Vacca Watch: Pre-Bike Hearing Chatter Between Transpo Chair Staffer, NBBL
City Council Transportation Committee chair James Vacca has made headlines for his inquisitorial hearings on DOT’s bike and plaza programs. And it looks like his office was batting around ideas with street safety opponents before the first of those hearings last December.
Email correspondence obtained by Streetsblog from Marty Markowitz’s office indicates that a Vacca staff member was in contact with the anti-bike lane group “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” in the lead-up to the December bike hearing.
According to the document, a staffer in Vacca’s office sent Louise Hainline, the president of NBBL, a link to this Richard Lipsky blog post in October. (Lipsky is the disgraced lobbyist caught up in the Carl Kruger corruption scandal who worked to foil congestion pricing in 2008 and became a vocal yet mostly-ignored critic of transportation commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan.) The post, a line-by-line commentary on a Steve Cuozzo column written in the wake of October’s dueling rallies over the Prospect Park West bike lane, is standard-issue bikelash fare. But toward the end Lipsky issues this plea: “Calling CM Jimmy Vacca-the council’s sagacious chair of the council’s transportation committee. Can we get some oversight Jimmy?”
After receiving the link from Vacca’s office, Hainline sent it around to a group of core NBBL members and allies, including three employees at the Brooklyn borough president’s office, Gibson Dunn attorney Jim Walden, and Jessica Schumer, the daughter of Senator Chuck Schumer and former DOT Commissioner Iris Weinshall.
Vacca held the bike hearing on December 9. His office told Streetsblog ahead of time that they expected the Prospect Park West bike lane to come up in testimony, and when the hearing rolled around, PPW opponents including Marty Markowitz and NBBL member Norman Steisel did receive an inordinate amount of attention.
We don’t know who in Vacca’s office sent the Lipsky rant to Hainline, or in what context. Streetsblog has a freedom of information request pending with Vacca’s office for correspondence related to the December hearing. Vacca spokesperson Bret Collazzi sent the following statement in response to inquiries about the October email and the relationship between Vacca, Lipsky, and NBBL:
Our office is in the final stages of responding to a Freedom of Information Law request from Streetsblog that covers all communications related to the Prospect Park West bike lane. Until that process is complete, I cannot accurately answer your questions. What I can say is that the New York City Council Transportation Committee does not convene oversight hearings on the basis of blog posts or neighborhood-specific complaints. Our Committee convenes oversight hearings when Chairman Vacca feels an issue has risen to a level of citywide importance and warrants additional public discussion. I think there’s little doubt that bicycling in New York City met those criteria.