Eric Ulrich Tells DOT He's Fed Up With Pedestrian Malls

NEW YORK (CBSNewYork) — There was a contentious hearing Tuesday on New York City’s controversial pedestrian plaza program. One city councilman demanded that the Department of Transportation get back to basics and fix basic infrastructure.

The DOT has put a pedestrian mall in Times Square, installed traffic islands in Borough Park that make it difficult for fire engines to get to fires, including forcing an ambulance to pull into on coming traffic to get to the emergency room, and in Little Neck put in a traffic island that makes drivers go perilously close to speeding trains to make a turn.

1010 WINS’ Alice Stockton-Rossini reports: Councilmembers Want To Get Back To Basics

Now, City Councilman Eric Ulrich, R-Ozone Park, has had enough, saying the agency has forgotten its core mission — fixing the roads.

“Why can’t we just we get back to basics and worry more about paving the roads and the streets than we are about installing bike lanes and putting in pedestrian plazas where communities don’t want them?” Ulrich told CBS 2’s Marcia Kramer.

“The roads in Baghdad look better than the roads in Queens. I think I have a right to be upset.”

The harsh words came at a City Council hearing on the pedestrian plazas installed by the DOT. Ulrich wasn’t alone as several others talked about a belief there is an anti-driver bias.

“There is the view among many with the failure of congestion pricing that now other things are being done to drive car owners crazy,” said Councilman James Vacca, D-Bronx.

For their part, DOT officials defended their actions to green the city, but council members didn’t get the answers they wanted.

“I’ll have to get back to you on data that we collected. I certainly don’t have that in front of me,” DOT Assistant Commissioner Andy Wiley-Schwartz said, when asked to provide certain statistics.

In the end there were no real answers. Transportation officials said they want to build as many more pedestrian plazas as they can. Council officials responded by saying they want hard data to prove that they’re worthwhile.

The 34th Street Partnership and the group Transportation Alternatives were among those saying they support more pedestrian plazas in the city.

Do you think the City Council has a point? Or are you inclined to side with the DOT? Please offer your thoughts in the comments section below.

Comments (23)
  1. Ralph on LI says:

    As reported by AAA yesterday, the Department of Transportation has completely neglected repainting simple line pavement markings on major NYC highways, leaving little visibility of traffic lanes at night, and zero visibility in rainy conditions. I cannot understand how NYC and most other Highway Departments in this general area have abandoned any sense of safety for motorists, and left us is jeopardy every day we get into our cars. Why aren’t the POLICE demanding that these safety problems be corrected, before millions of dollars are spent on pedestran malls pedestrian malls are built?

  2. Omri Schwarz says:

    Over at Streetsblog:

    Ever wondered what goes into the making of a Marcia Kramer hit piece, those nearly-perfected hatchet jobs on whatever DOT safety improvement is on her radar that week? We got to watch Kramer in action at Wednesday’s transportation committee meeting as she gathered footage for her most recent attack on the city’s plaza program.

    We’ve already reported that she censored out the majority of City Council members, most of whom spoke very positively about DOT’s plaza program. Instead, Kramer gave air time to the road-crazy Queens rep Eric Ulrich and the grandstanding committee chair James Vacca.

    Kramer also assiduously avoided including the voices of the many community members in support of the plaza program. I was sitting next to Kramer when she turned to the people sitting in the row behind us and asked what they thought of the plazas. She was hoping to put regular citizens on camera, she said to them. When they said they were there in support of the plaza program — they lived near the new plaza at Bogardus Garden in the West Village — Kramer sounded as if she immediately lost interest.

    Kramer also interviewed Dan Biederman, who represents businesses on 34th Street and in Chelsea and strongly supports the plaza. That footage never made it onto the screen, though the anchor quickly mentioned his support after Kramer’s report concluded.

  3. GRR says:

    Marcia Kramer must live in Jersey.

  4. Ryan says:

    Wow. What a terrible, lazy news segment.

  5. Michael says:

    It seems like a kind word with a fact or two is due. The tact is that the DOT has as it’s agenda making traffic sufficiently worse to equal their estimate of congestion pricing. The pay no head to the effect on commerce either. The 34th street transifway will play havoc with retail merchants, trash pickup, handicap access and deliveries (especially by UPS or Fedex). Government learn a lesson and get out of the job destroying jobs and let us get back to the basics of creating jobs and wealth which incidentally would increase the ability to pay taxes.

  6. John says:

    Not surprising since Baghdad gets more federal road aid than NYC.

  7. Peter says:

    Is this what counts for reporting these days?

    Just parroting an idiot councilman?

    A total fact-free “article”.

  8. Steve says:

    It’s been months since CBS2 last did a story on those pedestrian islands in Borough Park, claiming that they could cause an accident or delay fire trucks. Well, how many accidents have they caused since then and how many fire trucks were delayed? You’ve had a lot of time to do some real reporting, yet you just repeat a lie put forth by Marty Markowitz and other politicians. Pedestrians and drivers are safer now as a result, but I guess Marcia Kramer is just interested in lazy, sensationalist reporting.

    How far she’s fallen from her once respectable days covering politics.

  9. Susan Seinfeld says:

    The Little Neck LIRR station center island was designed not to be a pedestrain plaza or the like, it was designed soley for the approval of a Quiet Zone by the Federal Railroad Administration, at this at -grade crossing. Vehicles are NOT permitted to turn as the one you saw in your video.This video was taken when the island was in construction. This is not the case now.

  10. Chris says:

    Wow, Rob, real mature. You kiss your mother with that mouth?

  11. Amanda English says:

    Most of the plazas are tucked into underutilized or redundant traffic lanes that only slowed traffic for the major roads. Cities all over are sprucing up with public landscaped seating areas in support of retail and tourism. These are economic development tools and virtually zero-sum impact on traffic. Economy = jobs = tax revenue to maintain all infrastructure, including pot hole repair.

  12. Dave says:

    No question the councilmen are right. Just think, we already live in the largest/busiest city in the world with millions of cars roaming it, which inherently causes traffic on its own. Then, the city pours salt to the wound and takes away driving lanes which further ,eave room for emergency vehicles. Then, they add islands in communities where 100% of the residents oppose them, which even further limits driving space, and let’s not forget that that is a few hundred yards from Brooklyn’s largest and busiest hospital, Maimonides. And they want to add EVEN MORE islands? This is sick!

  13. Nick9075 NYC says:

    Oh puleeze, those pedestrian plazas are annoying and moronic especially around Herald Square & Time Square. The only people who use them are tourists from Europe & Brazil.

    And in terms of those bike lanes especially on 8th & 9th avenues in Chelsea…. Only for young rich people who can afford to ride those $3,000 bikes. I own 2 Trek bikes from 2010 which cost around $1,100 each not cool or hip enough for Bloomies Bike lanes

  14. rob says:

    @hugh taylor. Hope one day you needed a ride to the hospital I hope you get there with a bike because no ambulance can take you there if there’s an emergency. Roadblocks will do you in buddy. The bottom line of this debate is basic infrastructure is in jeopardy here bud. We’re living in a city that needs transportation to move around, and a bike won’t cut the cake.

  15. Robert says:

    The idea is to make more money so you can afford a car. The roads in new york are a Joke

  16. ronnie from morris park says:

    Poor Jimmy “The Weasel” Vacca got out weaseled by Billionaireberg and his buddies,how surprising. Data will without a doubt be in Billionaireberg favor just like high school graduation data or homeless numbers. The 34th Street Partnership is now in Billionairebergs pocket are now in need of another mall on the block that the Empire State building is on,what a joke. Jimmy thanks for giving in on term limits so our spoiled billionaire mayor can act like a 3 year old for 900 days more.

  17. Joe says:

    These plazas, bike lanes have nothing to do with repairing roads what-so-ever. All it is, is an attempt to,make life more difficult for people to get around the city. Enough is enough.

    1. Chris says:

      In the case of Times and Herald Squares, actually improved traffic flow by reducing the number of traffic light cycles, allowing more cars to flow through for longer periods. That’s a fact. You’re wrong. Get over it.

      1. Joe says:

        I don’t have it wrong, if emergency vehicles cannot get by these plazas or bike paths they endanger all of us. We have parks to ride bikes, this is not Long Island or Upstate New York

  18. Desiree says:

    The City Council is absolutely right!. Transportation Commissioner Sadik-Khan told James Vacca back in December that she would get back to him with data and never did and now she sent her assistants to play the same game. There’s no doubt that the hardly used bike lanes, pedestrian malls and street closings, and pop-up cafes are causing congestion and preventing emegency vehicles to get to their destinations. Lives were already lost by the dangerous plazas recently installed close to the exit ramps on the Queens side of the Queensboro Bridge and it’s getting worse. I’m sure it’s the Mayor’s way of getting even for congestion pricing failure.

    1. Chris says:

      Unless you have some sort of proof of this other than some anecdotal evidence that you sat in traffic (which, by the way, existed LONG before bike lanes and pedestrian malls), I’ll call you a liar.

      The city has released data, and it’s available all over the DOT web site and shows that injuries are down and traffic flow has been, at worst, marginally effected. Take a look. If you disagree with the data, you are welcome to commission your own study that’s not based on what you see on the street, but real, actual numbers.

    2. Chris says:

      And by the way, Desiree, those Queens “plazas” that caused the crashes near the Queensboro Bridge weren’t plazas at all – merely diverters to slow traffic, and the entire project was conceived by the NYC Economic Development Corporation, NOT the NYCDOT.

      I won’t blame you for that, though – that’s the fault of lazy reporting by the media.

  19. hugh taylor says:

    Agree with DOT. Most families in New York don’t have a car. Marcia Kramer should move to Houston and drive around a lot and complain about the price of gasoline.

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