Month: June 2010

Background, French, Kreyol

Planet Money on Haitian jitneys

Photo: Travis Fox

Here’s a great Planet Money video where you get to see Adam Davidson figuring out why jitneys in Haiti are painted so vibrantly. However, I think there’s a mistranslation at 3:48 in the video.

Driver Patrick Toulousma is translated as saying “One can read the skill of a driver from the exterior of the vehicle in question,” and Davidson, clearly not a Creole speaker, goes with that.

I don’t know Creole myself, but it sure sounds like Standard French to me, and pretty formal:  “On peut lire l’image du chauffeur à travers la véhicule en question,” literally,  “One can read the image of the driver through the vehicle in question.” If a Parisian said that to me I would translate it as, “You can pick up on the driver’s image by looking at their vehicle.”

What does Toulousma mean by “image”? I’m guessing he’s referring to glamour, which Cap’n Transit argues can influence people’s decisions about a single trip.

Commentary, Queens, Traffic calming

Parking on Queens Boulevard: Good for business, good for safety

This appears today as a letter to the editor, on Page 8 of the Woodside Herald (PDF).

In a June 4 op-ed, Sunnyside Chamber of Commerce President Ira Greenberg laid out the Chamber’s transportation agenda for making Queens Boulevard better for business. One of his top recommendations was to allow for parking along the Boulevard at all times. This would not only be good for business, but it would also make the Boulevard safer for pedestrians.

For most of the day parking is allowed along Queens Boulevard, but from 7 to 10AM every weekday, there are No Standing zones on the north side of Queens Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue. From 4 to 7PM, the south side of Queens Boulevard, Roosevelt Avenue and one block of 43rd Avenue are No Standing zones.

This restriction means that if morning drivers commuting to Manhattan stop for juice from Go Natural, they get parking tickets. Evening drivers who stop to pick up a bottle of wine from Lowery Liquors get tickets. Drivers who don’t want tickets shop elsewhere, and that means that Sunnyside gets the pollution, noise and danger from the cars passing through, but receives no economic benefit to offset any of it.

The rush hour parking restriction is not just an economic hardship. Queens Boulevard in Sunnyside has been the site of numerous pedestrian injuries and at least four deaths. There is a very real danger of out-of-control cars injuring people on the sidewalk. In 2007, the New York Times reported that a sixteen-year-old boy named Gonpo Dorjee was seriously injured while waiting to cross the Boulevard at 47th Street. He was unable to walk for months.

One thing that protects pedestrians like Dorjee from speeding cars is parked cars. Without the parked cars, the only things protecting pedestrians from a wayward vehicle are the parking meters, and they will be replaced by muni-meters in a few years. As Ira wrote, “Pedestrians waiting to cross every block feel unsafe as they stand inches from fast moving vehicles.” When we feel unsafe, we shop elsewhere. A double-whammy for the stores along Queens Boulevard: less business from drivers, and less business from pedestrians.

This parking restriction is a relic of the old Department of Transportation, where moving traffic was more important than business or safety. Over the past several years the DOT has made protecting lives a higher priority. We have already seen this change on Skillman, 43rd and Barnett Avenues, where speeds have gone down and injuries are less common.

Removing the rush hour parking restriction is the next step in the direction of safety. It would not have protected Gonpo Dorjee, because he was hit on the corner, but it will protect thousands more. It will also bring more customers to Sunnyside businesses, in cars and on foot. Good for business, good for safety, good for Sunnyside.

Background, Commentary, Queens, zoning

Report from the Zoning presentation

After tonight’s zoning presentation, I am fairly well satisfied that the current proposal is a good one. The existing zoning requires developers to build too many parking spaces, and the proposal would reduce those requirements as much as is feasible.

I had a chance to talk briefly with Tom Smith, the planner who is most directly involved in this project. He pointed out that my R5B proposal would invite people to tear down existing single-family houses and replace them with multi-family homes that would then be required to have more than one space per lot, resulting in a net increase in cars. Essentially, the R4 and R4-1 zones are the best we can hope for without rewriting the zoning code.

The most promising prospect for reducing parking requirements would be to expand the “Long Island City subject area” (PDF) to include Sunnyside and Woodside. That’s a much bigger deal, though, and I can understand why they didn’t want to bring it up in this rezoning.

With regard to the zoning of Sunnyhills and the Phipps Gardens, Tom observed that any new development would essentially require “a gas explosion” and maybe an earthquake too, so I didn’t need to be concerned about that. In the current draft, Sunnyside Towers would be rezoned R6A, which conforms to its current use.

There is a proposal to amend the zoning code, which prohibits sidewalk cafes on any street with an elevated railroad, except for a specific list of streets. The amendment would add Queens Boulevard to that list, which makes a lot of sense because the el does not cover the street there. I fully support this part of the proposal. Lily Gavin was in attendance, and I mentioned that I look forward to eating al fresco at Dazie’s someday.

The other people who spoke had various objections and concerns. A couple of them agreed with me about reducing parking requirements. Al Volpe disagreed with me, but chose to take a bizarre dig at bicycles, which hadn’t been mentioned up to that point. Gert McDonald of the United Forties spoke about providing parking for everyone, but I was distracted while she was speaking, so I didn’t hear everything she said. If anyone else heard her argument, please fill me in.

A number of people, including Angel Gil and Sherry Gamlin, pointed to the crowding in the schools and asked if there was a way to get more school space to accommodate the increase in population. I agree completely: my son’s second grade classroom squeezes 29 kids into a trailer, and it makes things difficult. John Young from City Planning said that when the proposal is finalized it will include an estimate of the potential population increase, but he did not discuss any steps that could be taken to accommodate that increase, either with schools or with transit.

Young said that once the proposal is finalized, it will have to be reviewed by the Community Board, the Borough President, the City Planning Commission and the City Council. Each group will have to hold hearings, and the entire process takes around seven months. I will keep an eye on the proposals and try to make sure that no districts with high parking requirements creep in, but please let me know if you see any.

So far this looks like a good proposal. I appreciate the efforts of Jimmy Van Bramer and his staff, Joe Conley and the Community Board, and the City Planning staff, to make the process accessible and understandable to all.