Sunday, November 23, 2008

Sunday Eye Candy: Avenue J

avenue J

Waiting for the Q Train at Avenue J in Midwood, Brooklyn. We'd just taken the BCUE Ditmas Park walking tour and had a couple of life-changing slices at DiFara Pizza. The almost-winter sunset seen through the trees contrasted nicely with the stark fluorescent-lit platform below and accentuated the chill.

Friday, November 21, 2008

Officer Beyoncé in Latest
Bedford Brutality Incident

Police roughing folks up at the Williamsburg crossroads of Bedford and North 7th is no longer reserved for political revelers nor panda protesters. In the latest incident shown above, singer Beyoncé Knowles is seen womanhandling a suspected shoplifter at the popular Bedford Avenue bodega Deli Mart, in the new video for her song "If I Were a Boy".

If I Were a Boy [YouTube] (link mercifully jumps directly to the Deli Mart scene)

Tuesday, November 18, 2008

Burg Transit Riders Would be Crushed
Under MTA's 'Doomsday' Budget

g train flooded courtesy of Lesterhead on flickr

Of the five subway lines that serve Williamsburg, two would see service cut in half, and one would be closed entirely, under a new "doomsday" budget contingency to be presented at the MTA's monthly meeting on Thursday.

As part of the 'worst case' plan designed to close a projected $1.2 billion budget gap, the M line, and the perennial stepchild G train would both see 50% service reductions, and the Z train, which connects Williamsburg's Broadway Avenue to the Lower East Side, would be eliminated entirely.

The dramatic cuts would likely coincide with a historically unprecedented fare increase of perhaps a dollar per ride or more.

All this, potentially coming at a time when Williamsburg is splitting at the seams with new residents, neighborhood parking availability is at an all-time low, and financial and environmental concerns have seen a big uptick in subway ridership.

Maybe its time to go check out those new Kent Avenue bike lanes?

Report: MTA To Slash Jobs, Multiple Subway Lines []

Wednesday, November 12, 2008

East River State Park Closing for Winter;
State Budget Cuts to Blame


Waterfront access on Williamsburg's Northside will get worse before it gets better. Today's New York Post reports that the park gates will be locked from January through March "as part of Governor Paterson's sweeping budget cuts".

The short article manages to work in a "hipster sunbathers" reference as well as a quote from an NYC parks watchdog group saying "closing a park is unheard of in modern times".

This announcement makes us particularly bitter, as the notion of improved waterfront access was touted as the single real giveback to neighborhood residents when politicians and developers were promoting the 2005 rezoning plan. In exchange for living with years of noisy, dirty construction; a hundred-foot high wall of buildings blocking waterfront views; soaring rental prices; and a permanent increase in traffic and subway congestion, a spectacular new waterfront promenade would provide unprecedented neighborhood access to the East River.

After three years, we've received all the downside, and none of the upside in the form of the promised waterfront promenade. The North 5th Street pier - part of Toll Brothers Northside Piers complex - has been complete for seven months and handed over to the Parks Department, but remains off-limits while city attorneys dawdle over paperwork.

Now the State Park (although not officially a part of the rezone) will be closed for a quarter of the year - effectively sealing the waterfront from Grand Ferry Park at Grand Street for twenty five blocks to the barricaded end of Java Street - that's 1.2 continuous miles of East River frontage suddenly off-limits to residents.

We understand the state is in a fiscal crisis. But we never understood to begin with why the State Park needs to have a locked gate and payrolled park rangers, when most city parks operate just fine with occasional maintenance. East River State Park doesn't even have furniture (besides a few picnic tables) to vandalize or trees to prune for gosh sakes. Open the damn gates and send one of your State Parks cars by every few hours. Consolidate the rangers with the ones watching Brooklyn Bridge park in DUMBO. Bam! Budget problem solved!

W'Burg Park Budget Victim
[NY Post]

Friday, November 07, 2008

Ferry Tale Comes True:
North 7th Street Pier Underway

ferry pier underway
The foot of North 7th Street today...

...the foot of North 7th Street next summer?

Long-time readers of this blog know that one of our favorite memes is our obsession with getting East River ferry service to the Northside. We've posted incessantly about it since rumors were first floated by Toll Brothers that Northside Piers would have a NY Water Taxi stop.

When that bubble was burst with the new suggestion that in fact The Edge complex would get the ferry landing, we wrote an open letter to Mike Bloomberg, MTA CEO Rick Sander, and the principals of NY Water Taxi, urging them to consider a temporary ferry stop at North 7th - with access via East River State Park. We never received a reply.

But LO! On a long-overdue walk down Kent Avenue this morning, we discovered a barge-mounted crane setting piles in the river at the foot of North 7th...and a State Parks ranger matter-of-factly confirmed that the barge was, in fact, beginning work on the ferry pier!

When asked, he said he didn't believe the pier would have public access via the park (but basically acknowledged that he wouldn't know either way). And its probably a stretch - the park would have to be open much longer hours to accomodate commuters (though it IS on the park side of the MTA fan plant). So the implication is that the ferry won't begin service to North 7th until The Edge construction is complete and the North 7th dead end is safe for pedestrians. But the great news is that - by all appearances - when the street approach is ready, the pier will be ready. And that the project is happening at all, given the current economic mess.

We'll have frequent updates on this one, we promise!

Kent Ave Greenway Underway;
Safe(r) Cycling Trumps Parking

kent ave bike lane

The Greenpoint / Williamsburg portion of the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway has taken root, with new parking restrictions and bike lane markings along a 1.7 mile section of Franklin Street and Kent Avenue from Quay Street to the Brooklyn Navy Yard.

On-street parking along both sides of the heavily-traveled stretch of Kent Avenue gave way to über-restrictive red "No Stopping" signs in the wee hours of October 25th. The unannounced Saturday change resulted a slew of parking tickets (and vocal outrage) on the Southside, where orthodox Jews were unable to move their cars while observing the Shabbos.

The new lanes are still being striped as we post, but in general the interim bikeway consists of a 68" wide bike lane on both sides of Kent Avenue with a 38 - 40" hashed 'no man's land' separating the cycling and vehicle lanes. At the curve between North 12th and North 14th, the bike lanes squeeze down to 56" with a 28" buffer, to allow an enlarged separation between the north and southbound driving lanes - where drivers typically take the inside of the curve - which would now mean running over cyclists in the new southbound bike lane.

At Quay Street in Greenpoint, the bikeway reverts to existing shared car/cycle lanes, with bike route symbols stenciled in both driving lanes of Franklin Street, north to Eagle. Our understanding is that eventually the Greenway will route a block west to West Street between Quay and Eagle, but no sign of that happening as part of the immediate changes.

While this is all great news for cyclists commuting from Greenpoint and the Northside to the Williamsburg Bridge (and a change we vocally advocated at the 2007 Greenway Design Workshop), it also opens up a veritable smorgasbord of canned worms:

1. Speeding cars and trucks. By eliminating two dozen blocks of on-street parking, the 'no stopping' signs effectively double the width of open pavement, creating a psychological Autobahn for drivers. Studies have shown that the wider the open road, the faster we drive on it - and white pavement stripes just aren't the same threat to your own vehicle as a row of parked cars.

While the new real estate is a relief for cyclists used to being squeezed between careening garbage trucks and parked rearview mirrors, at least in the old days cars and trucks were frequently forced to slow down to negotiate their way around double-parked delivery trucks and protruding construction equipment, so the average speed on Kent was relatively slow. Now, with acres of open pavement in all directions, drivers are emulating Jeff Gordon on the straightaway at Talledega, and any accidents are likely to be all the more spectacular (and tragic).

When we voiced our support for the interim bikeway (over the opposing "lets wait 'til we can build the Greenway on the river's edge" viewpoint), we recommended a 'soft' barricade be provided: a row of breakaway plastic posts, or plastic Jersey barriers, creating a double-width bikeway on the west side only, with warning signage for both bikers and drivers, wherever vehicles are able to cross to the west side of Kent Avenue (much like the West Side Highway bike path in Manhattan).

2. Neighborhood parking. Politically incorect as it may be, we have a vehicle for our business. And parking on the Northside has gone from perhaps the best in the city (dead ends at the river with parking on both sides, all day, every day) - to virtually nonexistant. First went the dead-ends at North 5th, North 6th and North 7th, deeded to the developers for use in their private residential complexes. Then came construction workers by the dozens if not hundreds, nearly all driving and parking on waterfront blocks every morning. Then the 'no standing' regulations on nearly every block of Kent Avenue from North 3rd to North 9th. But there was still the fallback of reliable spaces north of North 10th, if you didn't mind a bit of a hike, and leaving your vehicle in a virtual no-mans land at night.

The Greenway advocates reassured neighborhood car owners at the design summit by assuring them that parking spaces lost to the bike lanes would be replaced by parking structures built under the new high-rises; and by on-street spaces in front of commercial properties - currently restricted during business hours - reverting to regular all-day parking - as the commercial properties were converted to residential buildings.

So far, only Northside Piers has contributed new parking spaces to the neighborhood, and while $400 per month may be a deal compared to off-street options in Manhattan, its a big pill to swallow for residents used to free on-street parking.

3. Enforcement. Since the "no stopping" placards went up, it appears there's an invisible caveat hidden somewhere on the red signs: "NO STOPPING (except for trucks, construction vehicles, and lunch wagons)". The only way the bike lanes work is if vehicles stay clear of them. Take a quick glance up and down Kent Avenue from North 6th, any time between 7 am and 5 pm weekdays, and you're sure to see a half-dozen or more delivery trucks, flatbed trailers delivering steel or prefab concrete, etc. Cyclists are forced to weave back and forth onto the and off of the Autobahn to get around them - creating a situation that's potentially more dangerous than when they puttered alongside parked cars, in plain sight of slower-moving drivers.


We don't mean to look a gift horse in the mouth here. Despite the new 20-minute parking adventure most days, we are also long-time bikers and strong advocates of cycling. And any step toward a real Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway is a step in the right direction.

Thursday, November 06, 2008

ATM World

atm world

In case there was any doubt that Williamsburg is the ATM capital of the free world - boasting 17.4 cash machines per capita - Northside Car Service has installed three brand new ATMs in front of their base on Bedford, apparently welding the kiosks to their railing.

Mind you that there's already a fourth machine inside the tiny office, should the other three be otherwise occupied. Apparently there's more money in ATM fees than in, you know, driving people around.

Wednesday, November 05, 2008

Obama Wins! 'Burg Celebrates!

obama wins! williamsburg celebrates!

As soon as the election was called and Barack made his historic acceptance speech, Williamsburg residents poured out into the streets, blocking traffic at Bedford and North 7th Streets for several hours while NYPD choppers circled overhead.

Like a scene from the late 60's, Williamsburg residents crowded hipster 'Ground Zero' from midnight 'til 3 am in a massive outpouring of emotions.

We'll never forget the scene. God Bless Barack Obama and God Bless the United States.