Kent - in a round-about way

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In the tenth official debate among the candidates for the 33rd City Council District, sponsored by Transportation Alternatives, the theme of transportation naturally dominated discussions.

Candidates Evan Thies, Jo Anne Simon, Ken Baer, Ken Diamondstone and Isaac Abraham answered questions for 90 minutes about truck traffic, bicycle safety and congestion pricing.Steve Levin, another candidate in the race, had a previous commitment and did not attend.

While the controversial issue of the Kent Avenue bike lanes was curiously absent, “We talked about parking, trucks and bike regulations, so the issues that were really central to Kent Avenue were covered pretty well,” said Ward Dennis, Community Board 1 Land Use Chair, who moderated the debate.

The debate, held at Automotive High School (50 Bedford Avenue) in Greenpoint, was one of the more substantive debates the Council race has seen so far.While the district stretches from Greenpoint and Williamsburg to Boerum Hill, most of the transportation questions focused on North Brooklyn transit issues such as traffic calming on McGuiness Boulevard, reducing truck traffic off the BQE and Metropolitan Avenue, and improving wait times on the G and L train lines.

“I’m a biker, I’m a walker, I’ve been over the bridges in this district a number of times,” said Biviano.“There’s nothing like walking down a tree-lined street.”

All the candidates agreed that there should be an overall transportation study for Williamsburg and Greenpoint, that truck routes needed to be enforced and traffic needed to be calmed along straightaways like McGuiness Boulevard, though there were subtle differences among their positions.Simon said that in addition to a traffic-calming study, a traffic blueprint study should be conducted. Baer emphasized enforcement of speeding and police cracking down on drivers operating cell phones for texting.

“Hand-held devices such as cell phones contribute to dangerous conditions,” Baer said.

Not all of the candidates favored congestion pricing, as Doug Biviano said that it amounted to an additional tax on commuters and that residents with vehicles needed to be considered as well.Thies came out strongly for congestion pricing, even after one audience member said that he would not support a candidate who favored the measure.

“Neighborho­ods like these are overwhelmingly affected by the lack of congestion pricing,” said Thies.“If we had it, there would be a nine percent reduction of traffic over the East River.”

Simon explained her support of congestion pricing through the perspective of making North Brooklyn’s air cleaner and streets safer.

“Gratuitous traffic that comes over the bridges is just that, gratuitous.Brooklyn and Staten Island are doormats to traffic from New Jersey,” said Simon.“It’s costing us in our infrastructure and its costing in our health.The solution is to bring more rapid bus transportation to our neighborho­ods.”

Near the end of the debate, the candidates listed their top transportation priorities.Thies said congestion pricing, expanding mass transit, and eliminating truck traffic were most important, while Biviano said fixing the MTA was most critical. Diamondstone said funding the MTA, putting tolls on East River bridges, and bus rapid transit were most important.Simon said that adding more cars to the G train, adding bus rapid transit and building a tunnel to Manhattan were most critical while Baer focused on MTA funding, congestion pricing, and additional bike racks.

Abraham had to leave the debate for another engagement before the candidates were asked about their top transportation priorities, but in a follow up after the debate, he said, “The Court Street station, Tillary and Flatbush exchange and North and and Bedford all have to be addressed for safety of the pedestrians, bikers and other traffic. And now most important, the screw-up of DOT on Kent Avenue where they put the other side of North Brooklyn in a major problem. The plan should be redrawn.”

Updated 3:40 pm, October 19, 2011
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