In Speech, Vacca Promises Support for Select Bus Service, Pedestrian Safety

In a speech to NYU's Rudin Center for Transportation, City Council Transportation Chair James Vacca focused on improving bus service and protecting pedestrians. Image: City Council

In a speech this morning at NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation, City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca laid out his agenda for the coming year. His remarks focused on efforts to support Select Bus Service outside the Manhattan core and to improve pedestrian safety. Also on Vacca’s list were curbing placard abuse and enforcing existing regulations on commercial cyclists.

Citing reports from the Center for an Urban Future and the Pratt Center for Community Development, Vacca argued that the city’s transit system is inadequate for low-income communities, especially as employment shifts from Manhattan to the other four boroughs. “As our city decentralizes its job growth,” he said, “the hub and the spokes model must be adapted to meet changing needs.” Better transit outside Manhattan, he said, is a matter of “social, economic, and environmental justice.”

The solution, Vacca argued, is Select Bus Service, which he said he hoped to see expand more rapidly than it has so far. “I’m not talking about expanding the network of slow buses,” he said. “I’m talking about the network of SBS buses that will get people where they want to go quicker.” He specifically endorsed each aspect of SBS: dedicated and camera-enforced lanes, priority at traffic signals and off-board fare payment. The city’s first SBS line, along Fordham Road, goes through Vacca’s district and has been a smash success.

There’s little the council can do legislatively to speed up SBS implementation, Vacca said, but he plans to hold an oversight hearing to call attention to the issue. He also suggested that the council could help build political support for rapid bus service, even bringing it back to communities that have rejected the idea. “We can try to get them to be a ‘Yes,’” he said.

In terms of pedestrian safety, Vacca reiterated his position from last week’s landmark hearing on inadequate NYPD traffic fatality investigations. “There are too many people in this city who drive too quickly who physically injure another person who end up with a traffic ticket,” said Vacca. “That’s unacceptable.”

Vacca mentioned a number of ways to improve traffic enforcement and promised that he’d work to find more. He said he wants to see NYPD charge motorists with careless driving, even if police don’t directly witness a crash, and voiced support for state legislation making their ability to do so explicit.

Vacca also called on Albany to allow the city to install more red light cameras. “Many times, we give tickets just for the purpose of raising revenue,” he said, “but these are more than tickets. My purpose in advocating for them is to save lives in this city.”

Finally, Vacca also called on City Hall to set up an interagency traffic safety task force, a top demand of Transportation Alternatives.

Engineering solutions to pedestrian safety, such as bike lanes and traffic calming, didn’t come up during the discussion this morning. Historically, Vacca has been antagonistic toward safety efforts that redistribute road space away from motor vehicles, seeming to prefer enforcement-based solutions. However, he did briefly mention his support for DOT’s slow speed zones, which are intended to be self-enforcing.

During a question-and-answer period, Vacca noted a number of other issues on his committee’s agenda. The council is still working out details of legislation sponsored by Dan Garodnick aimed at curbing the abuse of parking placards, for example.

Some classes of cyclists are also being targeted by Vacca. The council member said he wants to increase enforcement of existing laws regulating the behavior of commercial cyclists and that his committee is exploring how to regulate electric bicycles.

In his speech, Vacca also mentioned his support for bringing Metro-North service to under-served parts of the Bronx, for expanding ferry service, and allowing drivers to use time purchased at one Muni-Meter in another location.