Council District 20: Who Will Replace the Mercurial John Liu?

candidate_headshots.jpgL-r: Council candidates S.J. Jung, John Choe, Evergreen C. Chou, James Wu and Isaac Sasson
Outgoing Council Member John Liu has been a fickle legislator when it comes to livable streets. While the transportation committee chair might endorse congestion pricing, he was also a staunch defender of the mythical put-upon working stiff whose very survival depended on free bridge crossings. And we can't forget his fidgeting when it came time to act on the all-important issue of bike access, his skepticism of landmark street reclamations (while scolding DOT on pedestrian safety), or his repeatedly debunked "two sets of books" claim -- if for no other reason than Liu himself has made it a cornerstone of his current campaign for city comptroller.

With the September 15 primary fast approaching, the race to succeed Liu in District 20 is one of two especially compelling Queens contests, where long-time council incumbents are leaving open seats. (District 26's Eric Gioia is running for public advocate. Streetsblog will profile the race to replace him later this week.)

Of the three District 20 candidates who answered the Transportation Alternatives Candidate Survey -- S.J. Jung, John Choe and Evergreen C. Chou -- all expressed support, to varying degrees, for road pricing, bus rapid transit, bike-share, public plazas, and improved traffic enforcement. Each candidate also said he would like to see innovations like BRT and Summer Streets come to Queens.

Choe served as Liu's chief of staff for eight years, and has the endorsement of his former boss. If elected, Choe says he would advocate for improved service on the 7 train, BRT on Northern Boulevard, and unrestricted subway access for bikes. He would also like to see ferry service on the Flushing River. Choe says he would favor targeted traffic enforcement with increased fines for speeders, and thinks congestion pricing "should be further explored" as a means to reduce traffic and provide funding for transit expansion in areas without easy access to subways.

Choe and Jung, an entrepreneur and community volunteer, are in sync on many if not most transportation issues. But Jung differentiates himself in a couple of key areas. Jung is the only candidate to employ the term "traffic justice" in his survey responses, citing "thorough investigation of all traffic crashes" as a component of a successful strategy to reduce dangerous driving. He also supports "exploring the option" of raising on-street parking rates to "discourage long-term parking, convince some drivers to utilize garage parking and direct others to take public transit."

Chou, a Green Party nominee, is big on bikes: bike lanes, bike parking, bike-share, and bike racks on buses. He would also like to see lower transit fares. While he seems to favor the interests of pedestrians, cyclists and transit users, Chou's positions are largely short on specifics -- though he is the only candidate among the three to declare his unqualified support for congestion pricing.

Candidate James Wu didn't return the TA survey, but according to a Gotham Gazette write-up of the District 20 race, he "would seek to curb rampant jaywalking and reduce speeding." Wu says he would also push to restrict traffic on Main Street in Flushing to pedestrians and buses.

Democrats dominate the District 20 field -- Yen S. Chou and Isaac Sasson round out the Democratic roster -- but with Chou along with Republican Peter Koo in the race, voters won't finalize their choice for John Liu's successor until November.