Op-ed: Vacuums abhorred

Van Brunt Street in Red Hook.
Photo by Ben Verde

Aristotle thought nature abhorred a vacuum, but then again he thought there were four basic  elements. Apparently the city and  community planners don’t object to maintaining an empty space when it comes to completed studies.

The city Department of Transportation’s Smart Truck Management Plan has been completed, but where is it? The study was supposed to be released a while ago and the longer it’s withheld, the harder it is to plan and advocate as we inch toward the light at the end of the pandemic’s tunnel. Light may travel through a vacuum, but planning can’t take place in an empty space.

Let me give you a very abbreviated version of what’s (not) happening in Red Hook.

Red Hook’s streets weren’t designed for abuse by tractor-trailers. They were initially laid out with horse-drawn vehicles in mind. They have been historically used by Industrial tenants,  and as time passed, trucks supplanted horses, but the roads were little changed. Over the last few years, many companies, such as Amazon and UPS, due to the appropriate zoning, have purchased land to be used as last mile distribution centers. These centers generate a great volume of truck traffic; far greater than the legacy manufacturers generated on our Red Hook roads.

Individual locations analyze traffic and street use of their sites, but it’s not their responsibility, nor in their immediate interests, to look at the macro-scale implications. That’s where the government can — and should — step in. Only the government is positioned to balance and analyze all the competing interests and figure out the best path forward. Without it, as the Red Hook Star Revue rightly noted, the neighborhood is “screwed.” 

To the community’s credit, specifically groups such as Resilient Red Hook and leaders such as Hildegaard Link and Jim Tampakis, they have organized and advocated for such analysis. In my day job at Community Board 6, our members asked for a comprehensive traffic study for Red Hook which they believed would lead to the removal of Van Brunt Street as a truck route. It’s crucial that the planning process operate on the basis of facts and not anecdotal and personal examples — and the release of the Smart Truck Management Plan will hopefully fill that void.

While I’ve highlighted Red Hook’s needs for this study, it’s benefits would manifest citywide. In a city of 8 million, Van Brunt Street isn’t the only truck route that needs to be reimagined. And it isn’t just limited to transportation planning, as noted Transportation advocate and CB6 Transportation Chair Eric McClure recently said, “Land use cannot be divorced from street use, and if there is currently no mechanism to weigh the aggregate effect of these projects, one must be created.”

So City Hall’s study must be released because, in its absence, the void will be abhorrent.