From Promise to Progress in De Blasio’s NYC: Safer Streets and Better Transit

Last month, local activists and the families of New Yorkers killed by dangerous drivers delivered 4,127 letters to then-candidate de Blasio, declaring, “I bike, I walk & I vote.” (Photo: Dmitry Gudkov.)

Mayor-elect Bill de Blasio ran on a platform with ambitious goals to reduce traffic deaths, improve bus service, and increase bicycling. As New York City’s first mayoral transition in 12 years gets underway, Streetsblog is asking advocates and experts how Mayor-elect de Blasio should follow through and implement a progressive transportation policy agenda. First up: Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives.

Now that he’s won the mayoral election, Bill de Blasio is positioned to change New York City’s streets – for good. His challenge will be to take the safety improvements we’ve seen in a handful of neighborhoods and expand them across the five boroughs, bringing his vision of equity to the streets we all share.

How can he do it? Well, he’s already provided the answers – in his campaign pledges to improve quality of life and reduce traffic fatalities by bringing safe streets to all of New York’s 400 neighborhoods.

Four years from now, millions of New Yorkers, from Co-Op City to the neighborhoods along Queens Boulevard and Richmond Terrace, should have safe and livable streets. We should expect that in 2017, when people talk about a typical New York City residential neighborhood, they’ll be thinking of one with 20 mph zones, Play Streets, and bustling, people-oriented commercial corridors that boost local economic activity more than any EDC-funded parking lot ever did.

Those safety improvements throughout the city will mean thousands of injuries prevented, and hundreds of lives saved. We’ll see fewer TV news reports about parents grieving for lost children, because the number of pedestrian fatalities will have fallen dramatically during the de Blasio administration.

These goals fit perfectly into Bill de Blasio’s vision of ending the disparities between what he has referred to as New York’s “two cities.” Now, residents just have to hold the Mayor-elect to the promises he’s made.

When he outlined his transportation policy, candidate de Blasio promised to “prioritize long-neglected parts of the outer boroughs, alleviate dangerous conditions that make streets unsafe, and work toward a more efficient and flexible network that delivers real choice for New Yorkers.”

Let’s begin with those “dangerous conditions,” because safety should be the principle that governs every move Bill de Blasio makes when it comes to transportation.

The Mayor-elect’s most remarkable campaign pledge on transportation was his commitment to “Vision Zero.” The goal is to get New York to the point where the city has no fatalities or serious injuries caused by car crashes by the year 2024. Specific proposals include more Neighborhood Slow Zones, along with a crackdown on reckless driving, speeding and failure to yield to pedestrians.

To make Vision Zero a reality, de Blasio must appoint a police commissioner who will get serious about enforcing the city’s traffic laws. The next leader of the NYPD needs to recognize the changing public safety landscape in New York City. Crime and terrorism need to be prevented, but so does unlawful driving and disregard for life and limb on our roads. After all, more people are killed in traffic than murdered by guns in New York City.

Analysts know what causes collisions and where and when they happen most frequently. Just as the NYPD uses CompStat to target its resources to combat crime, the next police commissioner must use data-driven traffic enforcement consistently across the precincts to target the most deadly violations.

There’s another significant commissioner appointment that Mayor-elect de Blasio will be making in the coming weeks: the decision about who should lead the city’s Department of Transportation. The right commissioner can build on Mayor Bloomberg’s transportation legacy, but the wrong person could stall the rollout of better streets to New Yorkers who need them most. DOT needs a skilled manager with a commitment to using transportation policy to realize the Mayor-elect’s economic and social goals.

The next DOT commissioner will oversee plans to overhaul at least 50 dangerous traffic corridors and intersections every year. Specifically, de Blasio says, that would mean “narrowing excessively wide streets that encourage reckless passing and speeding, widening sidewalks and medians to make streets easier and safer to cross, and adding dedicated bicycle infrastructure to create a safe space for New Yorkers on bikes.”

“Complete Streets” is the term we use at Transportation Alternatives to describe roadways with protected bike lanes, camera-enforced bus lanes, and safety islands and curb extensions to protect pedestrians. More of that infrastructure will be coming to the outer boroughs if Bill de Blasio keeps his word. For example, the Mayor-elect has made an exciting promise to double the city’s current bicycling goal to 6 percent of all trips by 2020.

Bill de Blasio has also pledged to expand Citi Bike. Now he must develop a plan to fund bike-share in all five boroughs, so more New Yorkers can benefit from this emerging form of public transit. He should give priority to areas that have poor transit access and look to public transportation funding streams and monies from developers.

Bike-share must also be made more affordable for users. The ridership rate among low-income residents currently stands at 0.5 percent, even though the bike share system operates in neighborhoods with large low-income populations. The next mayor and transportation commissioner need to bring down Citi Bike prices for residents of public housing and make information about bike-share available in multiple languages.

Even if the next administration reaches its bicycling goals, most New Yorkers will still depend on trains and buses. The Mayor-elect has pledged to support more transit investments outside Manhattan. One relatively affordable way for him to accomplish that is to continue the expansion of Select Bus Service. Bill de Blasio says he’ll create a citywide Bus Rapid Transit network with more than 20 lines — so neighborhoods that are currently not well served by transit can be connected to emerging transportation and employment hubs.

To help pay for this, the Mayor-elect says he’ll “fight to protect the critical financial support of the transit system, including the payroll tax.” Every New York City mayor has to find ways to work with the governor and Albany lawmakers to secure transit funding. Hopefully, Bill de Blasio will make good use of the relationship he developed with Andrew Cuomo from their days working together at HUD.

Advocates will also be watching de Blasio to see what he accomplishes in Washington, where he has pledged to work for a fully-funded Cross Harbor Tunnel that would put more freight on trains and take thousands of trucks off New York City streets.

While we’re on the subject of advocates, we shouldn’t let ourselves off the hook while we talk about holding Bill de Blasio accountable. Our challenge in the coming years will be to work with communities around the city to help residents demand the safety improvements they want for their streets.

That way, even if Bill de Blasio continues to express ambivalence about pedestrian plazas, or if his political will seems to be flagging on things like speed cameras or Select Bus Service, countless other New Yorkers will be ready to stand up and remind the mayor of his promises.