City Council Candidates on the Issues: Helen Rosenthal, District 6

We continue our series on City Council candidates with a Q&A with former Community Board 7 chair Helen Rosenthal, who’s running to represent District 6 on the Upper West Side. Earlier this week, we ran responses from real estate executive Ken Biberaj and Democratic Party District Leader Marc Landis. We will continue later this week with Green Party candidate Tom Siracuse and former Community Board 7 chair Mel Wymore. Streetsblog did not receive questionnaire responses from Democratic State Committeewoman Debra Cooper and education activist Noah Gotbaum.

City Council District 6 candidate Helen Rosenthal. Photo: Helen Rosenthal for City Council/Facebook

Streetsblog: The effort to bring protected bike lanes to the Upper West Side continues to face hurdles from some community board members. Do you think the lanes are a benefit for the neighborhood? Do you want to see them expanded and, if so, where?

Helen Rosenthal: The bike lanes are a benefit to our community because they slow traffic, provide a safe lane for bikers, and provide a resting place (the refuge) for seniors or others who can’t get across the street in one light cycle. As chair of Community Board 7 in 2008 and 2009, I shepherded the resolution for the Columbus Avenue bike lane through the transportation committee and full board when the board members were totally resistant to even contemplating a DOT study for a bike lane. We need to make sure the Columbus Avenue bike lane extends below 77th Street to connect with 9th Avenue. We must extend the bike lanes to Amsterdam Avenue! I’m excited to have the opportunity to serve in the Council to continue advocating for bike lanes throughout the city (we urgently need to extend the west side greenway to circle around to the east side of Manhattan).

SB: Outgoing Council Member Gale Brewer has been a strong supporter of closing the Central Park drives to automobile traffic. Do you also support a car-free Central Park? If so, how would you like to see a car-free Central Park implemented?

HR: I too am a strong supporter of closing the Central Park drives to automobile traffic. I ride my bike in Central Park on a regular basis and know that a car-free Central Park would be safer for all those who are enjoying the open space that Central Park provides. As the future city councilwoman whose district will include Central Park, I will work with all the stakeholders to bring about a successful car-free Central Park — much in the same way I worked with residents and landlords to protect affordable housing for Trinity House and the Stern residents (a situation that also seemed intractable).

SB: Citi Bike was launched last month. Plans call for the program to be expanded to the Upper West Side in the future. Do you support the siting of bike-share stations in the neighborhood?

HR: I was thrilled to sign up for the Citi Bike program at the Bike Expo a few weeks ago (the t-shirt became an instant favorite in my household). The Citi Bike program, and any program that promotes the use of bicycles as a viable transportation alternative, is a positive step forward to making New York City a truly multi-modal city. I believe bike-share stations on the Upper West Side would be incredibly successful—and in the interest of achieving the best success should go through the public review process with consultation from residents and business owners. As a candidate to be the next UWS city councilwoman, I’ve spoken with many people who are disappointed that the bike-share program does not already include the Upper West Side.

SB: On the East Side, Select Bus Service on First and Second Avenues has led to faster bus speeds. Do you want dedicated bus lanes and other service improvements for bus riders on the Upper West Side, and if so, where?

HR: The west side would greatly benefit from the addition of a Select Bus Service. The residents of the Upper West Side are avid public transportation riders and the addition of another option to shorten travel times would be well received! After a community process to identify the highest demand routes, we would work with the MTA to successfully implement SBS. It’s likely that we would end up with two new SBS routes: one on the M11 route, north and southbound Broadway; and the other along the M104 lines on Amsterdam and Columbus. Other service improvements such as bus arrival count down clocks and better communication of service changes on our bus lines would add to the convenience and reliability our transit system.

SB: How can the City Council best use its powers to reduce vehicular deaths and ensure traffic justice citywide?

HR: Most importantly, the council must pass legislation to lower the speed limit throughout the city to 20 mph. We need to continue to work with the NYPD to enforce current traffic laws and curtail moving violations that put pedestrians and riders in danger — perhaps by giving parking agents the authority to issue tickets as well. Bringing the Columbus Avenue bike lane to the UWS had the added benefit of “slowing traffic” because the lanes were shortened from 11 feet wide to 9 feet wide — perhaps ALL lanes should be shortened! In addition, the council, DOT and concerned residents can look at streetscape features that range from designing for slower turns on crowded intersections to curb extensions that increase walking real estate as to create additional barriers between pedestrians and vehicles.

SB: The MTA is a state agency, but what actions would you like to see the City Council take to fund and expand transit service?

HR: The city’s MTA contribution should be restored to the mid-to-late 1980s level equivalent of $200 million per year, then adjusted for inflation in subsequent years. The city should finance this by taking advantage of historically low interest rates and issuing long-term municipal bonds, investing the proceeds in MTA re-building and bringing back staff to properly serve the riders (from clerks to motormen to conductors and cleaners). Additionally there are on-going taxes that could fund MTA workers, such as taxing non-hybrids and electric cars at parking garages. The health of our public transit system is critical to maintaining economic growth and social equality in our city. Some specific projects I would like the city to direct more funding to include upgrading equipment and facilities for servicing our buses and trains, making stations more accessible for seniors and the disabled, and service enhancements like countdown clocks and expanding bus rapid transit.