By Jefferson Siegel
The Village Alliance’s 16th annual meeting last Thursday saw the presentation of the first annual Norman Buchbinder Preservation Award and Janette Sadik-Khan, the Department of Transportation commissioner, give an update on the “greening” of the city.
The preservation award is named after the late Norman Buchbinder, a principal of Buchbinder & Warren real estate company. Buchbinder, who died two years ago, was a founder of the Village Alliance as well as a co-founder of the Union Square Partnership, the city’s first business improvement district, or BID.
The first annual award recognized New York University for its restoration of five historic buildings on the north side of Eighth St. between University Place and Fifth Ave. The buildings, originally constructed as townhouses in the 1830s, were remodeled into apartment buildings in 1916.
Accepting the award was Lori Mazor, N.Y.U.’s associate vice president for planning and design. In thanking the alliance, Mazor recalled how she often admired the buildings before she started working for N.Y.U.
“We are really proud that you hold us to a high standard,” Mazor told the alliance members. Presenting the award was author Tony Hiss, the resident member of the alliance’s board of directors. He is also the son of Alger Hiss, who in 1950 was convicted of spying for the Soviets but always maintained his innocence.
Before the award presentation, D.O.T. Commissioner Sadik-Khan, a Village resident, gave a detailed overview of the agency’s Sustainable Streets program. The program’s goals are to ease city traffic with a “green” approach to transportation while simultaneously improving the city’s quality of life.
Sadik-Khan, who was appointed by Mayor Bloomberg in 2007, opened her presentation by outlining D.O.T.’s focus, which has shifted from treating the streets as “utilitarian corridors” to public spaces and places for social and economic exchanges.
Sadik-Khan said Bloomberg’s PlaNYC initiative, a sustainability program for the city’s future, emphasized both expanding mass transit as well as alternative “mobility strategies,” including bicycling and congestion pricing.
“New Yorkers actually have one-third of the carbon footprint of the average American,” she said. “If you’re really serious about saving the planet, you should really move to New York City.”
One success of the intitative, Sadik-Khan said, was the experimental “select” bus service in the Bronx. Riders pay in advance and can use both doors to enter, while traffic lights recognize a bus approaching. The initiative has resulted in a 30 percent ridership increase, a 20 percent reduction in travel time and a 98 percent approval from riders.
“That’s unheard of in New York City,” she said of the approval rating.
Sadik-Khan hopes to build a dedicated network of bus lanes throughout the city, “creating much more of a surface subway system for buses.” Those plans include upcoming tests along the congested traffic corridors on First and Second Aves.
Sadik-Khan said peak-hour parking pricing is currently being tested in the West Village and Park Slope, Brooklyn.
Her discussion of cycling, another important facet of the “Sustainable Streets” program, was well-received by the gathering. Sadik-Khan said most bicycle trips are under 3 miles. Combine that with the fact that most of the city is flat, and she said the city is in a position “to become the biking capital of the nation.”
Cycling, she told the audience, adds both a new visual dimension as well as a human presence. The number of people bicycling to work has doubled since 2000. When Sadik-Khan announced a ribbon cutting in a few weeks to mark the 200th mile of new bike lanes, the room erupted in applause.
The key to increasing ridership in the bike lanes will be building more protected lanes, another comment met by applause. In the past two years, protected bike lanes have appeared along Ninth Ave. in Chelsea and, most recently, along Eighth Ave. from the West Village to Chelsea.
Another benefit of protected bike lanes is a 50 percent reduction of pedestrian injuries from traffic, she noted. Sadik-Khan said a two-way bike lane will be tested later this summer on Kent Ave. in Brooklyn.
The room again broke into applause when Sadik-Khan looked ahead to the next phase of green transport, a public bike-sharing program. As she spoke, a slide of bikes with a yellow checker-cab design appeared on a screen. She compared the plan to a similar project in Paris that resulted in a seven-fold increase in biking there after the first year.
Sadik-Khan said she’d be traveling to Montreal this week to examine their “Bixi” bike-sharing program. Bixi includes 3,000 bikes available at 300 locations throughout Montreal. Fees range from a $5 daily rate to an annual $78 subscription. “Bixi” is derived from the words “bicycle” and “taxi.”
Another D.O.T. initiative is a proposal before the City Council requiring all new office buildings to include indoor bike parking.
Sadik-Khan discussed the successful reclamation of outdoor spaces for public use, including building public plazas in Times, Herald and Madison squares, and on lower Ninth Ave. in the Meatpacking District.
“So far, so good,” she said of the Times Square experiment, which will be reviewed at year’s end. Other recent on-street innovations have included stylish bike racks, bus shelter kiosks and pay toilets. Another well-received project was the “Summer Streets” program last August, where an avenue-wide corridor from the Brooklyn Bridge to 72nd St. was closed to motor vehicles for three Saturdays in a row. “Summer Streets” will be repeated this year.
Sitting in the back of the room listening intently was Jane McCarthy, a Village resident and member of Community Board 2’s Traffic and Transportation Committee. McCarthy is Sadik-Khan’s mother and looked every bit the proud parent.
The Village Alliance is a business improvement district covering Eighth Street from Second Ave. to Sixth Ave. and along Sixth Ave. down to W. Fourth St. The alliance is sponsoring several upcoming events, including this week’s Gay Pride Week, a summer series of free walking tours and September’s Taste of the Village, a food-sampling fundraiser for Washington Square Park.