The Department of Transportation unveiled another new new look for 34th Street on Monday, and despite my earlier doom and gloom, the proposed design isn’t all bad. Despite giving more space over to cars and parking while removing many of the benefits for pedestrians, it seemingly prioritizes buses and does give more sidewalk space to those who most need it.
Per the latest DOT presentation, 34th Street’s new look will feature dedicated — but not physically separated — bus lanes as well as bus bulbs and more curbside space. Traffic will be confined to one late in each direction, and from 9th Ave. to 3rd Ave., only one side of the street will enjoy precious curbside access. Plus, the MTA will institute pre-boarding fare payment procedures this year, thus speeding up the bus in the process.
During the presentation last night, DOT officials spoke about their goals for 34th Street. As it stands right now, the street plays host to 33,000 bus riders per day, but the vehicles average only 4.5 miles per hour. It also features some of the most tourist-laden sidewalks in the city and, as the Far West Side emerges as a residential and commercial hub, will play host to future growth.
Meanwhile, with input from the community, DOT tried to incorporate a variety of aspects into the new plan. While the old Transitway reserved most space for pedestrians and buses, the new proposal called for shared road space. DOT tried to “improve curbside access wherever possible” while also maintaining two-way traffic. Despite the focus on cars, though, the department also wanted to make sure that pedestrian improvements were key. Thus, the new plan includes 18000 square feet of new pedestrian space while increasing daytime loading spots from 55 to 355. As compromises goes, this one, while far from ideal, isn’t awful.
The future for 34th Street, though, is still hazy. Nearly four years after the Transitway was first presented to the public, DOT still has another year to go on this new plan. It will conduct open houses on March 30th and 31st before presenting a traffic analysis in the fall and an environmental assessment report by early 2012. We’d be lucky to see these badly needed street improvements before the next presidential election. That’s a timeline far too elongated by rampant NIMBYism.
And that brings me to this interesting article in The Times’ Week in Review. Noting the small but loud minority of folks who hate the Prospect Park bike lane, Elisabeth Rosenthal accuses liberals in particular of espousing green development — except for when it impacts their lives. She writes:
Nimbyism is nothing new. It’s even logical sometimes, perhaps not always deserving of opprobrium. After all, it is one thing to be a passionate proponent of recycling, and another to welcome a particular recycling plant — with the attendant garbage-truck traffic — on your street. General environmental principles may be at odds with convenience or even local environmental consequences.
But policymakers in the United States have been repeatedly frustrated by constituents who profess to worry about the climate and count themselves as environmentalists, but prove unwilling to adjust their lifestyles or change their behavior in any significant way. In Europe, bike lanes crisscross cities, wind turbines appear in counties with high-priced country homes and plants that make green energy from waste are situated in even the wealthiest neighborhoods. So what is going on here?
Robert B. Cialdini, an emeritus professor at Arizona State University who studies environmental behaviors, points to two phenomena: Humans hew to the “normative” behaviors of their community. In places where bike lanes or wind turbines or B.R.T. systems are seen as an integral part of society, people tend not protest a new one; if they are not the norm, they will. Second, whatever feelings people have about abstract issues like the environment, in practice they react more passionately to immediate rewards and punishments (like a ready parking space) than distant consequences (like the threat of warming).
It’s something to chew on at least as we’ve seen an ambitious plan for 34th street pared down to some relatively minor bus improvements. Of course, NIMBYism is a curse and a blessing for any democracy, but at some point, those of us who espouse pedestrian- and transit-oriented development have to win those folks over to our side. Along 34th Street, we didn’t, and the future plans are worst off for it.