban issues this morning, Atlanta Mayor Shirley Franklin gently told us that her suburban neighbors in Fulton and DeKalb Counties have already voted to join Atlanta in expanding a tax to fund rapid transit, and Washington demands cities show proof of matching funds to get this federal money. "That puts us at the top of the list for federal funding," Mayor Franklin explained. "Our local people are willing to tax themselves, and that's a big hit in Washington." Albany, meantime, has yet to give Bloomberg the money he needs to show the Feds we're all on the same page. "If Atlanta is the economic hub of the state, the state has to take leadership on public transit," Franklin said. "And you could make the same argument in New York." Hey, we're trying. —Alec AppelbaumEarlier:PlaNYC Fine Print: Waiting for Albany
Congestion pricing is hardly the only idea Mayor Bloomberg has to separate Manhattan motorists from their money. He's now proposing harsher penalties for "blocking the box." Under his plan the fine will only go up from $90 to $115. Even better, instead of a cop pulling the culprit over in the middle of traffic to write a ticket, probably worsening the jam in the process, a red-light camera will simply snap a picture of the offender's license plate. Before you know it, the ticket's in the mail. Incidentally, the new rule should open up a nice and steady revenue source for the city, as new research suggests we don't know what the hell we're doing behind the wheel. In a recent nationwide test of driver knowledge, New Yorkers finished dead last; even New Jerseyans did better. One of the questions asked the proper protocol for approaching a yellow light. The answer was, shockingly, not "honk and floor it."
'Block'-Heads Better Beware [NYP]
New Yorkers Stop For Yellow Light? Hey, Fuhgeddaboudit! [NYDN]
Rosie O'Donnell's chief writer at The View was busted for drawing mustaches on pictures of arch-nemesis Elisabeth Hasselback. Accused D.C. Madam Deborah Jeane Palfrey wants to publicize more names from her client list, but ABC News says there are no other even remotely noteworthy names on it. David Blaine wants to jump off the Brooklyn Bridge. (Please!) Mary-Kate Olsen and Matthew Modine are set to join the cast of Weeds. The maps have been removed from Jodi's Shortcuts, the semi-famous Hamptons traffic-avoidance routes. Callers trying to reach Sarah Silverman as part of an MTV Movie Awards promo have been accidentally dialing some company in Texas.
Mayor Bloomberg has said he wants the State Legislature to act on his congestion-pricing proposals this session — which means in the next month, as the session ends in mid-June — and an influential state senator thinks that it's doable if the mayor stresses the public-health benefits of the plan. Senator Bill Perkins, a longtime Harlem pol, told us outside a panel discussion this morning that Bloomberg should stress how decreased traffic can lead to cleaner air and lower asthma rates, as a similar plan did in London. Kids' health is indeed one of Bloomberg's passions, but Perkins says that point hasn't gotten through in Albany. So far, he said, "the message has a businessman's flavor to it." A shift in rhetoric, the state senator said, could well lead to the needed legislation. "It's difficult, but it's possible," he said. —Alec Appelbaum
Mayor Bloomberg wants his congestion-pricing plan, and he wants it now. That's what he told a largely sympathetic, lunch-sated audience at the Regional Plan Association's annual meeting today, when he said he'll insist Albany approves funding for PlaNYC's congestion-pricing and transit measures in the next six weeks. The necessary legislation will "have to be in this legislative session," he said in one of several deviations from his prepared text — and the legislative session ends in the middle of next month. "The reason the legislature doesn't do what we want is we haven't gone to them and said, give us what we need, or else," the mayor said in another improvised bit. Later in the speech, he turned more conciliatory, reiterating a promise to implement short-term transit improvements like extra traffic cops in 22 driver-heavy neighborhoods. "The leaders in Albany really want to get together and get this going," he added. "It will be a phenomenal legacy for them." Let's see if they agree. —Alec Appelbaum
Mayor Bloomberg announced this afternoon that environmentalists' preferred candidate, Janette Sadik-Khan, will be the new commissioner of the Transportation Department. Sadik-Kahn's appointment had been rumored since last week, and her selection puts muscle behind the transit element of Bloomberg's PlaNYC green goals, like instituting congestion pricing in Manhattan. Indeed, the city has submitted a "conditional application" for federal funds to help pay for the congestion-pricing experiment in advance of a Monday deadline, Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff said at the same press conference, though the state must also join the application and hasn't yet done so. Bloomberg was working the angles. "The geography of New York lends itself to something like this," he said. "It will make deliveries quicker for trucking companies, and it's a godsend for them … This will clean up our air and improve our economy, and the fact that money is available for technology that has been refined in other cities is a lucky thing, so I'm terribly optimistic." If only the road to Washington didn't go through Albany, we'd be optimistic too. —Alec Appelbaum
Mayor Bloomberg might be getting the credit — or the blame, depending on where you sit — for his pushing the idea of battling Manhattan traffic by instituting a fee to drive in prime neighborhoods at peak hours, but the truth is it's not his call. It's the state's. To start, no municipality can limit access to public roads without the state's okay. And even with that okay, to pay for the necessary infrastructure — how the city will track cars and bill their drivers — Bloomberg wants to apply for funding from a $1.2 billion federal fund, and federal rules say the state would have to join that application. Finally, to make clear that the city isn't merely seeking to burden outer-borough and suburban drivers, Bloomberg is promising major transit improvements to allow people to get into the city center without driving — and he plans to pay for those improvements with funds raised by the congestion fees, a city contribution, and an equal state contribution. Bloomberg has promised $200 million from this year's city budget; the state so far has promised nothing. To help convince legislators, the city is proposing 22 projects to help neighborhoods with high numbers of car commuters get better mass-transit access to midtown. So the question becomes: Will an imminent project to let buses escape some traffic lights on Staten Island's Victory Boulevard — one of those 22 plans — be enough to convince Albany to support the plan? We'll see. —Alec Appelbaum
• The mayor will use Earth Day to unveil a barrage of housing, transit, and environmental proposals. In the spotlight today: a charge for drivers to enter midtown, a cabbies' dream and car commuters' nightmare. [NYT]
• Governor Spitzer is requesting FEMA aid, including disaster unemployment relief, for twelve counties hit hard by the weekend's nor'easter. New York City is in line for some federal funds as well. [WSTM]
• Albany, meantime, is proposing the so-called Paw and Claw Tax (on pet food, natch), with the money going toward shelters. The tax would apply to "dogs, cats, gerbils, hamsters, rabbits and birds." Your ferret is now a bargain. [NYS]
• Tom Cruise, whom the Post now dubs "the diminutive Scientologist," hit Chelsea (an easy joke there) to raise funds for his questionable sauna-and-vitamins program for 9/11 emergency workers. Reporters were banned. [NYP]
• And it took two fumbling attempts for the NYPD scuba team to tow the departed Sludgie the Whale from Gowanus to his final resting place in Jersey City. Deadpanned one detective by way of equivocation, "This was my first whale." [WNBC]
Park Slope residents continued to set the standard for urban self-regard last night at New York Methodist Hospital, killing a Department of Transportation proposal in overwrought style. The department had proposed making Sixth and Seventh Avenues one-way in order to reduce traffic accidents. Local outcry was so strong they suspected a cabal to hurtle Nets fans through the streets the proposal was pretty much dead before the meeting even started. Since the lecture room was packed with about 250 people, another 200 clogged an anteroom in hopes of telling off Deputy Commissioner Michael Primeggia and giving their children (many of whom were, of course, there) a civics lesson.
A city planning guru dropped hints Monday that Team Bloomberg might be considering "congestion pricing" to charge drivers for the privilege of adding to gridlock, and today Deputy Mayor Dan Doctoroff the chief planning guru did nothing to discourage the speculation. Speaking at the annual meeting of the New York Metropolitcan Transportation Council, a regional body that coordinates federal transportation funds, Doctoroff talked of needing "a shift in the way we use automobiles" and called "congestion road, transit and pedestrian" the city's main barrier to growth. He also noted that taxes and user fees funded the 1811 street grid, the dedication of Central Park, and the city's water network. "Those who benefit should pay," he said. Was he hinting at a new fee on driving or cars? Providing political cover for an MTA fare increase? Telling the suburban county chiefs in attendance to look out for a commuter tax? It remains to be seen. But he did promise to issue the mayor's sustainability plan in early April, just before tax time. —Alec AppelbaumEarlier:Bloomberg's Planners Hear Public on Traffic Woes, Would Rather Talk About Something Else
In 2002, with the "primary cleanup" of ground zero barely over, the city quickly built and paved a service road connecting the World Trade Center site to West Street. Only gradually, and without much help from the media, it is becoming clear exactly how massive a screwup it was. Since Mayor Bloomberg reordered the search for human remains last October, medical examiners freed 445 "potential" body parts from beneath the road. Finally, after months and months of new grisly discoveries, the city is facing the obvious: A new, large-scale excavation is in order.
Back in December, when civic groups proposed the idea of "congestion pricing" — charging cars to enter midtown during prime hours, as a way to control Manhattan's ever-more-horrible traffic — Mayor Bloomberg quickly danced away from it. "The politics of a commuter tax in Albany are probably such that we would never get it passed," he told the Times then. "And what I want to do is focus on those things that we can get passed to help our city." He's since launched PlaNYC, a canvass for opinions about how to help the city survive a million new residents and sharply higher sea levels by 2030, and it seems congestion pricing has wedged its way back into consideration.
If you're like us, you've probably tried to reconcile your daily observations of forever-snarled Manhattan traffic with the fact that neither you, nor anyone you know, owns a car. Then, if you're like us, you've assumed that it's all suburban commuters' fault. If so, the Times has some shocking revelations for you today. The data:
• Total number of daily car commuters in Manhattan: 263,000
• Number of those commuters who live within the five boroughs: 141,000
• Percentage of total commuters who live within the five boroughs: 53
• Number of those commuters who live in Queens: 51,300
• Percentage of total commuters who live in Queens: 19.5
• Number of those commuters who live in Manhattan: 23,900
• Percentage of total commuters who live in Manhattan: 9
• Percentage of total commuters who merely pass through Manhattan en route elsewhere: 20
• Percentage of government workers who drive to work: 35
• Amount those government workers pay for parking: $0In Traffic's Jam, Who's Driving May Be Surprising [NYT]
We noted several weeks ago the city's ambitious new plan to dedicate whole lanes of traffic to ultrafast buses with their own curbside turnstiles. And how would these buses battle unauthorized motorists slipping in and out of the lanes? By snapping pictures of them and ratting them out to the city. Nice. But not nearly as effective as a high-tech — yet awesomely brutal — solution implemented in Great Britain. Marvel at cars getting mauled by weight-sensing, automated retractable bollards.
Bollard Porn [StreetsBlog]
Earlier:It's a Bird, It's a Plane, It's a … Bus!
The idea of congestion pricing — putting a bit of a squeeze on all drivers entering Manhattan below 60th Street on weekdays —- has been around for a while. In recent weeks, however, it's suddenly begun to get traction, and, as the Sun reports today, it now seems that City Hall will apply for federal funds next year to study the idea. Who's so excited about the issue? Well, first, the Partnership for New York City, a group of 200 big-business CEOs, is about to release a report that will claim a better-than-expected response to the idea. Second, a major consulting firm is phone-polling the hell out of the citizens about the issue. (For an added dash of mystery, the firm's client is not being disclosed.) And third, the Manhattan Institute will host a panel on the issue this Thursday. Congestion pricing, as Aaron Naparstek reports in this week's magazine, was invented up at Columbia at 1951. And the best argument for reducing Manhattan traffic is that it's somehow taken 55 years for the concept to travel about 140 blocks down Broadway to City Hall.
Fees to Ease Midtown Traffic Jams May Get a New Look From City Hall [NYS]
Unlocking the Gridlock [NYM]
Last night, Jada Yuan, New York's intrepid party reporter, witnessed a rarity: Red-carpet gridlock. At right, arrivals for the premiere of Denzel Washington's Déjà Vu at the Ziegfeld. At left, arrivals for the International Emmy Awards at the Hilton. At center, West 54th Street, jammed with limos, camera crews, and the occasional Hummer.
Only in New York, kids.
Boerum Hill: City replaces stop signs with traffic light at one intersection, and neighbors aren't pleased. [Streets Blog]
Boerum Hill: Who you gonna call? Well, don't bother with the police, if you live on a block stuck between two precincts. [NYDN]
East Village and Lower East Side: Work continues on East River Park, with 6th Street running track reopened and overall project set for final completion in 2008. [Grand Street News]
Fort Greene: There's a new church coming, but don't tell the local prostitutes. [Brownstoner]
Harlem: There's some weird architecture — an old-school front porch, a very new-school modern thing — on East 128th Street townhouses. [Bagel in Harlem]
Lower East Side: Proposed neighborhood-friendly LES rezoning may not be as neighborhood-friendly as it's cracked up to be. [LoHo 10002]
Lower East Side: Thanks to construction-detritus pulverized Styrofoam, you can play in the snow even when it's 60-plus degrees out. [What About the Plastic Animals? via Curbed]