Brooklyn Boro

Brooklyn leadership at the helm of bike reform in NYC

October 8, 2015 By Scott Enman Special to the Brooklyn Daily Eagle
Paul White (middle), executive director of the nonprofit Transportation Alternatives, poses with other employees at the organization’s Chelsea office. Transportation Alternatives continues to work toward making Brooklyn a more pedestrian- and biker-friendly place, White said. “For me personally, the heart and soul of this organization is in many ways in Brooklyn,” he added. Eagle photo by Louise Wateridge
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After a decade on the 10th floor at 127 West 26th St. in Chelsea, Transportation Alternatives has moved to a new home in the Financial District.

Transportation Alternative’s (TA) new location can be found on the second floor at 111 John St. and is seen by many employees as a much needed move — especially for the company’s Brooklynites, who now have a shorter commute.

The executive director of TA, Paul White, who lives in Brooklyn, spoke highly of the move and of being located on a lower floor.  

“I love being on the second floor as opposed to the 10th floor at our old location” said White. “We’re closer to the people and can feel the energy of the city. Also, half of our office is from Brooklyn and riding to work on any given day, so it’s an easier trip for them.”

In addition, the new office is conveniently located halfway between the New York City Department of Transportation and City Hall — ensuring that street safety is a top priority.  

Founded in 1973, TA describes itself as “your advocate for bicycling, walking and public transit.”

The nonprofit organization’s mission statement is to “reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile and to promote bicycling, walking and public transit… TA fights for the installation of infrastructure improvements that reduce speeding and traffic crashes, save lives and improve everyday transportation for all New Yorkers.”

One might presume that to be an audacious goal, but with more than 100,000 supporters and a group of activists working in every borough, they have the manpower to accomplish just that.

TA, however, owes much of its success to the borough of Brooklyn and its passionate constituents.   

“Biking has become synonymous with Brooklyn,” says White. “There are more cyclists in the borough of Brooklyn than there are in the entire city of San Francisco or Portland, Oregon which most people say is the bike mecca of the United States.

“We’ve been swept up in this cultural wave that has taken over the nation and symbolized a new way of urban life, and bicycling is at the forefront and that has to do with the fact that the bike network came of age in the borough of Brooklyn.”

The popularity of biking in Brooklyn has largely been due to the implementation of Citi Bike, says White.

“Citi Bike has been a total game changer for New York,” he says. “Its most exciting contribution is how it has normalized cycling. It has become so convenient to use and you have so many new people giving it a go.”

Interestingly, each Citi Bike is used on average seven times a day, which is the most out of any bike sharing program in North America. In addition, the company recently had its highest usage day ever with 50,000 trips throughout the city in a single day.

White said, however, that the success of Citi Bike has been due in part to Jay Walder, the former head of the MTA who is now at the helm of Citi Bike.

“Jay is a great transit professional and a guy of his caliber is very telling. Biking is now big time and I think it’s great too that we have a level of investment in the program from the new owners that are bringing the system into a state of repair and operation that New York deserves. ”

One of TA’s successful contributions has been to push Citi Bike stations into Bedford-Stuyvesant.

In addition to White and many of his colleagues, both the chair of TA’s board and the chair of its advisory council reside in Brooklyn.

“For me personally, the heart and soul of this organization is in many ways in Brooklyn.”

White also noted that when the current Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg came to New York, she first lived in Cobble Hill, and she now resides in Park Slope.

“I think everyone agrees that Brooklyn is the source of so much innovation, creativity, vitality, and activism,” said White. “We are really fortunate to be able to tap into that source of Brooklyn creativity. We are well represented on the Board, on the Advisory Council, and we have a lot of very current campaigns in Brooklyn.”

One of the most active campaigns, and one that White believes will act as a role model for future projects, is Atlantic Avenue.

“The issue on how we are all going to coexist on the street peacefully is all coming together on Atlantic Avenue,” said White. “That is one of our biggest priorities because Atlantic Avenue, more so than any other Brooklyn street, touches so many neighborhoods. Right now it divides neighborhoods and it has the ability to better integrate and bridge neighborhoods if it were designed with people in mind.  

“All these avenues, including Atlantic Avenue, were built with one purpose and that was to move cars as fast as possible and we now understand that yes, it is important to move cars but to move them at the exclusion of all other uses is not smart policy and it results in needless carnage.”

TA’s priority in regards to Atlantic Avenue is to make it a more humane, neighborhood-oriented street.

“Although Atlantic Avenue will still have high volumes of cars and trucks, our vision is to allow people to cross it safely, to ride their bikes on it safely and to make it a place where residents can be proud of it and spend time there as opposed to retreating from it.”

Major proposals for Atlantic Avenue headed by the TA include getting protected bike lanes installed, allowing more time for individuals to cross the street and having stricter enforcement of speed and of drivers failing to yield to pedestrians.

TA however, has already implemented important changes.

For example, intersections are now built so that the crossing corners bump further out so that pedestrians have more space on the sidewalk. This change forces motorists to take slower, more acute turns so that they can’t cut the corner and speed.

“This movement for reclaiming the streets is obviously very active in Manhattan” said White, “but Brooklyn has always been the wellspring of activism that has fed this organization for a long time.”

TA has also worked to expand the bike network in Brownsville and East New York, and made it possible to have neighborhood slow zones, such as the one created in Cobble Hill where the speed limit is now 20 mph.

What is so promising is that due to TA’s efforts, the number of deaths and injuries have decreased drastically. This year has had the fewest incidents to date.

As of Sept. 27, 9,865 people had been injured and 43 people had been killed. Although it is encouraging that those numbers are decreasing, Brooklyn still has a lot of work to do.

“Brooklyn’s asset isn’t in the ability to move around by car, it’s in the streets,” said White. “It’s in the streets as places where people can meet and walk with their kids to school. That’s the lifestyle that people want when they come to Brooklyn.”

White paused before adding, “If you want to move around by car, you can move to Houston.”

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