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Posts from the Bill de Blasio Category


If Cuomo Wants City Funding for the MTA, He’ll Need to Compromise

Governor Andrew Cuomo’s months-long attempt to squeeze money out of City Hall for the MTA appears to be reaching its end game.

Cuomo and his people at the MTA — which, despite what the governor says, is a state entity under his control — have been asking Mayor de Blasio for ever-increasing amounts of money to fill the gap in its capital program. Earlier today, Cuomo went on WNYC to bash the mayor for not handing over the dough.

The governor says the city should pony up because it relies on the MTA more than any other jurisdiction. But the city has good reason not to hand over significant sums to a state-controlled agency, no strings attached. Transit riders will be better off if de Blasio negotiates a good deal with Cuomo instead of capitulating.

First, there’s the lockbox question. Cuomo has a history of siphoning funds out of the MTA to paper over gaps on the state budget. City Hall likes to note, for example, that Cuomo has raided $270 million from the MTA since taking office in 2011. That same year, the state legislature passed a lockbox bill that would sound an alarm whenever the governor attempts to sneak his hand into the MTA’s cookie jar, but Cuomo neutered the bill. The legislature tried again two years later. Cuomo vetoed the bill and denied he’d ever raided the MTA’s budget.

Now de Blasio seems to be seeking a lockbox-type guarantee as part of the deal. “I’m not comfortable with paying — you know, paying out of the New York City budget, New York City taxpayer money, only to see it taken out of the MTA and into the state budget. So, you know, there’s real discussions that have to be held about how to reform that situation,” de Blasio told Brian Lehrer on Friday. “We’ve got to see those issues resolved upfront.”

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Mayor de Blasio Busy Pandering to Motorists Hours After Kids Hit by Driver

Update: De Blasio spokesperson Wiley Norvell sent the following statement: “It’s painful and heartbreaking. Preventing crashes like this is precisely why Mayor de Blasio launched Vision Zero immediately after taking office. A full investigation is underway and the driver has been suspended, pending its outcome.”

You didn’t see Mayor Bill de Blasio talking about the four kids who were hit by a speeding cab driver on a Bronx sidewalk yesterday.

De Blasio could have visited the victims in the hospital. He could have held a press conference at the site of the crash. He could have directed DOT to analyze street conditions at the site and make improvements to help ensure such a crash doesn’t happen again. He could have pledged TLC reforms to get dangerous cab drivers off the streets regardless of whether NYPD or district attorneys file charges after a crash. He could have at least raised public awareness by issuing a statement acknowledging what happened and recommitting his administration to Vision Zero.

He did none of those things. But de Blasio kept his appointment for a nighttime presser on Staten Island, where for the second time in four months he had his picture taken while shoveling asphalt.

When a gas leak caused an explosion and building collapse in Harlem in 2014, the mayor acted swiftly, visiting the scene and issuing a detailed briefing later in the day. Apparently de Blasio didn’t find it necessary to respond when four children were mowed down on a sidewalk.

We have asked the mayor’s office for comment on yesterday’s crash. We’ll have more details on the crash later today.


Don’t Believe Team Cuomo’s Spin on the MTA “Lockbox”

This is rich. When Mayor Bill de Blasio told the Daily News he’s wary of upping the city’s contribution to the MTA capital program because Governor Andrew Cuomo has repeatedly raided dedicated transit funds, MTA Chair Tom Prendergast said don’t worry, you can trust the governor:

“This is nothing more than rhetoric from a mayor who refuses to support mass transit. The state has stepped up and committed to fund $8.3 billion toward our capital program in a ‘lockbox’ that will only be used for capital expenses. There are no more excuses,” said MTA President Thomas Prendergast.

Don’t buy the spin. Prendergast’s boss, Andrew Cuomo, has refused to enact “lockbox” legislation that would require the state to disclose when it raids transit funds to cover other needs in the state budget. The governor remains free to divert revenue from the MTA without explaining the impact or even alerting the public.

The only way to seal off transit funding from Albany interference is through bonding. So maybe that’s what Prendergast means by “lockbox” — the Cuomo administration intends to borrow the $8.3 billion for the capital program, by issuing debt backed either by the state or by revenue from MTA fares. Fare-backed borrowing is the scenario that transit advocates most want to avoid, since it will create pressure for future fare hikes.

In either case, de Blasio’s objections are legit. The governor hasn’t explained where the $8.3 billion he’s promised for the MTA will come from. And if City Hall does contribute money to the capital program, there’s nothing to stop Cuomo from taking advantage by shuffling funds around and padding the state budget thanks to the city’s largesse.


Times Square Coalition: Keep the Plazas, Regulate Naked People

Image: Times Square Alliance

Image: Times Square Alliance

The Times Square Alliance and a coalition of electeds has a plan to address complaints about Times Square without destroying the hugely successful pedestrian plazas.

The centerpiece of the proposal is to legally redefine the Broadway plazas as a public space with three regulated zones: “civic” zones for public seating areas and programmed events; “flow” zones for pedestrian throughput; and “designated activity” zones for costumed characters, desnudas, and other people hustling for cash.

A second component of the proposal is a study to evaluate vehicular and pedestrian conflicts, safety issues on 42nd Street, and the effect of tour bus traffic. And a third aspect is the creation of a new NYPD Times Square unit, comprised of officers specially trained “on the nuanced forms of intimidation by solicitors [and] the complex legal issues related to enforcement,” which would direct all civil citations to Midtown Community Court, rather than 100 Centre Street. In addition to Times Square, the coalition wants to establish rules intended to keep 42nd Street sidewalks from getting obstructed during peak hours.

The proposal has the backing of Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer, local City Council members Dan Garodnick and Corey Johnson, Community Board 5, and a number of business and real estate interests, including Rudin Management Company and the Durst Organization. It will be presented to Mayor de Blasio’s Times Square task force, which was scheduled to hold its first meeting today.

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Who’s in Charge of Streets at City Hall?

A few things we learned today about how important decisions regarding streets and public space get formulated in the de Blasio administration:

Letting Bill Bratton’s instincts guide New York City street policy is a bad move. Photo: Mayor’s Office/Flickr

  • The whole flap over removing the Times Square plazas was the result of Police Commissioner Bill Bratton acting freelance. Bratton told the Wall Street Journal he planned his plaza outburst to the word (“to smoke people out”) but didn’t tell de Blasio ahead of time. The mayor proceeded to improvise. To date, he still hasn’t publicly ruled out the possibility of scrapping the plazas.
  • De Blasio defers to Bratton a lot.
  • City Hall’s Times Square task force still hasn’t met, nearly a month after de Blasio announced he would convene a group to figure out how to handle the costumed hustlers and desnudas. Several members of the task force were hastily invited to join the day Bratton made his surprise remarks, NBC 4 reports, and as recently as last week, “several task force members expressed concerns about whether the task force was real,” though a meeting is now on track for Thursday. The administration says it will have a plan two weeks later.

It’s entirely possible, even likely, that the issue will eventually get resolved without messing up all the recent progress that’s made Times Square a better place for people. Just about all the political actors except Bratton think yanking out the plazas is preposterous, and the always-sensible Times Square Alliance has been filling the void left by the yet-to-convene task force.

But a minor problem like hustlers in Times Square never should have metastasized into a much larger debate casting doubt on one of the city’s most prominent public space transformations. It shouldn’t have festered for as long as it has.

With de Blasio letting Bratton turn a street issue as straightforward as the Times Square plazas — a clear improvement for public safety, economic performance, and traffic congestion in Midtown — into a sloppy PR mess, what hope is there for a more complex, citywide effort like Vision Zero?

There’s clearly a conflict between Bratton’s instincts and the idea that New York’s streets should be safe and enjoyable places to walk and bike. If the mayor doesn’t step in and set his police commissioner straight, no one will.

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Turn Times Square Back Into Traffic Hell? Tell Bratton and de Blasio: No Way

Replacing people with cars? Not a good idea, public space advocates say. Photo: Nicolas Vollmer/Flickr

Try to picture ramming a road through this crowd and cramming them onto the sidewalk. Photo: Nicolas Vollmer/Flickr

Since Mayor Bill de Blasio won’t rule out the threat of removing the Times Square plazas, first raised by Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, it’s time to take action. Two petitions are circulating to urge the mayor not to give Times Square back to cars.

One petition organized by the Design Trust for Public Space and backed by the Municipal Art Society and a similar petition from Transportation Alternatives call on Bratton and de Blasio to do the right thing by the hundreds of thousands of people who walk in Times Square every day.

“Commissioner Bratton and Mayor de Blasio want to rip up the pedestrian plazas. We can’t let that happen,” the Design Trust’s petition says. “Aggressive street performers and ‘desnudas’ are an enforcement problem. They aren’t a plaza problem.”

Here’s what some of the signatories are saying…

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One Year Later, Bratton’s NYPD Rarely Enforcing Key Vision Zero Law

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. The Right of Way Law is a key component of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD barely enforces it.

Mayor Bill de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, and NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas Chan. The Right of Way Law is a key component of de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative, but NYPD barely enforces it a year after it took effect.

Last weekend marked the one-year anniversary of the Right of Way Law, also known as code Section 19-190, which made it a misdemeanor for motorists in New York City to harm people who are walking and biking with the right of way.

The law is a legislative centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. It was supposed to put an end to the days when motorists who failed to yield could injure people without facing any consequences. But one year in, that goal is still a long way off, with NYPD rarely enforcing the new law.

According to a New York Times story published in June, NYPD charged “at least 31” drivers in the 10 months after the law took effect. During that same period, New York City motorists injured 11,606 pedestrians and cyclists, and killed 118. Since failure to yield is the primary factor in 27 percent of serious pedestrian injuries and deaths in New York City, according to NYC DOT’s 2010 Pedestrian Safety Study and Action Plan [PDF], it’s all but certain that most drivers who violate the law are not cited by NYPD. (We asked the mayor’s office for current data on Right of Way Law charges. We’ll post it if we get it.)

Last October, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce the Right of Way Law. This would allow the department to apply the law in collisions not deemed serious enough to warrant attention from the Collision Investigation Squad, a small, specialized unit that works a few hundred crashes per year, almost all of them fatalities. But with only a few dozen cases brought by NYPD since the law took effect, most motorists who injure and kill rule-abiding New Yorkers continue to do so with impunity.

Given the high profile of some Right of Way cases brought by police and prosecutors, it’s possible the law may be having a deterrent effect anyway. NYPD charged several MTA bus drivers for injuring or killing people in crosswalks — cases that got a lot of publicity when the Transport Workers Union called for bus drivers to be exempt from the law. While MTA bus drivers killed eight people in crosswalks last year, to this point no such crashes have occurred in 2015.

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De Blasio Has Yet to Say Traffic Is More Dangerous Than Painted Breasts

Mayor de Blasio had a chance today to quell the uproar over his suggestion that the city may rip out the Times Square pedestrian plazas. Instead he equivocated and didn’t take the idea off the table:

This issue is now much bigger than the plazas themselves (and the plazas themselves are a big deal — the city’s most recognizable public space, used by hundreds of thousands of people each day).

De Blasio has made street safety and the elimination of traffic deaths a signature policy goal. Until this episode with the plazas, the main question about City Hall’s commitment to those goals was whether the mayor and his deputies were moving fast enough. Advocates could contest whether de Blasio, Police Commissioner Bill Bratton, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and others were doing everything politically feasible to reduce traffic fatalities and serious injuries. But at least things were moving in the right direction.

Now the whole enterprise is feeling disingenuous.

We know that making Broadway car-free through Times Square has, among other benefits, cut pedestrian injuries by 40 percent even as the number of people using the space has soared. Reversing that progress, in whole or in part, runs completely counter to the principles of Vision Zero that the administration purportedly espouses.

A day after the idea of ripping up the plazas surfaced in what could charitably be ascribed to off-the-cuff remarks, de Blasio could have reasserted the primacy of pedestrian safety as a core value. He didn’t. If the mayor thinks people might be better off exposed to moving traffic than painted breasts, how seriously should anyone take his commitment to Vision Zero?

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Construction Begins on First Phase of Transforming Queens Blvd

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

Mayor Bill de Blasio and Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg visit work crews on Queens Boulevard this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

The redesign of Queens Boulevard, long one of New York’s most notorious death traps, is underway.

“Queens Boulevard is tragically legendary. We all became used to the phrase ‘the Boulevard of Death,’” Mayor Bill de Blasio said at a press conference this morning marking the start of construction. “That is a phrase we want to banish from the lexicon. So work has begun. Work has begun to remake Queens Boulevard into the Boulevard of Life.”

The first phase of the project includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and expanded pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The first phase includes protected bike lanes, median crosswalks, and more pedestrian space. Image: DOT [PDF]

The redesign [PDF], which builds upon changes made more than a decade ago, adds protected bike lanes, expands pedestrian space, and redesigns ramps to reduce speeds on the boulevard, which has claimed the lives of 185 New Yorkers since 1990. “The actions that are being taken to save lives here on Queens Boulevard should have been taken long ago,” de Blasio said. “We’re going to change the whole configuration of Queens Boulevard to make traffic move more slowly and more smoothly.”

Lizi Rahman’s son Asif was killed while bicycling home from work on Queens Boulevard in 2008. She was the first person to speak at today’s press conference. “After his death, when I visited the site, I was shocked to see that there was no bike lane on Queens Boulevard. And I couldn’t help thinking if there was a bike lane, my son would still be alive,” she said. In the years after Asif’s death, Lizi kept asking officials for a bike lane on Queens Boulevard. “There were times when I was discouraged,” she said. “I almost gave up.”

“A lot of times change doesn’t happen because there isn’t enough willingness to challenge the status quo, to challenge bureaucracies,” de Blasio said. “It’s unacceptable to have any street known as the Boulevard of Death.”

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NYC’s New Budget Fails to Fund More Low-Cost Vision Zero Street Redesigns

It’s July, which means the city’s new fiscal year 2016 budget is in effect. This spring, the de Blasio administration touted early funding for street repaving and reconstruction of four arterial streets under the “Vision Zero Great Streets” program. But the final budget the mayor’s office negotiated with the City Council fails to beef up the city’s efforts to quickly reduce deaths and injuries on its most dangerous streets.

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr

Mayor Bill de Blasio announces the fiscal year 2016 budget deal with the City Council. Photo: NYC Council/Flickr

The most promising way to get fast results from street redesigns is through “operational” projects that use paint and other low-cost changes to calm traffic, rather than waiting years for the city to design and build an expensive capital project. But the final budget sets aside funding for just 50 of these operational projects, DOT said, which does not represent an increase in the city’s commitment.

The $5.2 million pot of money for those 50 projects, which can be as small as a single intersection, also covers safety education, signal retiming, and replacement of faded pavement markings.

To put that amount in perspective, the de Blasio administration set aside an extra $242 million this year to ramp up its street repaving efforts. Devoting similar resources to expanding the city’s program for quick and effect street redesigns could save dozens of lives each year. Without that commitment, it’s hard to see how New York will come close to achieving de Blasio’s goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024.

There is some good news in the final budget, but it came in small packages:

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