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City Council’s Zeal for Affordable Housing Crumbles If It Means Less Parking

On Tuesday, members of the City Council hammered the de Blasio administration for not guaranteeing enough housing units for low-income New Yorkers in new construction. But yesterday, when the topic turned to building more affordable housing by reducing parking requirements, several Council members lost their zeal for housing and worried more about car storage.

The mayor is proposing the elimination of parking requirements in new affordable housing projects within the designated "transit zone," in purple: Image: DCP

The proposed “transit zone” where parking requirements for subsidized housing would no longer apply. Image: DCP

The hearing yesterday was about the City Hall proposal called “Zoning for Quality and Affordability,” or ZQA for short. One exciting aspect of ZQA is that it would reduce mandatory parking minimums for subsidized housing in a large swath of the city — freeing up space and resources to house people instead of cars. It’s not as exciting as eliminating all parking minimums everywhere, but it’s the single largest reform proposed for the city’s parking requirements in a long time.

Yesterday, Housing Preservation and Development Commissioner Vicki Been and City Planning Commission Chair Carl Weisbrod answered questions from council members about ZQA. The same chamber that the day before was so passionate about providing sufficient housing for less affluent New Yorkers suddenly seemed willing to compromise the construction of affordable residences in order to preserve the guaranteed construction of parking.

Following the lead of community boards, most council members who spoke yesterday seemed convinced that reducing parking requirements would be a burden on their constituents. Several of them wanted to keep their districts out of the “transit zone,” the area where parking requirements would no longer apply to subsidized housing. They often cited the inadequacy of transit in their districts as a reason to oppose the parking reforms, even though parking requirements make surface transit worse by pumping more traffic onto the streets.

Been and Weisbrod repeatedly emphasized that the overwhelming majority of parking spots in subsidized housing developments are unused. “We’re not saying that, in a given area, a housing provider can’t provide parking to its residents,” Weisbrod said. “We’re simply saying that we shouldn’t require it when we know and they know that it wouldn’t be utilized and those funds could better be used for other purposes — for affordable housing and, even more importantly, the space could be used for either affordable housing or open space or other community amenities.”

A major question going forward is whether City Hall and the council will water down the parking reforms before a vote on ZQA. If that happens, there will be no vote and no public record of council members’ positions on the proposal as it exists today. So here’s a record of what City Council members said about parking minimums at the hearing.

Zoning and Franchises Committee Chair Donovan Richards (Southeast Queens) 

Photo: NYC Council

“In Queens you can get to Florida by plane just as quickly as you can get to Manhattan,” said Richards. While questioning Been and Weisbrod, he suggested that some neighborhoods in the transit zones did not have “reliable” transportation options. “Certainly there would be some adverse impacts on some of the particular transit zones you’ve presented,” he said. “So this is a continuous conversation but we’re certainly hoping that you’re open to refining some of the transit zones as we move forward.”

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With New Bill, Menchaca Hopes to Build a Culture of Safety on NYC Streets

Last Friday, Brooklyn Council Member Carlos Menchaca introduced legislation that would allow cyclists to cross with leading pedestrian intervals (LPIs) that give people on foot a head-start on turning motorists at intersections.

Council Member Carlos Menchaca hopes small pieces of legislation like his LPI bill can help build a greater understanding of Vision Zero policies. Photo: William Alatriste

Council Member Carlos Menchaca hopes legislation like his LPI bill can help build a greater understanding of what makes streets safe for biking and walking. Photo: William Alatriste

LPIs have been implemented at more than 100 intersections in Manhattan, Queens, and the Bronx. Menchaca’s legislation would not require the city to install separate signals for cyclists, but would give cyclists the legal right to cross at the same time as pedestrians. It would cost nothing.

Menchaca said his proposal, Intro. 1072, would legalize a common practice among cyclists that prevents conflicts with drivers. “What I like about this is I think that people already have the instinct to want do it, and I think that instinct is about safety,” he told Streetsblog.

The proposal is in the same vein as legislation proposed by Council Member Antonio Reynoso last year to allow cyclists to treat red lights as stop signs and stops as yield signs. Menchaca said his bill builds on the conversation Reynoso began.  “I think Council Member Reynoso really started the conversation in probably one of the more grand ways anyone could do it,” Menchaca said. “What I’m doing is taking a piece out of that vision and bringing it into here and now at a low cost and allowing for us to build that narrative.”

Menchaca said his proposal, co-sponsored by Reynoso and Council Member Brad Lander, is a small step in a greater legislative effort he envisions to shift cultural attitudes toward cycling and Vision Zero. By passing legislation that reflects shifting attitudes about cyclists’ and pedestrians’ use of streets, Menchaca hopes to build a greater understanding of safe streets policy and design in communities across the city.

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Will the City Council Press NYPD to Enforce the Right of Way Law?

NYPD is barely enforcing a key Vision Zero law more than a year after it took effect, and it seems the City Council isn’t planning to do anything about it.

He's the Energizer bunny of car-centric thinking. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The pressure is not on Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to take pedestrian safety seriously. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The aim of the Right of Way Law, also known as Administrative Code Section 19-190, was to give NYPD precinct officers a tool to penalize motorists who injure or kill. The law made it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. After it took effect, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce it.

The Right of Way Law is a centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. Failure to yield is the top contributing factor in 27 percent of pedestrian fatalities and severe injuries, according to DOT’s 2010 pedestrian safety study. But NYPD is not applying the law in proportion to the scale of damage caused by drivers who fail to yield.

Precinct cops are starting to use the Right of Way Law, but mostly to issue traffic summonses, not misdemeanor charges. The misdemeanor provision remains the province of the Collision Investigation Squad — and CIS has applied it in just a handful of cases.

Last fall Mayor de Blasio’s office told Streetsblog that, in addition to misdemeanor cases handled by CIS, precinct cops are issuing Section 19-190 summonses for failure-to-yield violations that don’t result in physical harm. The violations are classified as traffic infractions, not crimes, and are subject to a $250 fine.

According to the city’s open data portal (enter “19-190” in the search field), NYPD cited 145 drivers for traffic infractions under Section 19-190 from September 2015, when NYPD began tracking the summonses, through mid-December. Of those 145 cases, 31 were dismissed.

Meanwhile, the number of Right of Way Law misdemeanor cases is stuck in double digits — DNAinfo reported Monday that 31 drivers who killed people were charged criminally in the first 16 months the law was on the books — though New York City drivers injured thousands of people in that time. Nearly all reported charges were filed after crashes worked by CIS, which handles only the most severe collisions, causing critical injury or death.

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Advocates to City Council: Parking Mandates Make Housing Less Affordable

Photo: Google Street View

Mandatory parking minimums add construction costs, restrict the supply of housing, and help put rents out of reach. Photo: Google Street View

Requiring the construction of parking spaces drives up the cost of housing in New York City, which is why parking policy reform figures prominently in the de Blasio administration’s rezoning plans. Now a coalition of advocates is highlighting how much those reforms matter to the campaign to make housing more affordable.

City Hall’s plan calls for the elimination of mandatory parking requirements from some types of housing built within walking distance of the subway, including senior housing and mixed-income inclusionary housing. Doing away with these parking requirements has drawn opposition from several community boards, which cast advisory votes. The real political test will come in the City Council, which has veto power over the proposal.

In a letter to Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and the City Planning Commission, Transportation Alternatives, the Straphangers Campaign, the Regional Plan Association, the Tri-State Transportation Campaign, StreetsPAC, and the Pratt Center highlight the link between parking requirements and New York’s high housing costs, referencing two recent studies by the NYU Furman Center:

Parking requirements are not helping the cause of affordable housing — in fact, evidence shows they work against it. In New York City, parking in above-ground garages costs more than $21,000 per space to build. Below-ground parking can run up to $50,000 per spot. Requiring off-street parking in new developments thus pushes up the cost of creating housing, which makes affordable housing a less appealing prospect for builders and stands in the way of actually constructing it. A city-commissioned study by the NYU Furman Center concluded, “The largest and most difficult zoning constraint affecting the development of new housing has been the requirement of building on-site parking spaces.”

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To Make NYC Streets Safer, Focus on the Cause of 98 Percent of Harm

Graph: Google Docs

Source data: DOT and NYPD. Chart by Streetsblog

On Wednesday, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer spoke in support of legislation that would create a “bicycle safety task force.” The language of the bill, introduced by Council Member Rosie Mendez at Brewer’s request, says the task force would make recommendations for improving bike infrastructure. But in testimony to the council transportation committee, Brewer suggested the panel would also provide a venue for people to gripe about cyclists.

“My office fields nearly daily complaints, many from seniors, who experience near misses with bikers, many of [whom] are breaking the law in some fashion,” Brewer said.

Earlier in the week Mendez staffer Matt Viggiano said basically the same thing to AMNY: “We have a lot of seniors who have called our office with complaints when cyclists don’t follow the rules of the road, and present dangerous conditions for pedestrians.”

There’s no way to pinpoint the extent of the problem described by Brewer and Viggiano. The city does not track near-collisions between cyclists and pedestrians, just like it doesn’t track near-collisions involving motorists or the actual incidence of traffic law-breaking. But for the past few years the city has collected data on reported collisions between people biking and walking. The numbers show that targeting bikes can’t achieve major gains in pedestrian safety, because nearly all pedestrian injuries and deaths are caused by motorists.

DOT recently released 2014 figures on cyclist-pedestrian collisions [PDF] reported to NYPD. People on bikes struck and killed three NYC pedestrians last year, according to DOT, and injured 305 people walking. By comparison, motorists killed 134 pedestrians in 2014, and injured 10,981. So last year cyclists were accountable for just over 2 percent of pedestrian deaths, and less than 3 percent of injuries. And that year was an outlier for fatalities.

From 2000 through 2014, cyclists killed 11 people in NYC, while motorists killed 2,425 pedestrians, making cyclists accountable for .4 percent of deaths over 15 years.

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DOT and TA: “Bike Safety Task Force” Won’t Make Biking Safer

A proposed “bike safety task force” met with resistance from city officials and safe streets advocates at a City Council transportation committee meeting this morning. DOT joined Transportation Alternatives in opposing Intro 219, which would create a two-year bike safety task force that would ostensibly make proposals for the city’s bike infrastructure.

DOT Deputy Commissioner Ryan Russo said a new task force devoted exclusively to bike safety would impede existing efforts.

“We believe focusing our resources on the bike network and bike-share expansion, as well as safety and public education campaigns, is the most effective way to make cycling a real transportation option for more New Yorkers,” Russo told the committee. “If Intro 219 were to pass, resources and staff would be diverted from crucial work… to focus on the mandates of the task force.”

Russo referred to the Jamaica Bay Greenway planning process — where DOT conducted 12 workshops with six community boards over the course of a year — as an example of the department’s efforts to build support for bike infrastructure development. As for bike safety education, Russo said that DOT has distributed over 145,000 free helmets and 600,000 Bike Smart guides, as well as thousands of bells and lights.

Speaking on behalf of the bill, Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer did nothing to allay the perception that the hearings will mainly serve as a venue to kvetch about cyclists. “My office fields nearly daily complaints, many from seniors, who experience near misses with bikers, many of who are breaking the law in some fashion,” she told the committee.

Later on, Jack Brown, an inveterate cyclist-basher who goes by the acronym “Coalition Against Rogue Riding,” previewed the level of discourse New York City can expect from such hearings, when he likened people on bikes to terrorists.

Testifying against the bill, TA’s Paul Steely White said a task force devoted to addressing such complaints would hinder the efforts of DOT and City Hall’s Vision Zero Task Force. “We believe [creating a new task force] would send the wrong message about cycling and Vision Zero,” White said in written testimony. “The Vision Zero Task Force should already be considering bicycling infrastructure, and to separate them would detract from efforts to make the streets safer for cyclists.”

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Council Bills May Convolute City Policy on Cyclist Safety and Derelict Bikes

The City Council transportation committee will take up a slate of bills tomorrow, including one that would create a “bicycle safety task force” that is opposed by Transportation Alternatives.

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The Sanitation Department is already authorized to remove abandoned bikes. The problem is the agency doesn’t act. Photo: LES BID

Intro 219, introduced in 2014 at the request of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, would establish a panel to “develop recommendations on how make New York City more bicycle-friendly.” Speaking to AMNY, however, Matt Viggiano, director of land use and planning for bill sponsor Rosie Mendez, made it sound like the task force would be yet another venue for people to complain about delivery cyclists and e-bikes.

The two-year task force would have a broad agenda, examining issues that include the allocation of federal funding and the development of physical infrastructure. The group would be made up of commissioners or designees from DOT, the Department of City Planning, and the Parks Department, plus appointees selected by the mayor and council speaker.

Transportation Alternatives believes a task force focused exclusively on cycling should not be necessary, and that bike safety should be a major focus of the city’s existing Vision Zero Task Force instead. TA sent us this statement:

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Rodriguez Backs Bill to Strengthen Legal Protections for People in Crosswalks

Momentum is building in the City Council for a bill to strengthen pedestrians’ right-of-way. Introduced by Public Advocate Tish James last week, Intro 997 picked up the support of Transportation Committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez today.

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: NYC Council

The bill fixes a flawed city rule that says people should not start to cross the street at any point after the pedestrian signal begins flashing red. With the proliferation of countdown signals that start flashing early in the pedestrian crossing phase, at many intersections there’s very little time for people to step off the curb before their legal right to cross expires. Police and prosecutors have cited the rule when they avoid applying the city’s Right of Way Law to drivers who fail to yield to pedestrians in the crosswalk.

Under Intro 997, the rule would state that pedestrians in the crosswalk “shall have the right of way for the duration of the flashing cycle and vehicular traffic shall yield the right of way to all such pedestrians for as long as the signal remains flashing.”

Citing the 13 people who’ve been killed while walking in New York over the past two weeks, Rodriguez said in a statement that the bill “will fix an outdated traffic law that defends drivers in the event of a pedestrian accident, even if a crosswalk signal is still counting down.”

The current rule could be amended by the de Blasio administration without legislative action, but City Hall has not acted.

In addition to James and Rodriguez, there are currently four sponsors in the City Council: Margaret Chin, Debi Rose, Peter Koo, and Costa Constantinides.

A hearing on the bill is not yet scheduled. A spokesperson for Rodriguez said the transportation committee’s agenda for the next few months is currently being formulated.

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Will Council Members Who Want Transit Improvements Back Toll Reform?

At yesterday’s City Council transportation committee hearing, chair Ydanis Rodriguez hoped to engage the MTA and DOT concerning areas of the city that need more transit options. But despite being invited, according to Rodriguez, the MTA refused to send anyone.

Instead, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg promised to pressure the MTA to invest in transportation projects to improve commuter times between Manhattan and the edges of the city.

A bill introduced by Rodriguez and Daneek Miller would require DOT and the MTA to assess transportation availability in neighborhoods identified as “transit deserts.” Another bill would mandate that the two agencies study the feasibility of a new light rail system. Trottenberg requested that those proposals be folded into a study already underway, commissioned by the council earlier this year, on options for improved bus rapid transit.

Since Mayor de Blasio has upped the city’s MTA contribution, the administration is in a position to “exert pressure” on the MTA “to see that they are equitably serving the parts of the city that have traditionally been so under-served,” Trottenberg said. “That is very high on our agenda.”

Council members expressed skepticism that the MTA would pull through on outer-borough transit projects. Miller said that new Hudson Yards subway service, a capital project funded by the city, serves far fewer passengers per day than proposed projects in eastern Queens. “We want to make sure the services are being provided equitably, and I think right now they are not,” he said.

Bronx rep Jimmy Vacca urged Trottenberg to act urgently on improving express buses. “People in my district, and people in the Bronx, are asking for relief,” he told Trottenberg. “Now that we’re having this discussion, we can’t wait for long-term plans. We have to do what we can do now.”

Among the specific projects discussed was expansion of the MTA CityTicket program, which makes commuter rail tickets cheaper for city residents. The council is currently considering a resolution calling on the MTA to equalize the cost of commuter train travel within city limits with the cost of a subway ride.

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City Hall Wants Council Members to Beef Up “Bikes in Buildings” Bills

No matter how well you lock up your bike in NYC, if you leave it outside for any significant amount of time, you never know what will be left when you get back. For secure storage, nothing beats a spot inside. But thanks to a bizarre aversion to bicycles shared by many landlords and property managers, a large percentage of NYC buildings are de facto bike-free zones.

folding_bike_demo

Folding bikes are no bulkier than rolling luggage — and they’re fine in City Council chambers — so how come a lot of building managers don’t allow them in elevators? Photo: @juliakite

In 2009, the Bicycle Access to Buildings Law started to chip away at these restrictions by creating a legal mechanism for employees to win bicycle access to their workplaces. That law had its limitations, though, like a loophole that compelled some bike commuters to leave their ride at the office if the freight elevator was shut down for the day. This session, three bills have been introduced in the City Council to expand the guarantee of bike access to buildings.

The bills appear to have a clear path forward, judging by a hearing on all three in the Housing and Buildings Committee yesterday. A representative from NYC DOT commended the legislation and wants the sponsors to strengthen their proposals, signaling City Hall’s general approval of the new bills.

One problem with the 2009 law is that even if a tenant successfully petitions for bike access to a building, there is no full guarantee. Building owners can deny access to passenger elevators entirely, and while access to freight elevators is required during operating hours, it’s common for buildings to cease operating their freight elevators long before most workers head home for the day. In a DOT survey of 209 tenants who had applied for bike access to their buildings, many said that limitations on freight elevator access were a significant hindrance, according to testimony delivered yesterday by DOT’s Michelle Craven.

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