Who Will Be NYC’s Next Transpo Committee Chair?

Now that Michael Bloomberg, Bill de Blasio, John Liu, and the City Council have been sworn in, attention turns to speaker Christine Quinn's choices to head legislative committees. For New Yorkers who care about street safety and sustainable transportation, the big question is who will run the City Council transportation committee.

vacca_garodnick.jpgJames Vacca, left, and Daniel Garodnick are rumored to be in the running for transportation committee chair.
Committee chairs can set the agenda in more ways than one, acting as gatekeepers for pending bills and commanding bully pulpits that focus public attention on city agencies. The power of the transportation chair was quite apparent last year, when John Liu held up a committee vote on the Bicycle Access Bill, casting its future in doubt.

The bill's ultimate passage was a big step forward for the council on sustainable transportation. But the city's legislative agenda can still get clogged up with counterproductive items like the parking "grace period" which the council passed in December. Will the next transpo chair spend time and energy trying to score cheap points with car owners, or will New Yorkers get a leader who puts safety and livability at the top of the agenda?

"Historically, the transportation committee has been overly sensitive to New York's minority of motorists," Transportation Alternatives director Paul White told Streetsblog. "We really need someone who understands New York's supermajority of transit riders, walkers, and, increasingly, cyclists."

The next transportation committee chair could, for instance, move legislation requiring NYPD to release traffic safety data to the public every month, the same way it releases crime data. "We still don't get that information until several months or even years down the road," said White. With a sizable slate of bus, bike, and pedestrian projects on tap, the next chair could also rally support within the council for allocating street space to more sustainable modes.

According to a Daily News report, Quinn is expected to choose committee chairs toward the end of the month, and Bronx council member James Vacca is on the short list for the transportation committee. Vacca was one of the leading proponents of the parking grace period bill. The lone opponent of that bill, Manhattan rep Daniel Garodnick, has also signaled interest in the position, sources tell Streetsblog. Garodnick was among 19 local elected officials who last month urged DOT and the MTA to implement a bold BRT design for First and Second Avenues, incorporating separated lanes for both buses and bikes.