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Queens BP Melinda Katz Prioritizes Parking Over Affordable Housing

Few things set off alarm bells for car-owning New Yorkers more than the thought of having less parking. So when the Department of City Planning proposed a minor reduction in parking requirements, the community board chairs of Queens got a case of road rage, with Borough President Melinda Katz at the wheel.

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz thinks parking mandates are more important than Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter

Queens Borough President Melinda Katz. Photo: MelindaKatz/Twitter

Here’s the problem: The city requires parking for most new development — a mandate that jacks up the cost of housing, even if residents don’t own cars. Senior citizens and low-income households, especially near transit, are less likely than other New Yorkers to own cars, according to the U.S. Census Bureau.

As part of a package of reforms, DCP has proposed removing parking requirements for new senior and affordable housing developments within a half-mile of the subway, and to reduce or simplify them elsewhere.

This is a small step in the right direction, unless you’re a car-owning Queens community board chair. The crowd at Monday’s borough board meeting was apoplectic over the idea of eliminating some government parking mandates, reports the Queens Chronicle:

“Where are they going to go? This is crazy,” Community Board 5 Chairman Vincent Arcuri Jr. said…

“I can’t think of any development in this borough where parking wasn’t an issue to some degree,” said Betty Braton, chairwoman of CB 10.

Joseph Hennessy, chairman of CB 6, added that many senior citizens still own cars and don’t get around using public transportation…

Dolores Orr — chairwoman of CB 14, which represents the Rockaways — said the agency was not looking at the “quality of public transportation” in the areas where it seeks to loosen the requirements…

Arcuri added that parking is already hard to find, a point echoed by several other board members.

“I can’t see anywhere in this borough where people would be supportive of downsizing parking requirements,” Braton said, according to the Forum.

They were joined in their opposition by Queens Borough President Melinda Katz, who heads the borough board and appoints community board members. She issued a statement after the meeting:

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DOT Scraps Bus Lanes in Kew Gardens Hills for Flushing-Jamaica SBS

This afternoon, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a bill that requires DOT to work with the MTA on a citywide Bus Rapid Transit plan to be updated every two years. The vote came a day after DOT told bus lane opponents in eastern Queens that it will water down a Select Bus Service proposal in their neighborhood.

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I. Daneek Miller and Rory Lancman.

In many ways, the new bill codifies much of the city’s existing BRT planning process. It requires DOT to work with the MTA on a 10-year blueprint for the city’s BRT network updated every two years, taking into consideration the city’s land development patterns and including estimates of how much it will cost to build and operate the routes.

The bill, sponsored by Council Member Brad Lander, passed 49-1. The lone vote against it: I. Daneek Miller, who objects to plans to bring Select Bus Service to the Q44 between Flushing and Jamaica.

“He supports BRT,” said Miller spokesperson Ali Rasoulinejad. “It’s not so much with BRT as it is with the way this process is conducted… If this is the way this process is going to happen, where community voices are not going to be heard, we might not be ready for it.”

Rasoulinejad questioned whether the Q44, which serves more than 28,000 passengers daily, attracts enough people to merit investment. He also cited the potential reduction in on-street parking spaces and said Miller would like the MTA to focus on other projects, like replacing an over-capacity bus depot in his district. (Before joining the City Council, Miller served as president of Amalgamated Transportation Union Local 1056.)

Meanwhile, Miller’s neighboring council member, Rory Lancman, can claim victory in his fight against Flushing-Jamaica Select Bus Service. At a meeting of the Kew Gardens Hills Civic Association last night, DOT said it would not be adding bus lanes to Main Street in that neighborhood.

“We had a very productive community meeting last night,” said Lancman spokesperson Nadia Chait. “The council member found that in that situation the DOT and the MTA had really listened to the community.”

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Will de Blasio and Mark-Viverito Back Effort to Fully Fund Vision Zero?

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City Hall will have to double its commitment to street redesigns that prioritize safety in order to dramatically reduce traffic deaths on NYC’s most dangerous streets in our lifetimes, advocates say. That level of spending could be accomplished with a relatively small shift in resources in the city’s total capital budget.

Transportation Alternatives has drafted a letter to Mayor de Blasio asking the administration to dedicate additional resources to redesigning the city’s most dangerous streets. On Monday, more than 100 volunteers for TA and Families For Safe Streets visited council members seeking their support, and so far 19 have signed on.

Advocates want the city to both double its planned investment in Vision Zero capital projects — permanent street redesigns cast in concrete — and scale up its “operational” projects — redesigns made with paint and other low-cost materials that can quickly bring down the death toll on city streets. They also emphasize the need for solid timetables for implementation, to ensure the city stays on track to meet its goals.

On the capital side, that would mean spending $2.4 billion every 10 years to overhaul the most dangerous streets. TA says that level of investment could comprehensively redesign the city’s arterial streets within 50 years.

While that would represent a large increase, it would not be a large share of the city’s total capital budget, which amounted to about $80 billion over the 10-year period from 2003 to 2012. A faster street reconstruction timetable could also save the city money in the long run by reducing lifecycle maintenance costs.

Mayor de Blasio’s “Great Streets” initiative committed $250 million over several years for redesigns of four arterials, including Queens Boulevard and the Grand Concourse, and the preliminary City Council budget recommends doubling that amount. That would be progress, but it’s no substitute for a detailed, long-term funding and implementation strategy.

Outside of the Great Streets program, for instance, DOT is planning just 50 Vision Zero projects a year citywide, some no bigger than a single intersection. That’s not nearly enough to meet the need for street safety upgrades.

“Neighborhoods across the five boroughs are really clamoring for safety improvements on local streets, so there’s an unprecedented demand for what we know are proven fixes,” says TA Deputy Director Caroline Samponaro. “That presents a challenge for the city, but it’s ultimately an opportunity for us to invest in what the next generation of New York City streets should look like.”

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City Council Regresses on Street Safety, Weighs Fines for Cyclists

Less than a year ago, the City Council overwhelmingly passed a raft of bills designed to protect New Yorkers from reckless driving. Was it the beginning of a new era, where street safety is taken seriously by city legislators, or was it a fluke? The council could go either way, based on a transportation committee hearing today that considered a new bill to fight the phantom menace of cyclists on cell phones.

Council Member Mark Treyger, sponsor of the texting-while-biking bill.

Council Member Mark Treyger’s bill to ban handheld cell phone use while bicycling came up for a hearing today at the transportation committee. Texting while bicycling isn’t a safe choice, but neither has it been shown to be a significant factor in serious crashes. Most of the people testifying about the bill urged Treyger to either amend it or focus on dangers that are actually proven to kill and injure New Yorkers on the street.

“While cyclists would benefit from more safety education, drivers account for the overwhelming number of crashes that lead to fatalities or serious injuries on our streets,” testified DOT assistant commissioner Josh Benson. “The Council may want to consider ways to promote expanded safety education for drivers, which will go much farther in making our streets safer.”

Instead of taking the advice, Treyger seems intent on passing the bill after he saw a near-miss involving a texting cyclist in his district last year. But does one anecdote constitute a real problem?

Council Member Antonio Reynoso asked DOT how many pedestrian deaths are caused by cyclists on cell phones. “Zero per year,” Benson said. “We did not find any reports where texting was a factor in bike-related crashes.”

“It’s a piece of legislation that is bringing attention to an issue that doesn’t even exist,” Reynoso said. “It’s very dangerous to do that. ‘We should start asking pedestrians to start wearing reflectors when they cross the street, just in case, because they might be the problem next.’ The problems are not pedestrians, they are not cyclists. They are vehicles, and I just think that we are fooling ourselves with these pieces of legislation.”

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Cy Vance: $580 Fine for Driver Who Killed 9-Year-Old Cooper Stock

Following a plea deal agreed to by Manhattan DA Cy Vance, the driver who killed Cooper Stock in a crosswalk was fined $580 and lost his driving privileges for six months.

Following a plea deal agreed to by Manhattan DA Cy Vance, the driver who killed Cooper Stock in a crosswalk was fined $580 and lost his driving privileges for six months.

In separate stories published yesterday, family members of Marilyn Dershowitz and Cooper Stock, both lost to traffic violence, criticized Manhattan District Attorney Cy Vance for his reluctance to file serious charges against motorists who kill people.

Vance declined to apply criminal charges against Koffi Komlani, the cab driver who struck 9-year-old Cooper and his father as the two walked hand in hand in an Upper West Side crosswalk in January 2014. Cooper was killed, his father was injured, and it took Vance 11 months to charge Komlani with two traffic offenses — careless driving and failure to yield.

Komlani’s attorney said weather caused the crash, the same excuse Vance’s office gave Cooper’s family for not pursuing a criminal case.

On Monday, according to the Post, prosecutors agreed to a plea arrangement for Komlani: a $580 fine and a six-month license suspension. Komlani’s attorney said Vance’s office did not ask for jail time, which would have maxed out at 15 days.

[Cooper’s mother Dana] Lerner said District Attorney Cyrus Vance Jr.’s office told her they needed two misdemeanors to charge Komlani criminally — even though the prosecutor campaigned on getting rid of that case law precedent, referred to as the “rule of two.”

“It goes without saying that what happened here today does not even begin to bring justice in the death of my son Cooper Stock,” said a statement from Lerner, read yesterday in court. “Giving this man a traffic ticket for killing my son is an insult to us and to Cooper’s memory. Is a life worth nothing more than a traffic ticket?”

The New York Press reports that a civil jury last week ruled U.S. Postal Service driver Ian Clement at fault for killing cyclist Marilyn Dershowitz in 2011. Clement ran Dershowitz over, stopped his truck for a moment, then drove away. He was cleared by a jury of leaving the scene, a charge filed by Vance after the Dershowitz family complained to the media about the DA’s handling of the case.

The Press reports that Judge Sarah Netburn ruled Clement “was negligent in his operation of his vehicle, causing the accident and [Dershowitz’s] death.”

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Jim Brennan’s Transpo $ Plan: Gas Tax, Income Tax, and Forced City Funding

A bill from Assembly Member Jim Brennan, who chairs the Committee on Corporations, Authorities and Commissions, would create a transportation finance authority to collect new taxes and help fund the MTA as well as roads, bridges, and transit statewide. It’s the first major transportation funding proposal to come out of Albany this year.

Brennan's bill marks the start of transportation funding debates in Albany. Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

Brennan’s bill marks the start of transportation funding debates in Albany. Photo: Wally Gobetz/Flickr

“Time is growing short,” Brennan said this afternoon. The legislative session ends in mid-June, and state transportation agencies need assurances about funding before they can begin projects. “This is just a proposal,” he said. “It’s the first piece of legislation to make a proposal.”

The revenue in Brennan’s plan would come from three sources:

  • A 10-cent increase in the state gas tax would yield $500 million annually.
  • A half-percent income tax increase on New Yorkers earning between $500,000 and $2 million each year would raise their rate from 6.85 percent to 7.35 percent, bringing in $750 million annually.
  • A mandatory contribution from New York City, starting at $60 million in the first year and adding an additional $60 million each year until the city’s contribution is capped at $300 million annually.

That makes for a total $1.55 billion annually, which would be bonded against to provide $20 billion in capital funding. Of that, $12 billion would go to the MTA, nearly filling the $15.2 billion gap in its capital program, and the remaining $8 billion would be distributed through the New York State Department of Transportation, which also has a long-term gap in its capital program.

Although Brennan supports and says he would vote for the Move NY plan, road pricing is not included in his bill, so it lacks most of the traffic-busting, safety-enhancing benefits of toll reform. Forcing the city’s hand through state legislation is also a dubious proposition to say the least.

Still, advocates welcomed the bill as the start of negotiations. “It’s important to get all the various funding options out there,” said Nadine Lemmon of Tri-State Transportation Campaign. “I hope he inspires folks to come forward with other ideas, including the governor.”

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Helen Rosenthal Asks DOT to Install Protected Bike Lane on Amsterdam Ave

Council Member Helen Rosenthal has come out strongly for a protected bike lane on Amsterdam Avenue, sending a letter to DOT this week asking for a plan to calm traffic and provide a northbound complement to the Columbus Avenue bike lane.

Council Member Helen Rosenthal. Photo: NYC Council

Upper West Side Council Member Helen Rosenthal. Photo: NYC Council

“We need to make Amsterdam Avenue safer for families, and that’s just what this street redesign would do. I’ve seen it work on Columbus Avenue,” Rosenthal told Streetsblog yesterday. “It’s something that’s important to me, for my district.”

What prompted the letter? “It’s something that I knew I wanted to do from comments I’ve heard throughout the years from residents along Amsterdam Avenue,” said Rosenthal, whose district stretches from 54th Street to 96th Street on the West Side. She was especially inspired by the recent release of an anti-reckless driving video from Families for Safe Streets and the Taxi and Limousine Commission.

Street safety advocates have spent years trying to bring protected bike lanes and pedestrian islands to Amsterdam Avenue.

Although DOT installed (and then expanded) a bike lane on Columbus Avenue in recent years, with another extension proposed earlier this year near Lincoln Center, Amsterdam Avenue remains unchanged.

Any street redesign plan must be sent to the community board for advisory review. The hitch: DOT is reluctant to act without community board support and CB 7 has a track record of stalling when it comes time to implement protected bike lanes. In particular, procedural maneuvering by its two longtime transportation committee chairs, Andrew Albert and Dan Zweig, has led to a pattern of stasis and inaction.

Rosenthal, herself a former CB 7 chair, now recommends board members for appointment as a council member. She is confident that CB 7 will quickly support a protected bike lane plan.

“At the end of the day, the community board is advisory. I’m always interested in hearing from the community board. They always have insights, kernels of truth. I’m sure they’ll have some idea of tweaking DOT’s plan,” Rosenthal said. “I’m sure they’ll have some tweaks here and there, but I’m sure this will sail through.”

Updated 2:58 p.m.: DOT says it is “reviewing possible safety enhancements” on Amsterdam Avenue and will work with Rosenthal and CB 7 to discuss next steps.

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Cuomo Taps Syracuse Ex-Mayor Matt Driscoll, His “Go-To Guy,” for State DOT

News came yesterday afternoon that Governor Andrew Cuomo is changing leadership at the state Department of Transportation, replacing Joan McDonald with former Syracuse Mayor Matt Driscoll. Cuomo canned McDonald, who’s been on the job since 2011, over a dispute about snow removal in Buffalo, according to Jimmy Vielkind of Capital New York.

Incoming Transportation Commissioner Matt Driscoll. Photo: EFC

Incoming Transportation Commissioner Matt Driscoll. Photo: EFC

Driscoll might be familiar to Streetsblog readers for the role he played as president and CEO of the state Environmental Facilities Corporation. There, the Cuomo appointee was in charge of the administration’s request for a $511 million low-interest loan to finance construction of the Tappan Zee Bridge. The Environmental Protection Agency rejected most of the request, which would have used clean water funds on highway construction. It is currently tied up in litigation.

The Syracuse Post-Standard says Driscoll is Cuomo’s “go-to guy,” taking on tasks well beyond the scope of his job at the Environmental Facilities Corporation. Driscoll helped the governor “advise cash-strapped cities, lead storm recovery efforts in the Catskills, and help hire a New York State Fair director,” the paper reported.

In 2009, his last year as Syracuse mayor, the term-limited Driscoll endorsed Stephanie Miner to replace him, but the two have never been political allies, according to the Post-Standard. Miner’s relationship with Cuomo, meanwhile, is openly hostile.

All of which could complicate one of the biggest questions facing the state DOT today: whether to tear down Interstate 81 in downtown Syracuse or replace it with another highway. While Driscoll was ambivalent about the idea as mayor, Miner is a strong advocate of demolishing the expressway in favor of a surface boulevard.

McDonald had said removing I-81 “would be great for the community,” though her agency has yet to take a position. A report evaluating the options for I-81 is expected any day now from the state DOT.

Unlike McDonald, Driscoll does not have a background in transportation, though he would have had to deal with streets and transit issues as the executive of one of the state’s major cities. Driscoll’s most appealing attribute to the governor, however, probably isn’t those qualifications, but his track record as a loyal member of Team Cuomo.

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How to Repair a Parking Crater in Three Steps

Parkersburg, West Virginia, our second-place finisher in Parking Madness was parking guru Donald Shoup's top choice for worst parking crater.

Parkersburg, West Virginia, the runner-up in Parking Madness 2015, was Donald Shoup’s choice for worst parking crater.

[Before we started up the bracket for this year’s Parking Madness tournament, I got in touch with Donald Shoup, who literally wrote the book on parking reform, and asked him to pick the worst parking crater in the field of 16. Here’s his response, packaged with some advice for cities that have a parking crater problem. — Angie Schmitt]

All the entries deserve a prize, but I have to choose Parkersburg [above] as the worst crater, for several reasons. First, of course, is the city’s name. Second, Parkersburg has parking structures surrounded by surface parking lots. Third, parking lots separate the city from a beautiful river. And fourth, Elliott Lewis clearly explained why Parkersburg’s parking crater is so awful.

Other nominators also wrote superb indictments of their cities, including Marshall Allen for Syracuse, Bill Basford for Waterville, and Nick Sortland for Amarillo.

The upside of these obscene craters is that we have immense areas of vacant land ready for redevelopment right where people want to live and work. If cities remove their minimum parking requirements, these parking craters can become exciting parts of a healthy downtown. The four images below suggest the possible improvements.

This first photo shows an office building in San Jose, surrounded by all its required parking:

Screen Shot 2015-04-08 at 12.28.43 PM

The building is as big as the city will allow, given the number of parking spaces provided. Suppose San Jose removes its minimum parking requirements, so some empty spaces on the perimeter of the parking lot can be used for housing.

The below image illustrates the first stage of what could happen if cities un-require off-street parking requirements:

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DOT Safety Plan for Corona’s 111th Street Faces Uphill Battle at Queens CB 4

This road diet and protected bike lane is too much for Queens CB 4 to handle. Image: DOT [PDF]

This road diet and protected bike lane, which will improve connections between Corona residents and Flushing Meadows Corona Park, doesn’t have enough car lanes for some Queens CB 4 members. Image: DOT [PDF]

A dangerous street that Corona residents have to cross to get to Flushing Meadows Corona Park is in line for a serious traffic-calming plan, complete with a two-way protected bike lane [PDF], but local community board members are balking at the proposal.

Flushing Meadows Corona Park, the largest park in Queens, is ringed by highways that cut off access from the neighborhoods around it. The one exception is 111th Street on the west side of the park. But instead of functioning as a welcoming entrance to the park, 111th Street is designed like a surface highway, with three southbound car lanes divided from two northbound lanes by a planted median. Residents have to walk up to 1,300 feet, or five blocks, before finding a marked crosswalk, and 84 percent of cyclists ride on the sidewalk, according to DOT.

Last year, Make the Road New York, Immigrant Movement International, the Queens Museum, and Transportation Alternatives organized for better walking and biking access to the park. Council Member Julissa Ferreras signed on, asking DOT last fall to install bike lanes throughout her district, including on 111th Street [PDF].

The DOT proposal delivers: It would calm the street by narrowing it to one lane of car traffic in each direction. The edge of the street along the park would receive a two-way parking-protected bikeway with pedestrian islands. Moving lanes would be replaced by parking along the median on the southbound side. At intersections, median extensions would shorten crossing distances for pedestrians, which currently stretch up to 94 feet.

This seems to be too much for some key members of Queens Community Board 4.

DOT presented its plan to three members of CB 4 at a special meeting of its transportation committee last Tuesday. “It was definitely a heated, emotional meeting,” said Amy Richards, who coordinates the Partnership for a Healthier Queens program at Make the Road New York. The board members were very “change-averse,” Richards said. “The meeting was tricky.”

“It’s a tough call,” CB 4 District Manager Christian Cassagnol said of the plan. “We told them to go back to the drawing board and change a couple of the small issues we were questioning.” DOT says it used the feedback to draft minor changes the original plan, which Cassagnol received this morning.

Board members last week were actually looking for major changes to the DOT plan. The big complaint from transportation committee members was “not enough traffic lanes, basically,” Cassagnol said. “That seems to be the main thing.”

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