Forum Tackles Pedestrian Safety, Overdevelopment
BY SAM SPOKONY | Pedestrian safety was a hot topic at an April 21 community forum at the Hudson Guild community center on West 26th Street, marked by the announcement from Councilmember Corey Johnson that he believes new speed humps will soon be coming to that very street.
The news came in the middle of the forum — which was hosted by the Hudson Guild’s Senior Advisory Council and Neighborhood Advisory Committee — when Johnson responded to a question from residents of the Chelsea-Elliot Houses, the public housing development located between West 25th and West 27th Streets and Ninth and Tenth Avenues. Those residents have long called for the installation of speed humps on West 26th Street, between Ninth and Tenth Avenues, to slow traffic and protect residents of the development — especially seniors and children who utilize the playground and public space on that block, which sits just outside the Hudson Guild entrance.
So, the residents asked, when are those speed humps coming?
“Very soon,” said Johnson, who explained that he’s had one-on-one conversations with new Department of Transportation (DOT) Commissioner Polly Trottenberg about traffic safety issues in Chelsea, and specifically about the new measures for West 26th Street.
“[Trottenberg] has told us, ‘If you give us specific locations where we can immediately make a change that’s going to make a street safer, we’re going to do it,’ ” Johnson continued. “So we’ve put this issue front and center with DOT multiple times, and we’ll be following up again this week to see what the status [of the speed humps] is. But I can tell you that they’re very aware of this issue, and we’ll continue to push for it.”
A spokesperson for the DOT — which will have to approve the installation — confirmed on April 22 that those discussions with Johnson have taken place. Although a review of the speed hump request is ongoing, the spokesperson did not state that the DOT has yet agreed to move forward with the new safety measures. Instead, the rep told Chelsea Now that the DOT will continue its analysis of the street and provide an update on the review at some point in the future.
AVID CYCLIST HOYLMAN BACKS CONSEQUENCES FOR BAD DRIVING
Another issue raised at the forum — which also featured State Senator Brad Hoylman, State Assemblymember Dick Gottfried and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer — involved ongoing concerns from Chelsea seniors about rogue bicyclists and their effect on pedestrian safety. That came on the heels of Johnson’s March 25 town hall meeting, when NYPD Captain David Miller, commander of the 10th Precinct, stressed that his officers are continuing to ramp up enforcement against cyclists who ride outside bike lanes or blow through red lights.
Many local seniors, especially those living at the Penn South co-ops along the busy Eighth Avenue bike lane, believe that enforcement of those rules is still lacking, especially considering that 68 bike accidents occurred within Chelsea last year.
All of the electeds generally agreed that more resources should be provided to the NYPD in order to catch and ticket bad cyclists, while also stating their belief that DOT should take the initiative on putting forth more comprehensive public education materials for bikers, especially with the advent of Citi Bike in many city neighborhoods. But Hoylman — perhaps surprisingly, given his penchant for Citi Bike and cycling in general — went a bit further in his thoughts on potential actions.
“I believe there should be consideration for creating a specific bicycle enforcement unit within the NYPD, which could set and uphold stricter standards for all cyclists,” said Hoylman, who actually rode a bike to the forum that night. “And if a cyclist injures someone really severely, then maybe that person should not be cycling any more, or maybe we should have a ‘three strikes and you’re out’ policy like we have with some driving infractions.”
“I hope this isn’t headed toward licensing of all cyclists, or other laws that will restrict the rights of cyclists,” the state senator continued, “but if things don’t get better [in terms of pedestrian safety], then everything should be on the table.”
Those words got some applause from the approximately 100 residents attending the forum, the vast majority of whom were seniors.
SUPPORT FOP PRE-ULURP PLANNING
A very different topic raised at the forum — but certainly one that inspires just as much passion among longtime Chelsea residents — focused on concerns regarding both luxury residential and commercial overdevelopment.
In response to a question about what the elected officials are doing to push back on big developers, Brewer shared a strategy that she and other officials have already put into practice farther Downtown, at the South Street Seaport. In that case, the Howard Hughes Corporation plans to go through ULURP (the city’s Uniform Land Use Review Procedure), which requires input from the local community board and borough president — as well as approval from the City Council — in order to move forward with a rezoning to allow for a major mixed-use development at the historic site.
But before the ULURP could begin, Brewer helped form a committee — including local elected officials, community board members, residents and representatives for the developer — that aims to create a development plan that is more palatable to the local community than Howard Hughes’ original plan, which included a 600-foot tower. Those committee meetings have already begun, and more will take place before the plan enters the ULURP process.
“This is how we can start to curtail some of the overdevelopment, by starting way in advance, and at the community board level,” said Brewer. “It’s a great way to see what people really want out of a new development, before the formal process even moves forward.”
Johnson agreed that there are currently flaws in the ULURP process, at least from the perspective of local communities.
“In many ways, it’s a broken process, and it’s a process that really benefits developers first, because community boards and borough presidents only have an advisory role,” Johnson said of ULURP.
Brewer’s approach at the Seaport could be a big step forward in bringing those stakeholders more deeply into the process, the pols agreed.
“The key is that we can’t just keep fighting battle by battle, development site by development site,” said Johnson. “We need to look at the big picture here, by reforming the land use process itself.”