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Last-Minute Voter Guide to the Public Advocate Run-Off

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.

James:

Squadron:

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.

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Priority Number One Under Joe Lhota’s DOT: Sync the Stop Lights

On his radio show this morning, John Gambling asked Joe Lhota what he thinks about congestion pricing and transportation issues generally. Lhota spent the next three minutes (starting at 8:25) explaining that under his administration, DOT would focus on its “core competency.” Bus lanes didn’t make the cut. Bikes? Forget about it.

You could be forgiven for thinking this man never ran the nation's largest transit system. Photo: MTA/Flickr

“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.

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Big Winners on Primary Day: de Blasio and StreetsPAC

Carlos Menchaca, Costa Constantinides, Vanessa Gibson, Ritchie Torres, and Antonio Reynoso: Five StreetsPAC-endorsed City Council candidates who'll be bringing a fresh perspective to districts outside Manhattan.

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.”

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Bill Thompson Rents Ads-by-Bicycle to Woo Borough Park Voters

The scene on 13th Avenue in Borough Park earlier today. Photo: Jewish Political/Twitter

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.

Don’t forget: Polls close at 9 p.m. Before heading out to vote, check your voter registration status and polling location.

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Still Undecided? Here’s Even More Transpo Info on the Mayoral Candidates

In case Streetsblog’s guide to the mayoral candidates wasn’t exhaustive enough for you, here’s a truly epic compendium of where they all stand on transportation issues: CUNY’s University Transportation Research Center has put out a 145-page white paper [PDF] covering what the Democratic and Republican candidates have said about everything from the taxi of tomorrow and dollar vans to freight policy and school buses.

Image: UTRC

The document provides brief, side-by-side summaries of the candidates’ positions on 14 different issues, but the real meaty part starts on page 70, with an appendix compiling the candidates’ transportation-related positions, public remarks, and political and professional histories.

In addition to our guide and UTRC’s comprehensive white paper, these resources are useful in evaluating the mayoral candidates before voting:

In addition to the mayor’s race, New Yorkers will be voting in primaries for City Council, comptroller, public advocate, and, in some boroughs, district attorney and borough president. (Manhattanites may want to look at what candidates in their highly-competitive borough president race had to say about bike-share and other issues at a recent forum.)

Make sure you check your voter registration status and polling location before heading out tomorrow. Polls are open from 6 a.m. to 9 p.m.

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City Council Primaries: Where Your Vote Counts the Most

If you’re a registered Democrat in New York City, tomorrow is one of those rare occasions: an election where your vote carries a lot of weight. This is especially true in the City Council primaries, where winning candidates typically need just a few thousand votes to represent districts of more than 150,000 people.

The margins in these races can be razor thin. Four years ago, only 265 votes separated the victorious Diana Reyna from Maritza Davila, the handpicked candidate of then-Democratic boss Vito Lopez, in the 34th District [PDF 1, 2]. Basically, the margin of victory was the size of one normal person’s Twitter following. Tomorrow, Lopez himself faces off against StreetsPAC-endorsed Antonio Reynoso in that same district.

Another stunning stat from 2009: Council Member Sara Gonzalez won the 38th District primary with just 2,271 votes [PDF]. This year Gonzalez is being challenged by StreetsPAC-endorsed Carlos Menchaca.

So it doesn’t take a whole lot of votes for a Democrat to win the primary and then cruise to victory in the general election. (Registered Democrats outnumber registered Republicans by more than six to one in the city, and less than 10 percent of City Council members are Republicans.)

Several incumbents face challengers tomorrow, and with a number of sitting council members forced out due to term limits, there are plenty of open seats being contested as well. The winners of these elections will probably play a huge role in determining the future of their districts’ streets. As we’ve seen several times in the past few years, council members can make or break redesigns that prioritize walking, biking, and transit. Along with borough presidents, they also appoint people to community boards, whose votes affect the outcome of just about every livable streets proposal.

To see where the candidates for City Council stand on street safety and transit issues, Transportation Alternatives’ voter guide is the most comprehensive resource, with 80 responses to its candidate survey.

On Streetsblog you’ll also find coverage of candidate forums for District 35 in Brooklyn, District 15 in the Bronx, and District 7 in Manhattan, as well as candidate surveys for the City Council races below. (All candidate responses we received are included in these lists, even if they face no challengers in their party’s primary and won’t be on the ballot tomorrow.)

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Simple Questions, Simple Answers About Transportation at Mayoral Debate

Meaningful transportation questions at a Democratic mayoral debate? No such luck.

If you thought the last Democratic mayoral debate was thin on transportation issues, you could be forgiven for thinking that the issue didn’t come up at all during last night’s event. Blink, and you might have missed it. Like last time, transit was relegated to the lightning round, and thin questions from the moderators didn’t elicit much information from the candidates.

At the previous debate, all the candidates had MetroCards in their pockets but we learned last night that they are, for the most part, infrequent straphangers: Thompson said he had last taken the subway on Monday, while de Blasio and Weiner rode the train last week; Liu and Quinn hadn’t swiped a MetroCard in about two weeks.

On the subject of the MTA, Liu said he had “gone after very powerful interests,” repeating the myth created by disgraced former Comptroller Alan Hevesi that the authority keeps “two sets of books” to obscure its finances from the public.

The candidates all rejected the idea of road tests and licenses for cyclists. Weiner boldly added that cyclists should yield to senior citizens, and Liu said that cyclists should wear helmets. (At the last debate, Liu supported mandatory helmets for “city-sponsored programs” like bike-share; Thompson supported compulsory helmets, while Quinn, de Blasio, and Weiner opposed a helmet law.)

It was a lightning round question from WNBC’s David Ushery that most clearly revealed the vacuousness of mainstream discourse on transportation. Ushery asked the candidates if they support tolls on the East River bridges, without mentioning whether the funds would be dedicated to improved transit, or any of the upsides that come from pricing roads. Faced with this question, the candidates were unanimous in their opposition to East River bridge tolls; Liu added that he only supports tolls that exempt city residents from paying the charge.

Profiles in courage, all of them.

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What the Manhattan BP Candidates Said About Bike-Share Last Night

Manhattan borough president candidates Julie Menin, Robert Jackson, and Gale Brewer. Photo: Camila Schaulsohn/AIA-NY

Borough presidents have limited power, but the influence they wield can still make a big difference for livable streets, especially by making community board appointments and weighing in during the city’s land use review process. The four Democratic candidates for Manhattan borough president – City Council members Gale Brewer, Robert Jackson, and Jessica Lappin, plus former Community Board 1 chair Julie Menin — often sound very similar to each other, and few distinctions emerged at a forum hosted last night by the Center for Architecture featuring Brewer, Jackson, and Menin. But telling differences emerged when the candidates were asked for their thoughts about the bike-share program and the planning process that preceded the launch of the system.

Over the course of 2011 and 2012, DOT hosted more than 150 meetings with business interests, neighborhood organizations, and community boards, including public meetings where residents could suggest bike-share station locations. The outreach effort included an online suggestion map for people who couldn’t make the meetings. All told, you’d be hard-pressed to identify a transportation initiative in New York City that underwent a more extensive public engagement process.

DOT hosted a bike-share planning workshop in March 2012 in partnership with CB 1, and also made two presentations — one to the planning and infrastructure committee, and another to the full board, according to the agency’s website. But that wasn’t sufficient for Menin, who chaired CB 1 until June 2012. “There wasn’t enough community outreach,” she told Streetsblog after the forum. “I fully support the idea of bike-share,” she said. “That said, it’s got to be put in places where the community is supportive.”

“You heard about it all on the news. The community wasn’t consulted,” Jackson said during the forum, asserting that powerful people were able to get stations moved after they were installed. “It needs to be a plan where the community board says okay, here are the areas where we’re going to put them,” he told me after the event. “It was obvious to me as an elected public official, that not enough was done.”

Brewer was the candidate who didn’t equivocate in her support of bike-share. “Some people would make Janette Sadik-Khan a dartboard, but I like her and I think she’s done a great job with the bike-share program,” she said. “I will get in trouble for saying that. But I believe in it, and I think that it’s terrific.”

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Longshot McDonald Bests Lhota, Catsimatidis on Streets and Transpo Issues

Republican mayoral candidates John Catsimatidis, Joe Lhota, and George McDonald. Image: CBS 2

At last night’s Republican mayoral debate, the candidates — Gristedes owner John Catsimatidis, former MTA chair and Giuliani deputy mayor Joe Lhota, and Doe Fund founder George McDonald — offered a few glimpses into what transportation policy might look like under a GOP mayor. McDonald, who was until last year a registered Democrat and is trailing in the polls, trumpeted his more aggressive stance on livable streets issues, while leading candidates Lhota and Catsimatidis were far more cautious, and sometimes outright hostile, when it came to street safety interventions.

The first of the night’s two transportation questions came from Marlene Peralta of La Prensa, who asked the candidates if they would reopen Broadway in Times Square and Herald Square to car traffic.

Lhota said he wouldn’t want to bring back car traffic immediately after taking office, but would evaluate the plazas — “make sure traffic moves, why lights aren’t in sync,” he said — before making a decision. “Macy’s will tell you: They didn’t have a whole lot of conversation with the City of New York,” Lhota said. “Nobody in the city of New York had any idea of what the vision was on the part of the mayor and his transportation commissioner.”

For those who might have forgotten, 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 Herald Square, the 34th Street Partnership, which also represents local businesses and property owners, is working with the city to bring more improvements to the pedestrian space there.

Like Lhota, Catsimatidis said he would re-study the Times Square plazas and meet with nearby communities. Echoing Anthony Weiner, he said reducing sections of Broadway to one through car lane has negative impacts on emergency response. McDonald, who said he would keep the plazas, jumped in with a rebuttal: “There’s no place an ambulance or a fire truck can’t get by,” he said.

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City Council Candidates on the Issues: Ben Kallos, District 5

We continue our series on City Council candidates with a Q&A with government transparency advocate Ben Kallos, who’s running to represent District 5 in Yorkville, Roosevelt Island, and the Upper East Side. Yesterday, we ran a Q&A with Republican candidate David Garland. Streetsblog did not receive questionnaire responses from Democrats Edward Hartzog and Micah Kellner.

City Council District 5 candidate Ben Kallos. Photo: Benjamin Kallos/Flickr

Streetsblog: The East River Greenway could serve as a primary route for walking and bicycling in the district, but it is disconnected and in need of upgrades. Plans to complete the greenway proceed on a project-by-project basis without a comprehensive vision for a continuous path from 125th Street to the Battery. How would you improve the greenway as council member?

Ben Kallos: The Upper East Side has one of the lowest amounts of green space in New York, so we have to not only protect but expand our open green spaces. I will support the proposed East River Blueway plan for a vision of a continuous waterfront greenway from 38th Street to 60th Street. I also support its expansion as a continuous path from 125th Street to the Battery. If feasible, it will improve quality of life on the East Side. An added benefit will be that bikers currently forced to rely on streets to commute will be able to use the Greenway, keeping both bikers and pedestrians safer.

SB: Protected bike lanes have increased bicycling rates on First and Second Avenue. Do you support these changes? Where else would you like to see protected bike lanes on the Upper East Side?

BK: Improving protected bike lanes is vital to creating a safer city for drivers, cyclists and pedestrians. Prior to protected bike lanes, we were all crowded into the same streets, creating an unsafe environment for everyone. Instead, bike lanes should be part of complete streets, so everyone has room to safely navigate. I am committed to working with the community to minimize the negative impact of bike lanes on small business and residents as well as increasing enforcement of traffic infractions by cars and bikes to keep both bikers and pedestrians safe.

SB: Select Bus Service upgrades have sped buses and increased ridership on the same avenues. Do you support these changes? Where else would you like to see bus improvements on the Upper East Side? What types of changes, specifically, would you like to see to bus service?

BK: As a city council member, I will continue to champion the Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) system. As chief of staff to Assembly Member Jonathan Bing, I had the privilege of working to pass the bus lane camera legislation into law that made the BRT system possible. In our district, the M15 on First and Second Avenues Select Bus Service (SBS) has been a resounding success. In cities like Chicago, which have citywide BRT lines, traffic has been cut by as much as 80 percent. I have emerged as the “transit” candidate with the endorsement of Transit Workers Union Local 100 and I will fight for the expansion of transit service and Select Bus Service.

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