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Posts from the City Council Category


It’s Time to Vote on How to Spend Your Council Member’s Money

For the fifth year, New Yorkers can vote via participatory budgeting on which projects should receive discretionary funds earmarked for their City Council districts. This time around, a record 30 council members are asking constituents how to spend their discretionary budgets. Voting began this past weekend and runs through Sunday.

Participatory budgeting is happening this week in 30 council districts. Image: NYC Council

Participatory budget voting is happening this week in 30 council districts. Image: NYC Council

Instead of the old, opaque, scandal-prone method of distributing discretionary funds, under participatory budgeting residents in each district can choose from a list of projects that council staff approved to be on the ballot. You can find your district’s voting locations and ballot items on the council’s participatory budgeting website.

There are transit and street safety projects on ballots across the city — mostly small-scale capital improvements like curb extensions or bus countdown clocks. Funding these projects through participatory budgeting can expand or accelerate related work that’s underway, or create momentum for initiatives that haven’t been a high priority for city agencies. And a strong showing for streets- or transit-related projects demonstrates the public appetite for these types of changes in general.

Here’s a look at some of the bigger street safety projects on PB ballots this time around.

Meeker Avenue Safety Improvements

For almost a year, members of Transportation Alternatives’ Brooklyn activist committee have been advocating for safety improvements along Meeker Avenue, the service road slicing through north Brooklyn beneath the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway. DOT has a proposal currently on the table at Community Board 1 to improve pedestrian crossings around Macri Triangle Park at Union and Metropolitan Avenues. On the PB ballot for residents of the 33rd council district, represented by Steve Levin, is $400,000 for “continuing safety improvements along this high-speed corridor to decrease crossing distances and improve pedestrian safety.” This funding would cover pedestrian safety improvements beyond the scope of the current DOT project, though exact locations have yet to be determined.

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Advocates Ask City Council to Fully Fund Vision Zero Street Improvements

Stephen Levin (right) was one of thirteen council members to sign onto TA's pledge to fully fund Vision Zero projects in 2016. Photo: Kristen Miller

Stephen Levin (right) was one of 13 council members who signed onto TA’s pledge to fully fund Vision Zero projects in 2016. Photo: Kristen Miller

If the city hopes to dramatically decrease the number of traffic fatalities in New York City, DOT needs more resources to redesign the city’s most dangerous corridors and intersections.

That’s the message 70 members of Transportation Alternatives brought to the City Council yesterday, meeting with 21 council members or their staff.

“We are calling on the council to increase funding and watchdog implementation of safety improvements along the priority corridors and intersections that the DOT has already identified in its Pedestrian Safety Action Plans,” TA Executive Director Paul Steely White said in a statement. “To increase staffing and pay for resurfacing, road marking, signaling, and outreach, the DOT will need an increase in the operating budget, not stagnation.”

Advocates say DOT needs more funding to address safety concerns on the city's most dangerous corridors. Image: Transportation Alternatives

Advocates say DOT needs more funding to fix the city’s most dangerous streets. Image: Transportation Alternatives

TA’s Vision Zero Report Card, released in January, pointed to the slow pace of progress on the dangerous streets and intersections identified by DOT in its borough-by-borough pedestrian safety action plans. Only 22 percent of the 154 priority corridors have undergone safety improvements, and most of those improvements were to specific intersections. Only three of the 154 corridors have receive improvements along their entire length.

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4 More City Council Members Weigh in on Parking Reform

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

The mayor’s rezoning proposal eliminates minimum parking requirements for subsidized housing within the designated “transit zone,” in purple: Image: DCP

Last week, City Hall’s proposal to reduce parking minimums for subsidized housing near transit got a hearing in the City Council, and for the most part it wasn’t pretty. Council members may say they want more affordable housing, but for many of them, that support gets shaky if it means requiring less parking in residential development.

The parking reforms are part of a larger rezoning package that needs approval from the City Council in order to be enacted. Some changes are expected before a vote is held, and lower parking requirements could be in jeopardy, especially in areas where council members are hostile to the idea.

Last week we published what council members said about parking minimums during the hearing. Streetsblog is calling around to get more council members on the record. Here’s what we’ve heard so far — this batch of four council reps gives more cause for optimism than last week’s batch of nine.

Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez (Washington Heights, Inwood)

YRHSRodriguez, whose Upper Manhattan district is in the transit zone, took to Twitter last week to reiterate his support for the parking reforms. Rodriguez had previously voiced his support for eliminating parking minimums entirely. Speaking at NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation in October, Rodriguez argued for the elimination of parking minimums to help get New Yorkers out of cars and into other modes of transportation. “If we can broaden these reforms beyond just affordable and senior housing,” he said, “we will encourage residents to find new, safe and efficient ways to get to work without straining their pockets or our streets.”

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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.”


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.


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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