Urbanism
May 12, 2016

Car2Go goes New York

From The New Yorker:

The car-sharing industry has its roots in mid-century Europe, whose coöperative vehicle pooling was mimicked, in the nineteen-eighties, by American nonprofits and city governments. But only with the spread of G.P.S. and smartphone technologies have today’s private companies been able to produce real efficiencies for the user and measurable benefits for the environment.

In 2010, Susan Shaheen, a transportation expert at the University of California, Berkeley, published a ten-year review of car-sharing data, concluding that the model basically works: those with new access to cars will drive more, but their impact is more than offset by that of car owners who begin using the programs. In other words, were car sharing to replace private car ownership in the city, the effect would likely be more drivers doing less driving. Car2Go bridges the gap between American hearts, which are still piston powered, and the typical American salary, which is just equal to the average cost of a new car.

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For a local view, here is a summary from the Urban Land Institute BC of a seminar on car-sharing as part of the ‘Next Million’ series.

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Many PT readers will by now have seen some of these snazzy renderings of NYC Mayor Bill de Blasio’s proposed light rail along 17 miles (27.3 kms) of the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront.
 

 

 

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The purpose of this roughly $2B line is laudable: provide transportation access along one of the city’s fastest-growing development areas. Like many cities, NYC is no longer strictly a ‘spoke and wheel’ entity, with commuters rushing into Manhattan and then back out again. More people now live and work across and between the boroughs. And aside from a single local bus line, there is no transit along the East River’s east shore.
However, there’s a catch. It will be a streetcar, not a fully-dedicated light rail. Traveling with vehicle traffic, it will only average 12mph (19 km/hr) and take about 1 hour 15 minutes to travel from Astoria, Queens to Red Hook, Brooklyn. This trip will test patience. Riding it will make you swear you could lie down in the street and grow that distance quicker. I’m curious to see how long NY’ers will be enamored with this proposal as its details become more commonly known.
Just ask the folks in Edmonton, where the transit system recently opened up the much-delayed and problematic Metro Line light rail line from downtown to the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT). Untangling the new extension’s signalling problems is the stuff of masters’ theses, and Edmontonions were annoyed about the delays in its opening. But when they realized that the line would cause real, actual traffic delays, the poutine hit the fan.

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Self-described transit supporter and Edmonton National Post reporter Tristin Hopper called the new line ““the equivalent of a candy company releasing a new chocolate bar called ‘Herpes Al-Qaeda’.” That’s both funny and harsh, and I look forward to reading his column when he realizes the the planned Valley Line (western extension) towards the Edmonton Mall will run as a fully-integrated streetcar with no dedicated right of way along some of the city’s busiest arterial roads.

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Back our way, Surrey’s light rail will not have these problems. Both lines will function more like Edmonton’s older north-south network does now: mostly along their own rights-of-way but with signalized priority across intersecting streets.
So, streetcars are cheaper and provide far fewer benefits than dedicated light rail, yet more than buses. Are they worth it? Do you support such a system around False Creek or Olympic Village? Along 3rd Street and Marine Drive on the North Shore? A return to the 1940 network?

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What about streetcars in the old Lower Mainland?

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As we crossed both Washington Heights in Manhattan and Mt. Eden in The Bronx, connected by the High Bridge, I couldn’t avoid the dilemma of gentrification: does this improvement in public amenity put pressure on the existing housing stock, increasing values, and hence rents, for those for whom this improvement was built – but will no longer be able to afford to live there?
Or is it absurd to blame attempts to make the city more livable when the underlying reasons are a consequence of more profound shifts in the economy and society?
The issue of gentrification was addressed in a recent issue of New York magazine, which took one block of a similar neighbourhood, Bedford-Stuyvesant in Brooklyn, and explored its history and the people who live there.
I doubt you will have seen a more graphically interesting presentation of a story online this year:

 

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Nothing quite so well captures the character of the post-industrial city as Brooklyn Bridge Park – 85 acres, spanning over 1.3 miles of Brooklyn’s waterfront, from the Columbia Heights waterfront district to the Manhattan Bridge in DUMBO.

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It began after the end of the working waterfront, when in 1984 the Port Authority was going to sell off the lands.  Citizens intervened, creating the Brooklyn Bridge Park Coalition, and with support from political leaders, eventually reached an agreement in 2004, with this proviso: “To ensure the park is fiscally sustainable throughout the years, the MOU mandates that all maintenance and operations of the park are required to be economically self-sufficient, financed through revenues from commercial and residential development within the site.”

The first six acres of park opened in March 2010, at Pier 1 and, adjacent, the old Fulton Ferry landing, with a bridge linking to Brooklyn Heights.

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Brooklyn has had access to the view of the East River and Lower Manhattan since at least the 1940s, thanks to the construction of the Brooklyn Promenade above the BQE, an expressway that seems to be constantly throttled with commuter traffic and gear-shifting trucks.  But now New Yorkers can touch the water and launch their kayaks..

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And perhaps more importantly, they can play.  The piers have been largely converted to some of the best recreational and athletic facilities in the city..

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I would not be surprised to hear in the future that some of the nation’s best athletes came from these fields.

And then, of course, there’s art.

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And a carousel in a box:

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And some very expensive real-estate development to help pay for it all:

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The park makes for a great loop, with an entrance at Atlantic Avenue to the south, along the river, to DUMBO at the north end, and back to downtown, or across the bridge, or to transit connections.

Needless to say, the park has become regionally popular – if anything, too popular for the local residents.  Crowd management is already an issue, not to mention the gentrification effects.     But the park is only one piece of a larger vision to open up and connect more and more of the NYC waterfront.

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New York is in full recovery after the financial crisis of 2008.  Infill everywhere.  But the greatest change is underway in Brooklyn – in a downtown just across the East River from Lower Manhattan.  Amazing transit connections.  Its brownstone neighbourhoods were discovered decades ago. Williamsburg and DUMBO are news from the 90s.  Brooklyn Heights is post gentrification.  Now it’s about the Downtown and the corridor from the waterfront to Barclays arena.

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Last month in March, we stayed for a week in a condo/rental tower not a few years old and briefly the tallest in Brooklyn, built midblock between two subway entrances, right in the heart of ‘Downtown’..

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It’s not alone.   Here’s the map of everything expected from 2008 to 2018.

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This is big development, New York real-estate style. The impact of the residential towers, current and coming, will be transformational.

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It’s analogously Vancouver in style: tall residential towers fitted tight into the existing grid, with extraordinary amenities a few comfortable blocks away: a waterfront park at the west end, sports and culture on the east, connected by a transit mall.

Fulton Mall is still a reflection of the last decades (many not so great) of New York’s urban dynamics.

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But the new scale is set: In Downtown Brooklyn alone, there are 12,500 residential units planned or under construction – about half our West End.  Of these, 3,400 are classed as affordable.

From Downtown Brooklyn School Solutions:

  • Downtown Brooklyn was home to 400 people in 2001.  In 2011, the number was 12,000 and the latest estimates put it at 15,000 (plus 10,000 students living in dorms). The number of housing units is set to more than triple in the next 3-5 years.
  • The cost of building in Downtown Brooklyn has skyrocket from $50 to $350 per buildable square foot in the last 3 years..
  • Downtown Brooklyn, Fort Greene and Vinegar Hill (next to DUMBO) are home to one of the largest concentrations of public housing in the city.   The New York City Housing Authority doesn’t have enough cash to cover the necessary maintenance of its aging stock of 178,895 units and is now proposing to build mixed income housing on empty parking lots, community centers,  and playgrounds within the complexes. Hundreds (or even thousands) of apartments could get built in the neighborhood as a result.

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Impacts are evident, especially as the skyline changes and the streets fill with new people.

From The Real Deal:

A report cites a “hidden crisis” of shrinking office space in the neighborhood—less than two million square feet of office space has been added since the 2004 rezoning, it states, not nearly enough to keep up with rising demand and the growth of the technology sector. Residential and office growth in the neighborhood have followed very different paths than those the city envisioned at the time of the 2004 rezoning, as The Real Deal reported.

(That 2004 rezoning is described here.)

It’s also clear in retrospect that they didn’t really see the residential boom coming.  For instance, no plan for a new school – which, consequently, created a response in the community. 

In upcoming posts, a closer look at the oval areas on the map below – the elements of another Post-Motordom city.

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From the BBC:

A decade ago, Greenpoint, the northern most part of Brooklyn, New York, was home to a thriving immigrant community – a mixture of Poles and Latinos, legal and undocumented.

In the years since, the neighbourhood has transformed not once, but twice. First came the arty hipsters scene and now gentrification has turned old industrial sites into residential developments with rents almost as expensive as Manhattan.

Worth watching just for the droll commentary of Mieszko Kalita, owner of Beata Delicatessen.

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