Friday, August 28, 2009

More Trolley News - Nydia Velazquez asks for $10 Million for Design and Construction

Another quick follow up to my Trolley post, below. In that previous post I neglected to convey the news that Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez has not only secured the funding for a feasibility study for a trolley service along the Brooklyn waterfront (actually these funds were secured a number of years ago), but she is also following through with a request for design and construction of the service.

This from our friends over at "The Word On Columbia Street", who refer to the recent Brooklyn Eagle article about the trolley plan, (here). The story states, referring to Congresswoman Velazquez,

"In her request for funding for the Fiscal Year 2010 surface transportation bill, she has included $10 million for “design and construction of a light rail system along the Brooklyn waterfront from Red Hook to Downtown Brooklyn, Brooklyn, N.Y.”

So not only a feasibility study for the trolley plan, but also the funds to see it through .... or at least to get it started. Not bad.

Friday, August 21, 2009

Bloomberg Again Voices Support for Red Hook Trolleys

Just a quick follow up to the previously announced feasibility study, initiated through $300,000 in funds secured through Congresswoman Nydia Velazquez, for a reactivated trolley service in Brooklyn - particularly in Red Hook, which has been named specifically as a prime location for such a service. (See my recent post on this and other Red Hook matters here.)

Mayor Bloomberg has again stated his support for this plan, and as today's report (here) from WNYC News notes, he says that such a plan "will help meet the needs of growing waterfront neighborhoods." He is going as far as to make the proposal for a trolley service in the city's under-served waterfront neighborhoods part of his re-election campaign platform.

The news of the feasibility study was greeted with a positive response from many Red Hook residents and small businesses alike who are looking for better accessibility through better public transportation options in our neighborhood. (Despite the recent imposition of a $5 fare on the IKEA Water Taxi, and Red Hook's potential for a real ferry service, there's been nothing more in the news on improvement of waterborne transportation .... yet). However, along with the proposed splitting of the B61 bus and the improvements with reliability and congestion issues that will hopefully bring, this is good news.

It's also good news for the environment and the health of our community as trolleys are an efficient and environmentally friendly way to move people around, and their addition to our neighborhood would have the potential to reduce pollution and its impact on our residents - something that's unfortunately rare in Red Hook.

Thursday, August 13, 2009

Canada Can Do It .... Why Can't We?

No, I'm not taking about Universal Health Care - though I would certainly agree on that subject as well - I'm talking about how the city of Quebec, a city that my family and I visited earlier this month, has a working waterfront that is not only functional, with cruise ship terminals, container and goods terminals, and other industrial uses, but also with lots of public access offering a pleasant waterfront experience with walkways, parks, restaurants, markets, cultural activities, and ...

.... gasp, a marina.

Now, I labor that last point because the New York City Economic Development Corporation (EDC), in the process of making arguments for why they were rejecting a compromise plan for Pier 11 and the Atlantic Basin on the Red Hook waterfront - a plan that would have allowed for the inclusion of not only Phoenix Beverages, but the expanded operations of the New York Water Taxi, PortSide New York, more waterfront public access, open space and a marina (this was a plan proposed by Tom Fox, NY Water Taxi's owner) - anyway, the EDC's arguments against that plan included the point that a marina was incompatible with the operation of the nearby cruise terminal. The entrance to the Atlantic Basin, where the proposed marina would be, was right next to the Cruise Terminal, and this, we were told, was not something that was desirable. This was, by the way, despite the fact that previous EDC plans had included a marina at this location, with two adjacent cruise terminals proposed - one at the currently used Pier 12 and the other at pier 10.

So it was interesting to me, on seeing the Port of Quebec, (and please do check out their web site and photos, here) how these supposedly "incompatible" elements fitted together, all nestled against the historic and beautiful waterfront neighborhoods of that city. The 415-slip marina on the St. Lawrence River (web site here) was serviced by a narrow entrance that lead to an enclosed harbor. The entrance to the marina was right next to the cruise terminal that can accommodate two or more ships at a time and services 100,000 visitors a year while also functioning as a convention center. Next to the cruise terminal was a terminal for cargo shipping and there were many other industrial shipping terminals placed around the busy waterfront which apparently services 1,500 ships a year. It all seemed to be planned to work together, without compromising security, on-water safety or the economic viability of the waterfront.

Here's a map I put together quickly - (click on the link below it for a full map with legend)

View Port of Quebec in a larger map

The whole setting reminded me of Brooklyn and the area around the Red Hook waterfront.

So .... why was the co-existence of all these activities, including the marina, possible in Quebec, but not in Brooklyn? The EDC will have to answer that one.

One other thing the EDC could also answer is - why did you create such an ugly, inaccessible, un-people friendly cruise terminal in our neighborhood, when there were examples all around the world of how to do it right? (see my previous post on the cruise terminal in Sydney, Australia here).

Cruise ship in Quebec photo courtesy of colros, via Flickr.

As I walked around the Quebec cruise terminal and waterfront, watching my kids run in the parks and splash about in the fountains, and as we sat at a cafe or at a bench watching the waterfront and water-borne activity, I couldn't help but to wonder ... what were the EDC thinking??

Monday, August 10, 2009

Wanna Sign Brad Lander's Petition for a Greener Port?

As noted in a previous post, Brad Lander, who is running for City Council in the 39th District, has spoken out in favor of a "greener" port in Brooklyn - especially considering the recent plans to expand the operations of the Container Port. Today he held a campaign event to promote that recently articulated stance. Unfortunately, I couldn't make it to the event on the Columbia Street Waterfront due to my car's insistence it didn't want to work today and it needed me to pay it some more attention - perhaps it was Mondayitis - or the heat.

Anyway, judging from the story in "The Word On Columbia Street" tonight (here), it seems as though many people did turn up in support of this call for action and many positive ideas, both short and long-term measures, were laid out for reducing the impact of the operations of the Brooklyn port on the surrounding residential neighborhoods of Red Hook, Columbia Street Waterfront, Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill. I won't regurgitate the entire content of what was said today - I'll leave it to you to read the excellent and comprehensive coverage in the previously mentioned "Word" story.

However, the main actions for which Mr. Lander is calling are laid out in this statement (from his campaign website) -

It is critical that all parties work together to reduce truck pollution and create a greener port.

We therefore call on EDC, the Port Authority, American Stevedoring, and Phoenix to:

  • Commit to a faster, specific timetable to convert trucks to cleaner natural gas engines.
  • Keep truck traffic inside the port and develop a long-term traffic plan.
  • Enhance the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway by running it along Atlantic Basin.
  • Connect docked ships to on-shore power, to reduce the use of highly-polluting generators.
  • Establish a comprehensive green jobs local hiring program.

With these steps, we can turn the Columbia Waterfront Area, Red Hook, and ultimately the entire Port of New York into the greenest port on the eastern seaboard – making it a healthier place for workers and neighbors alike, and a vibrant and sustainable economic hub.

It's all pretty good stuff, to my way of thinking, and definitely a step in the right direction of finally taking some of the burden of the negative impact of the ports' operations off the shoulders of the already suffering residents and small businesses.

Mr. Lander isn't the only one who has spoken out on these issues. Two other hopefuls for the 39th District seat, Josh Skaller and Gary Reilly, have attended meetings and made statements in relation to the impacts created by the operations of the Brooklyn ports. Mr. Skaller has obvious "green" credentials and is also calling for the Superfunding of the Gowanus Canal. Mr. Reilly is someone who is an environmental lawyer and who has tried to raise awareness of and made statements about the problems of port pollution in the past, including in his blog .

However, Mr. Lander's stance seems to be the most articulate and high profile right now and his recent statements are a thankful addition to the many voices calling for solutions to the challenges faced by our neighborhoods.

He is also urging residents and other interested parties to sign his petition calling for these improvements.

You can read about it and sign the petition too, if you want, here.


On the Red Hook Radar - The Good, The Not So Good and The Ugly.

A number of development blips have flown into the Red Hook radar in recent weeks. Some good, some not so good, and some, unfortunately, ugly.

Lets start with the good. There have been a couple of pieces of good news on the transportation front.

First, the MTA looks as if its going to split the B61 bus into two routes (story from "The Word on Columbia Street" here) . The plan is to split the route into one from Red Hook to Jay Street, and another (to be called the B62) from Jay Street to Long Island City. I think all of us who ride the B61 on a regular basis will see this plan as having great potential to improve the reliability and punctuality of the B61 and to reduce pollution and congestion on our streets - i.e. more reliable public transportation = more ridership = less cars and pollution.

The next piece of good news comes in the form of a feasibility study for trolley service in Brooklyn. Mayor Bloomberg said, at the announcement of this study (story here), "We'll look into the feasibility of using the city's old trolley tracks to create new streetcar service in growing waterfront neighborhoods in Queens and Brooklyn, starting in Red Hook." After the failure of Bob Diamond's initiative to bring streetcars back to Brooklyn and Red Hook in particular, this sounds like a positive development. Gary Buiso has more in the Brooklyn Courier (here).

Another development on the transportation front, which is not so good, came in the form of the announcement from IKEA that it would begin charging non-IKEA customers a $5 fee to ride the Water Taxi from their store. "Only the Blog Knows Brooklyn" had some great commentary from Scott Turner at Rocky Sullivan's in his post titled "Bitter Lingonberries" (here). Some of the salient points made by Scott were -

One of IKEA's many promises -- exchanged like chits for Red Hook's blessing for IKEA's rather large blue-and-yellow retail operation with its Red Rockers' "China" video flags flying out front -- was free transportation.

More specifically, let us build, and you can ride our busses and ferry for free, as much as you want, whenever you want. It's a courtesy.

Scott also points out IKEA's backflip on its commitment as follows -

"“We cannot continue [as a] commuter service for those who are not Ikea customers,” said manager Mike Baker in The Brooklyn Paper.

Except for the part where you promised Red Hook you would.

He goes on to say IKEA came to Red Hook with a simple premise -

You let us in, we'll repay your kindness.

Payment of kindness hereby withdrawn.

Scott's final point -

The ligonberries are tasting a kinda bitter these days.

This opens up the question of why we are relying on a corporation to provide the public transportation alternatives Red Hook needs and deserves? Especially when the service can be withdrawn, or made less attractive, with such ease.

Considering this recent announcement from the Mayor, Governor, etc. -


Nearly $50 million for Upgrades and Maintenance of Ferry Boats and Piers to Improve Service, Reliability and Accessibility

(read it here)

... and the general thrust for more ferry transportation options in New York City, isn't it about time Red Hook received its own bona fide ferry service without having to be subjected to the uncertainty posed by the type of service IKEA has been providing up until now? The IKEA service was never a legitimate commuter service, however it at least provided another option for Red Hook residents travelling within the limited hours that the service was operating. Now, with that service made less attractive to Red Hook commuters, and with the already established ferry dock sitting idle outside Fairway, wouldn't it make sense to see if some of those stimulus funds could be directed towards establishing a legitimate ferry service that services Red Hook?

OK - now to the ugly.

The recent announcement that Red Hook may be the new home to a cement plant came as a disappointment to me, and many in Red Hook, who again see the prospect of more trucks and pollution being jammed into out neighborhood. The location, for a start, seemed inappropriate - right across the street from Red Hook's Added Value organic community farm, as well as sporting fields (close to the Red Hook Pool), the Erie Basin Park and bike path, all on a site neighboring the IKEA store with its accompanying traffic.

And again, as with the coming relocation of Phoenix Beverages to the Brooklyn Waterfront and the expansion of the Container Port, this project seems to be getting a free pass as far as environmental impact studies go. Mike McLaughlin's Brooklyn Papers article (here) quotes the Co-President of the Red Hook Civic Association.

“It’s an awkward location that should have required more study,” said John McGettrick.

This also from Red Hook Houses West Tenants' Association President, Lillian Marshall -

“Traffic is going to be too much. In and out. In and out.”

I think John and Lillian make valid points, but I don't know what the impact of such a business would be on our neighborhood, environmentally or otherwise. Particularly, I'm not informed enough to know what the polluting effects of the dust and other activities related to these cement plants have on the the environment. But surely these issues should be investigated and the environmental impact created by the activities proposed on this particular site should be studied before the plant is given the go ahead - especially with such seemingly incompatible neighbors. One curious irony of this development is that, (I'm told), the previous use on this site was a cement plant, which was closed down after its violation of environmental laws. In that light it seems entirely appropriate for Red Hook residents to feel "once bitten, twice shy" on this matter.

One last development - and I'll put this in the sad rather than ugly category - according to the Brooklyn paper, via Curbed (here) it seems as if Joe Sitt is in the process of knocking down the only remaining building on Red Hook's old Revere Sugar site. The 19th Century brick and stone structure was the only thing left standing after Sitt and his company, Thor Equities, demolished the iconic metal cone and other structures on the pier at Beard Street in 2006. Thor's contentious plan to build some kind of mall on the site have stalled recently, and a rendering of the proposal seemed to include the re-purposing of this structure, but apparently Sitt doesn't figure this building into his plans anymore. Whether the removal of the historic building means the site is easier for Sitt to sell, or easier to build on - for whatever he has planned for the site - he's not saying, according to Mike McLaughlan who is covering this story for the Brooklyn Papers.

What is clear is that Red Hook is losing another iconic and historic structure - and that is sad.

Saturday, August 8, 2009

Brad Lander Steps Up to the Plate in Calling for a Greener Port

I received this information (below) from Brad Lander, who is running to replace Bill DiBlasio in Brooklyn's 39th City Council District.

It's great to see Mr. Lander calling for these measures to mitigate the negative impacts of the operations of the Brooklyn Port. Dangerous diesel emissions from ships, truck pollution and congestion have been long-held concerns of the residents of the Columbia Street Waterfront, Red Hook and our adjoining neighborhoods - Carroll Gardens and Cobble Hill among them.

It seems Mr. Lander is taking on these concerns, pushing for solutions for them and is speaking out on behalf of the residents and businesses that he hopes to represent.

Even though the 39th District does not include Red Hook, south of Hamilton Avenue, it's good to see someone - either in power or hoping to be - advocating for a better outcome, environmentally or otherwise, for our neighborhood and its inhabitants.


City Council Candidate Brad Lander, Environmental & Neighborhood Leaders
to Call for Action to Reduce Truck Pollution & Plan for a Greener Port

Monday, August 10th, 10 a.m.

Columbia Street & DeGraw Steet
Columbia Waterfront Neighborhood
Brooklyn, New York

City Council candidate Brad Lander will be joined by local residents and environmental leaders to call for action to reduce truck pollution in the Columbia Waterfront area and create a greener Port of New York. At the event, Lander will be endorsed by the New York League of Conservation Voters.
Recent events at Piers 7 – 12 on the Brooklyn waterfront create both need and opportunity to work for a greener port. The NYC Economic Development Corporation recently reached a deal with the Port Authority of NY/NJ, American Stevedoring, and Phoenix Beverage to import beverages using Piers 7, 10, and 11. Using the port to bring in goods by ship is smart economic and environmental policy – it can be less polluting than long-haul trucks, and creates good jobs in Brooklyn.
However, more business in the port also leads to an increase in local truck traffic and emissions (from both ships and trucks). It is therefore critical that all parties – EDC, the Port Authority, ASI, Phoenix and others – take significant short-term and long-term steps to reduce truck pollution and create a greener port.

Lander and local residents will call short-term and long-term action to:
  • Convert trucks serving the port to compressed natural gas (CNG) to reduce toxic emissions.
  • Keep truck traffic internal to the port, and develop a long-term traffic plan.
  • Enhance the Brooklyn Waterfront Greenway by running it along Atlantic Basin.
  • Connect docket ships to on-shore power, to reduce the use of highly-polluting generators.
  • Establish a comprehensive "first source/green jobs" local hiring program.
Brad Lander is running in Brooklyn's 39th Council District (Cobble Hill, Carroll Gardens/Columbia Waterfront, Park Slope, Windsor Terrace, Borough Park, and Kensington). Lander has the support of a wide range of community, environmental, and small business leaders.