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On WNYC this morning, Brian Lehrer posed the best transportation question of the 2013 mayoral campaign, asking Bill de Blasio, “Have you thought about transportation as one of your tools to fight inequality?”
Here’s what the mayoral frontrunner said:
Transportation determines opportunity, livability, business climate. For many people, the absence of affordable transportation, in outer-borough locations especially, constrains their opportunities.
An encouraging response, but left unsaid by the candidate is that the means of “affordable transportation” are trains, buses, biking, and walking. Most New Yorkers don’t have cars, and many households simply can’t afford the thousands of dollars in annual costs that come attached to car ownership. De Blasio’s policy platform does include ambitious goals to speed up bus service, but on the air he didn’t specifically mention transit as a tool to reduce inequality.
Lehrer moved on to Tuesday’s mayoral debate, saying he was surprised to hear de Blasio self-identify as a motorist when responding to a question about pedestrian plazas. When he asked if de Blasio thought Bloomberg’s policies were “too anti-car,” the candidate responded:
No, I would not say that. A lot of what the mayor’s done is right in this area. Sometimes I think he did it in a way that was less consultative with communities than it could have been.
The core of it I agree with fully. We have to focus on pedestrian safety, we have to focus on bicycle safety. The “Vision Zero” approach which I subscribe to, literally the goal is to have zero fatalities amongst pedestrians and bicyclists. And we have a lot of the tools we need to fundamentally change our approach to safety.I do believe in the bike lanes we have and in expanding them further. I do believe in the traffic calming measures. Pedestrians plazas are part of that.
But on the Times Square and Herald Square plazas specifically, de Blasio was less clear:
Bill de Blasio, who adopted an aggressive street safety platform during the Democratic mayoral primary, reverted back to a livable streets skeptic at last night’s mayoral debate. The mayoral frontrunner claimed “the jury’s out” on the city’s popular Midtown pedestrian plazas, which among other benefits have led to dramatic reductions in pedestrian injuries. Republican candidate Joe Lhota was non-committal too, but given the de Blasio campaign’s stated commitment to eliminating traffic deaths, his response was especially jarring.
At the 51-minute mark, moderator Maurice Dubois asked the candidates a question dripping with windshield perspective: ”Would you take out the tables and chairs from Times Square and Herald Square and reopen Broadway?” De Blasio responded:
I have profoundly mixed feelings on this issue. I’m a motorist myself, and I was often frustrated. And then I’ve also seen on the other hand that it does seem to have a positive impact on the tourist industry. So for me, the jury’s out on that particular question. I think it’s worth assessing what the impact has been on traffic, what the impact has been on surrounding businesses. I would keep an open mind.
“He may be the judge but the jury has spoken,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White told Streetsblog this morning. Since the plazas were installed in 2009, they’ve been the subject of numerous polls, traffic studies, and business reports from the city, independent pollsters, and business groups. Given the evidence, de Blasio’s assertion that there needs to be even more review defies credulity.
“The position de Blasio articulated last night is completely inconsistent with Vision Zero,” White added, referring to the candidate’s campaign plank to eliminate traffic deaths within 10 years. “Putting pedestrians first is clearly saving lives and boosting business, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Times Square.”
Two months after the Times Square plazas were first installed, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 58 percent of New Yorkers supported them, with only 35 percent opposed. A Times poll this year showed that 72 percent of New Yorkers, including strong majorities in every demographic, support the citywide plaza program.
Before the plazas were made permanent in 2010, surveys from the Times Square Alliance business improvement district found that the majority of property owners and retail managers supported the program. In 2009, 70 percent of Times Square residents and workers supported the plazas; in 2012, the percentage jumped to 80 percent, the Alliance said. After pedestrianization, Times Square has consistently ranked as one of the most desirable retail destinations on earth.
Citing the plaza’s popularity and safety gains, including dramatic reductions in the number of pedestrians walking in the roadbed and a 35 percent drop in injuries, the Alliance said there’s no reason why the city should halt construction on a permanent plaza. “The current capital project to build a world-class plaza in Times Square — already well underway — makes sense to continue,” the group said in a statement.
The sentiment is similar on 34th Street, where the local BID is looking to come to an agreement with the city that would give it more control over maintaining and programming the plazas. “The pedestrian plazas are a huge success, and must stay,” Dan Biederman, head of the 34th Street Partnership, said in a statement. “They have created great new urban life, raised real estate values, and cut pedestrian injuries.”
When it comes to bicycling, Joe Lhota has a penchant for ignoring facts in favor of opinions. As Hurricane Sandy approached landfall, the then-MTA chief tweeted a photo of a man riding in a shared lane on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, implying that bike lanes are to blame for bike-bus crashes. This May, he said that DOT didn’t coordinate with the fire department on bike-share station siting, when FDNY said that, in fact, DOT vetted the locations with them.
Now, we have another example of the Republican mayoral candidate ignoring reality, captured by YouTube user gifterphotos and tweeted by New York Observer editor Colin Campbell. Lhota was speaking on Sunday at the Flatbush Jewish Community Relations Council when he got to the topic of community consultation: “We now have more and more bike lanes. Let’s not debate whether or not we should have bike lanes,” he said. “But how is it possible that bike lanes go in your street without any community input whatsoever? The community boards don’t know about it. It just happens.”
Has Joe Lhota been to a community board meeting lately? Maybe he missed the bike lane planning and requests led by community boards in Co-Op City, Middle Village, Long Island City, Bay Ridge, Staten Island, and the Upper West Side, to name a few. Maybe he forgot that Local Law 90 requires DOT to give community boards a comment period on significant streetscape changes, including most new bike lanes. Perhaps he wasn’t aware that DOT was already doing this type of outreach before the law passed, and that while community boards are advisory bodies, the agency usually defers to them, even when it means a dangerous street design will remain in place.
Lhota continued: “When was there a speech or a major understanding of what the strategy is about bike lanes in New York? Where do you want to go with it? What is the vision for that? It just happened, and it just keeps being rolled out.” Maybe Lhota wasn’t paying attention during Mayor Bloomberg’s agenda-setting PlaNYC speech in 2007, or didn’t see the documents and updates that followed. Perhaps he didn’t see the city’s street design manual, which lays out which types of streets are fit for particular street safety interventions, including bike lanes.
For someone who once occupied the post of deputy mayor for operations, those are some awfully big blind spots about how the city currently operates.
StreetsPAC announced general election endorsements in four City Council races today.
StreetsPAC supports incumbent Jimmy Van Bramer for District 26 in Queens, which covers Woodside, Sunnyside, Long Island City, Astoria, and Maspeth. “Jimmy Van Bramer has long been a champion for safe and complete streets,” says a StreetsPAC press release. “He has stood with victims’ families when reckless drivers have taken their lives, and has tirelessly advocated for more effective traffic laws.” Van Bramer is a supporter of speed cameras and Citi Bike, StreetsPAC says, and he wants to extend the city’s bike lane network, including the installation of a lane on the Pulaski Bridge. Van Bramer is unopposed, according to the Campaign Finance Board.
In District 5, StreetsPAC likes Ben Kallos to succeed Jessica Lappin as council rep for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island. Kallos would like to see bike-share expanded to the district, according to StreetsPAC, and would work to bring crosstown Select Bus Service to the Upper East and Upper West Sides. A “regular cyclist,” Kallos wants traffic calmed near the Queensboro Bridge, and “envisions a true complete-streets treatment for Second Avenue after subway construction ends, with loading zones, performance-based parking, and a protected bicycle path.” Kallos is running against David Garland in the general.
Across Central Park on the Upper West Side, Helen Rosenthal is the StreetsPAC pick to fill the District 6 seat, which will be vacated by term-limited Gale Brewer. Says StreetsPAC: “A lifelong cyclist who looks forward to commuting to City Hall by bicycle, Helen Rosenthal will work to bring Citi Bike to the Upper West Side and, with the inclusion of Central Park in District 6, remove cars once and for all from the park loop.” StreetsPAC cites Rosenthal’s record as chair of Community Board 7, including her support for protected bike lanes on Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. Rosenthal is also interested in “the eventual completion of an uninterrupted greenway around Manhattan.” Rosenthal is running against Tom Siracuse and Harry DeMell.
StreetsPAC has endorsed John Mancuso in Staten Island’s District 50, to replace term-limited James Oddo. StreetsPAC says Mancuso’s “most urgent” priority is safety improvements for Hylan Boulevard and other crash-prone Staten Island streets. “John Mancuso is a breath of fresh air for Staten Island, which is in dire need of more and better transportation options,” said StreetsPAC board member Glenn McAnanama, via the press release. “John clearly understands that the solution to Staten Island’s traffic problems isn’t just wider roads. He will advocate for rational bridge tolling, and his support for pedestrian and bike access to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge will help make the Harbor Ring a reality.” Mancuso is running against Steven Matteo.
StreetsPAC is NYC’s first livable streets political action committee.
It looks like Joe Lhota didn’t listen to Nicole Gelinas or Transportation Alternatives. Yesterday, Lhota released what his campaign billed as a “comprehensive policy book” [PDF], but New Yorkers interested in safer streets or better bicycling and walking are still awaiting much of any policy from the Republican candidate.
After platitudes about how “an effective transportation system is a key part of New York City’s economy and quality of life,” we get to the meat of Lhota’s plan: A bullet-point list of what he promises to do as mayor.
- Take control of the MTA’s bridges and tunnels to reduce costs to commuters
- Fight for funding for the MTA’s 5-year capital program
- Create a feasibility study to expand the New York City subway system
- Re-establish the Mayor’s Office of Transportation to communicate the city’s transportation needs and priorities to other agencies
- Ensure the building of four new Metro-North stops in the Bronx with access to Penn Station
- Encourage park and ride stations at the end of suitable subway lines
- Ensure that New York City roads are in a good state of repair
- Synchronize traffic lights to mitigate traffic and enhance mobility
- Examine the use of “smart” traffic lights
- Consider the expansion of right on red in certain parts of the city
- Expand Select Bus Service
- Support expanded Staten Island Ferry service
- Make the Rockaway Ferry permanent
- Support a West Shore Rail Line on Staten Island
- Ensure the completion of the 2nd Avenue Subway
Of the 15 bullet points, three are just about traffic lights — that’s 20 percent of his platform. In the policy book’s environment section, Lhota repeats his desire to install park-and-ride lots at the end of subway lines and promises Upper East Siders that he will not open 91st Street waste transfer station, which is part of a plan to move some of the city’s trash disposal burden, including truck traffic, from poorer neighborhoods.
Have you voted yet?
The Democratic runoff election for public advocate is happening right now. Candidates Tish James and Dan Squadron each have impressive bona fides when it comes to livable streets. In his four years in Albany, Squadron took the lead in shepherding a number of street safety bills through the State Senate. StreetsPAC-endorsed James has been a reliable voice of reason in the City Council, a proponent of street redesigns in her district, and has pledged to use the public advocate’s office to draw attention to NYPD traffic enforcement. In a televised runoff debate, both reiterated their support for congestion pricing.
Despite having a relatively tiny budget and limited power, the public advocate has bully a pulpit that can be used to highlight whatever issues s/he deems important. The public advocate steps in if the mayor is unable to complete a term, and the job often serves as a springboard to run for higher office.
Here’s an overview of positions taken by James and Squadron on street safety, transit, parking and related issues.
- Voted for congestion pricing and the “Bikes in Buildings” bill.
- Has consistently supported traffic-calming and public plazas, was an early backer of the Grand Army Plaza redesign.
- Defended bike lanes in the City Council at a time when NYC DOT’s bike program was under attack.
- Wants cars out of Prospect Park.
- Was an early supporter of bike-share.
- Opposed the Atlantic Yards project in her district.
- Made her support for parking reform in Downtown Brooklyn conditional on extracting other amenities and zoning changes for the neighborhood.
- Hesitated to support B44 Select Bus Service at first because of the upgrade’s effects on street parking.
- Was the lead sponsor of Hayley and Diego’s Law, co-sponsored the truck crossover mirror bill, and voted to expand NYC’s red light camera program.
- Convened the Delancey Street Working Group to implement safety measures on Delancey after the death of Dashane Santana.
- Voiced support for congestion pricing during his initial run for State Senate.
- Sponsored the bill to regulate curbside inter-city bus service.
- Sponsored a bill to establish residential permit parking in NYC.
- Pushed for wider access ramps linking the FDR to the Brooklyn Bridge.
- Voted in favor of a bill to make it easier for alleged drunk drivers to retain limited driving privileges.
Turnout today is expected to be very low, so your vote can help make the difference for either candidate. The polls close at 9 p.m.
“You’ve got to ask yourself, what is the core mission, and are you doing it?” Lhota said. “There are tons of things that we need to do to reduce traffic,” he said, “before we get to the draconian stage of congestion pricing.”
Lhota then listed three priorities for his DOT commissioner. First, sync traffic lights to improve the flow of traffic. Second, focus on pedestrian safety. Third, keep the streets in a state of good repair. At least walking is in there somewhere.
He also repeated a campaign promise from the primaries to build park-and-ride lots for suburban commuters at the ends of subway lines in Queens and the Bronx, and said he would promote off-peak truck deliveries. Lhota has previously bashed bike-share planning and said he would reevaluate the city’s plazas and consider removing bike lanes, but didn’t talk about those issues on Gambling’s show this morning. Nor did the former MTA chair mention bus improvements in his transportation vision.
While it was good to hear Lhota talk about pedestrian safety, however briefly, he hasn’t put forward any ideas about how to, as he said, “keep these numbers down.” For someone who used to run the nation’s largest transit system, Lhota’s first general-election foray into transportation policy was a disappointing one. He still has some time to take advice from Nicole Gelinas.
Yesterday, New York City Democrats chose the candidate who’s campaigned as the anti-Bloomberg. But on issues of traffic safety and surface transit, Bill de Blasio, despite some wavering, has pledged to build on the current administration’s progress while tackling the unfinished business of reforming the NYPD’s approach to traffic violence. And with several City Council candidates endorsed by the newly-formed StreetsPAC winning hotly contested primaries, the results of last night’s election bode well for livable streets in NYC over the next four years. As StreetsPAC board member Eric McClure put it, “It’s clear from the results of the primary that support for safe and complete streets has gone mainstream.”
Barring an unlikely run-off victory by former comptroller Bill Thompson, de Blasio will move on to face Republican Joe Lhota, a disappointment so far on livable streets issues, as well as former Bronx Borough President Adolfo Carrion, the Independence Party candidate, and tech entrepreneur Jack Hidary, running on the Jobs and Education line.
Most of the City Council primary winners, meanwhile, are all but guaranteed election in November. These are the races in which StreetsPAC’s endorsements and volunteers made the biggest impact. In 13 of the 18 council primaries where StreetsPAC made an endorsement, the candidate won. The most significant victories came in District 38 (Sunset Park, Gowanus, and Red Hook), where challenger Carlos Menchaca knocked off incumbent Sara Gonzalez, and District 34 (South Williamsburg and parts of Bushwick and Ridgewood), where Antonio Reynoso put an end to former Brooklyn Democratic boss Vito Lopez’s bid to resuscitate his political career.
Other StreetsPAC candidates winning contested open seats include Ritchie Torres in District 15, replacing the term-limited Joel Rivera; Vanessa Gibson in District 16, replacing the term-limited Helen Foster; Mark Levine in District 7, replacing the term-limited Robert Jackson; and Costa Constantinides in District 22, replacing the term-limited Peter Vallone Jr. These elections could have an immediate impact on livable streets projects. Levine’s district, for instance, includes the western blocks of 125th Street, and as a candidate he asked NYC DOT to revive plans for Select Bus Service on the congested corridor.
“City Council members have a lot of influence over what happens in their districts and on their streets,” said StreetsPAC board member Glenn McAnanama. “This new generation of leaders like Carlos Menchaca and Antonio Reynoso in Brooklyn, Costa Constantinides in Astoria, and Richie Torres and Vanessa Gibson in the Bronx will be very important allies as the complete street revolution continues to transform New York City’s streets into safer places for all street users. A number of these new faces come from districts that had council members or opponents that were indifferent, skeptical, or outright opposed to making the changes necessary to make our streets safer and more livable. We are confident that our endorsed candidates will hit the ground running in helping to extend the gains of the past few years to a broader set of communities in our great city.”
Here’s an ironic twist for the mayoral candidate who all but ignored bicycling and walking in his transportation platform: Bill Thompson has rented mobile advertisements-by-bike, with yellow-vested, red-helmeted riders pedaling around Borough Park with Yiddish-language advertisements for his campaign.
Despite Thompson’s anemic transportation policy, it’s a step up from the last time around. In 2009, he made an anti-BRT campaign stop in Bed-Stuy and promised to remove a bike lane on Grand Street in Manhattan; now, he promises “a true BRT system,” but remains noncommittal on bike lanes.