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Posts from the John Liu Category


Despite Media Posturing, Liu’s Bike-Share Report Mostly Calls for Safer Streets

When bike-share launches next month, eventually adding 10,000 public bicycles to the streets of New York City, it won’t bring new chaos and peril to city streets, contrary to recent statements from Comptroller John Liu. Even so, with the number of cyclists set to increase dramatically, the launch of bike-share is a good opportunity for the city to go even further in its successful efforts to improve street safety.

Comptroller John Liu is raising unwarranted fears about bike-share safety to the press, but his report has some pretty good ideas. Photo: City Council via Flickr

In a report that is much more positive about bike-share than its author’s press statements would indicate [PDF], Liu endorses a slew of important safety-enhancing reforms that the city would do well to take note of — as well as one to steer clear of.

In a press release this morning, Liu took an antagonistic tone toward the city’s bike-share program, and presented a pessimistic view of cycling in general. “In the rush to place ten thousand bicycles on our streets, City Hall may have pedaled past safety measures, a move that risks significantly exacerbating the number of injuries and fatalities of both bikers and pedestrians, especially those most vulnerable like young children and seniors,” Liu said. “Aside from the human toll, there is a real possibility that the Bike Share program will increase the number of legal claims against the City.”

Liu also aligned himself with still more extreme positions. “New York City is probably the most dangerous place in the world to ride a bicycle,” said AAA New York’s Robert Sinclair, Jr. in Liu’s release.

Those fears are misplaced, a fact that Liu’s own report makes clear. There, the comptroller’s office writes that “bicycling is becoming relatively safer” and argues that, thanks to the safety in numbers effect, more cyclists on the road will mean better bike safety after the launch of bike-share.

Moreover, bike-share riders actually have significantly better safety records than cyclists using their own two wheels. As Streetsblog previously reported, no one was seriously injured or killed on a London Barclays Cycle Hire bike in the first 4.5 million trips. In D.C., Capital Bikeshare users crashed only seven times in the first seven months of operation, with no serious injuries reported. More recently, the Boston Globe reported that city’s Hubway system had put up similarly laudable safety stats: no serious injuries in its first six months of operation. All of these cities use the same bikes as New York’s Citi Bike program.

Operating company Alta Bicycle Share has not been held liable for crashes in either Boston or D.C., where it also runs popular bike-share systems, according to the Times.

Still, it’s clear that more can and must be done to improve safety on New York City streets, and Liu has good ideas for each of the “three Es” of safety: engineering, enforcement and education.

To improve road design, Liu urges additional focus on the most dangerous intersections in the city. Nine of the 10 corners with the most bicycle crashes, he notes, are within the bike-share service area, including places like Bowery at Houston and Tillary at Adams. He also endorses an expansion of the Safe Streets for Seniors campaign, noting that seniors are both disproportionately vulnerable in traffic crashes and disproportionately concerned by the increased numbers of cyclists on the road.

On enforcement, Liu took his cues from a February City Council hearing that drew attention to the utter inadequacy of NYPD traffic enforcement resources. Liu calls for the police Accident Investigation Squad to respond to crashes that result in serious injury, not just those in which someone is killed, and for local precinct police to be fully trained in crash response protocols. He wants to see more cops on bikes, more cops clearing bike lanes of motor vehicles, and targeted enforcement focused on the most dangerous traffic violations.

Read more…


Mayoral Contenders Talk Transit, Part 3: John Liu

Comptroller John Liu. Photo: DelMundo for Daily News

Election Day is more than a year away, but the race to become the next mayor of New York City is well-underway. In the last two issues of its magazine, Reclaim, Transportation Alternatives has been asking the would-be mayors for their thoughts on transit (in the more recent interviews, one question about cycling was added). So far, TA has received responses from all of the major candidates except 2009 Democratic nominee Bill Thompson.

All this week, Streetsblog will be re-printing the candidates’ responses. Here are the answers TA received from Comptroller John Liu.

Q: What role does a well-funded public transit system play in New York City’s economic growth?

A: Public transit is paramount to New York City’s economy. More than half of NYC’s commuters rely on our network of subways, trains, buses and ferries to get to work (subways are the mode of choice for more than a third of commuters to NYC). New York City’s transit, especially its subways are a defining characteristic of our city and transit is an efficient use of resources – economically and environmentally. Transit makes our dense business districts and neighborhoods possible and adds to the diversity and vibrancy of the city.

New York City’s population is growing and along with it ridership levels on our transit systems. In fact, MTA’s average weekday ridership in 2011 was the highest since 1951. Growing ridership on our transit system requires that we ensure adequate resources to keep up with that demand. Time lost in congestion is counter-productive for our economy, but is also frustrating to commuters and residents. It is essential that we ensure that transit is funded, and managed in a way that keeps the city and its economy moving.

Q: What would you do as mayor to address transit deserts, which are locations where riders are faced with hour-plus commutes, multiple transfers or multi-fare rides?

A: The next Mayor, whoever that may be, will need to address this issue. Last year, the Center for an Urban Future released a report that demonstrated that a large part of the city’s job growth and population gains have occurred outside of Manhattan. This de-centralized growth pattern has translated into longer commutes for low-income workers. Around the world, and recently in NYC, transit authorities have been using buses as a cost-effective way to close gaps in transit service. Expanding Select Bus Service where appropriate and bringing additional bus service to growing job and population centers can be an effective way to address transit deserts.

Read more…


Parking Overkill in Flushing: NYCEDC Made It Happen

It's not every day that a New York City real estate executive name-checks Donald Shoup, but one developer admiringly referred to the dean of progressive parking policy while explaining his project to Streetsblog. If not for the New York City Economic Development Corporation and mis-directed political pressures, says TDC Development President Michael Meyer, the huge mixed-use project he's building at one of the biggest transit hubs in Queens could have made better use of enlightened parking policy. 

flushing_b_aerial.jpgNYCEDC required a suburban level of parking at the Flushing Commons development. Image: Rockefeller Group Development Corporation.

The project, known as Flushing Commons, is a mixture of retail, housing, and office space slated for downtown Flushing, one of New York's fastest growing business districts. It's also one of the most transit-rich areas in Queens, making it a prime location for great walkable development.

But Meyer's project is slated to include a suburban level of parking, which will induce shoppers to drive to an area  that's already overrun by traffic. And if some Flushing leaders get their way, the project will include even more -- and cheaper -- parking.

Meyer believes the area is ready for walkable development, but notes that 50-year-old beliefs about transportation and development still prevail. "We're almost in a time warp," he said, adding that "Flushing is not the way it used to be," but "emotions and misconceptions" lead people to think excessive parking is a necessity.

Zoning rules require 700 spaces at Flushing Commons, according to Meyer, but the project will build far more -- 1,600 spaces -- because the parking-obsessed Economic Development Corporation demanded that level of parking

Flushing Commons would build up to 620 residences, 275,000 square feet of retail space and 234,000 square feet of commercial space just two short blocks from the busiest subway station outside Manhattan. The site is served by 21 different bus routes and is a short walk from the third-busiest pedestrian intersection in all of New York. The property, currently a 1,100-space surface parking lot, is owned by the city, hence the active involvement of EDC. 

"This is not a single-use suburban development site," said parking policy expert Rachel Weinberger, co-author of a recent report on parking innovation in American cities. "And yet EDC seems to be once again pushing suburban-style development standards."


Community Benefits Agreements: What Do They Mean for Livable Streets?

Longfellow.pngA rendering of the CBA-mandated walkable development slated for the Longfellow neighborhood of Minneapolis. Image: UrbanWorks Architecture.

Last week, Comptroller John Liu announced plans to convene a task force to study and issue recommendations about community benefits agreements in New York. While details on the task force are still forthcoming, the renewed public attention on these planning tools provides an opportunity to examine how CBAs have worked in New York and how they are increasingly being used to build livable streets.

Community benefits agreements are private contracts between community organizations and developers, requiring that the developer take additional actions for public benefit. In theory, CBAs allow groups that are shut out of the normal planning process to make their voices heard. The first real CBA was tied to the construction of a basketball arena -- the Staples Center in Los Angeles, where a coalition of religious, social justice, environmental, health, immigrant and tenant organizations capitalized on public concerns over the project to win promises of living-wage jobs, affordable housing, and local hiring.

In some cases, locals have demanded the inclusion of transportation improvements in the benefits agreement. At the Staples Center, the CBA created a residential permit parking program for the arena's neighbors. Here in New York, the CBA Columbia University signed as part of its expansion into West Harlem required it to light the viaduct along Broadway and advocate for improvements to subway and bus stations.

Where the public makes livable streets a priority, CBAs can be useful tools. In Minneapolis, one community group in the Longfellow neighborhood was able to win an impressive list of livable streets features from a developer. In addition to traditional CBA provisions like affordable housing and living wage jobs, the locals negotiated a contract mandating bike parking and paths, parking maximums for cars and car sharing, commercial space that engages the sidewalk, and even a requirement that the architecture "must be urban, not suburban, in feel and function."


How Bill de Blasio and John Liu Can Stand Up for Transit Riders

Contrary to popular belief, the mayor isn't the only elected official with a say in New York City transportation policy. So in this installment of Streetsblog's series on Michael Bloomberg's third term, we're switching things up a bit. We asked New York's most experienced transit advocate, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, how Comptroller-elect John Liu and Public Advocate-elect Bill de Blasio can put their clout to use for New Yorkers who depend on buses and trains. Here's what he told us.

What can the incoming city comptroller and public advocate do to improve the lives of millions of daily subway and bus riders over their next four years in office?

blasio_liu.jpgPublic Advocate-elect Bill de Blasio and Comptroller-elect John Liu.
New Yorkers can be forgiven for putting our focus on the chief executive in City Hall. Our city has what’s called a "strong mayor" form of government. Mayor Bloomberg’s budget powers are great, and virtually all of his commissioners do not have to be approved by the City Council. The mayor is often seen as the Sun King. Everyone else can seem like Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern -- not much of a stage presence.

While it's right to hold the mayor accountable for what the city does on public transportation, there's much that Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Comptroller John Liu can do on behalf of the city's commuters.

Both gentlemen took stands on key transportation issues as council members. Liu served as chair of the council’s transportation committee and de Blasio promoted the return of F express service in Brooklyn and proposed a "Transit Rider’s Bill of Rights." Additionally, Liu voted for congestion pricing, de Blasio against. Later, de Blasio favored East and Harlem River bridge tolls pegged to the subway fare to fund the MTA, which Liu opposed.

So there’s every reason to expect them to be vocal on transportation. And they’ll have plenty of opportunities to take action. To start with, millions of New York City bus riders have a big stake in the service improvements that newly appointed MTA Chair Jay Walder and Mayor Bloomberg have each made a high priority. De Blasio and Liu, if they choose, can use their new offices to help give millions of transit riders the best possible outcome as these plans advance.


The Third Term

troika.jpgFor the next four years, Mike Bloomberg will be joined in citywide office by Democrats Bill de Blasio and John Liu.
Mike Bloomberg defeated Bill Thompson yesterday to claim a third term as New York City mayor, but no one except the mayor's own staff is calling the five point margin a victory for the incumbent. The headlines today are all about Bloomberg's surprisingly lackluster showing. After breaking his own records for campaign spending and mounting a juggernaut political operation, the mayor could barely muster a majority of the votes.

And how few votes were cast. Total turnout -- 1.1 million out of about 4 million registered voters -- looks to be even lower than in Ed Koch's election to a third term, back when a million fewer people lived in the city. Participation in New York City's democratic process hasn't been this paltry since the days before women were enfranchised.

The Thompson camp appeared to take some satisfaction in the relatively close finish. Still, Democrats have got to be second guessing themselves today. No doubt much hand-wringing will ensue about the failure of President Obama and local power brokers to rally around the party's standard bearer.

But here are some numbers to chew on: Thompson lost by 50,000 votes, and New Yorkers make more than two million bus trips every day. What if the Democratic candidate had actively campaigned on specific ideas to improve bus service? Vastly outspent or not, Thompson couldn't clear the bar set by Freddy Ferrer in 2005 despite an electorate that seemingly felt little enthusiasm for the incumbent. (Disgust with the term limits extension may explain why Bloomberg himself garnered 200,000 fewer votes than he did four years ago, even though his approval rating, at 70 percent, remains quite high.)

Instead, when it came to New Yorkers' transportation concerns, Thompson sounded few consistent themes except the notion that self-serving complaints from a few local merchants should take precedence over safety gains and transit improvements on our streets. The Democratic Party -- purported defender of the working class and the environment -- failed to make the connection between urban transportation, economic opportunity, and sustainability.


Brooklyn Bus Stop Draws Bigger Crowd Than Thompson Anti-BRT “Rally”

thompson_exits_truck.jpgBill Thompson hops off his campaign truck at the corner of Fulton and Nostrand in Bed Stuy. Also pictured: Council Member Tish James, Comptroller favorite John Liu, and the frontrunner for Public Advocate, Bill de Blasio (facing away from camera).

With extremely low turnout expected for tomorrow's mayoral election, Bill Thompson and Mike Bloomberg canvassed the city over the weekend trying to drum up some enthusiasm for their candidacies. For Thompson, the itinerary included a stop in Bedford Stuyvesant this Saturday to protest plans for improving bus service along Nostrand Avenue.

Hopping off the campaign truck at the corner of Fulton and Nostrand, Thompson and the entire citywide Democratic ticket joined local council rep Tish James for a quick show of solidarity with Nostrand Avenue Merchants Association president Lindiwe Kamau. Kamau takes issue with bus improvements planned for Nostrand because, she claims, dedicated bus lanes will eliminate curbside parking along the corridor. Here's the thing: The most recent renderings of Select Bus Service on Nostrand [PDF] depict buses operating in an existing travel lane. The curbside parking lane would still be there.

That didn't stop Thompson, James, John Liu, and Bill de Blasio from lending their support for a few minutes, standing beside Kamau and repeating stock phrases about "protecting small businesses." The biggest constituency they addressed appeared to be the press. About four reporters were on hand, outnumbering Nostrand Avenue merchants by approximately four-to-one. After a light cycle or two, the pols hopped back on the truck and were driven away.

If the Democratic ticket had walked over to the B44 stop around the corner, they would have found a much larger and more captive audience to address. Their message might not have gone over very well though.

boarding_b44.jpgAround the corner: Waiting to board the B44.

Tomorrow: Packed Agenda for Council Transpo Committee as Liu Eyes Exit

The City Council Transportation Committee will consider a slate of bills Thursday. Several of them should be of particular interest to livable streets advocates. Here's a rundown.

  • Intro 624: This is Jessica Lappin's effort to hold businesses responsible for traffic law violations committed by bike delivery personnel. The bill was inspired in part by Upper East Side constituent complaints about restaurant employees and other commercial delivery workers riding on sidewalks.
  • Intro 901, from committee chair, presumptive comptroller-elect and rock star John Liu, would mandate all commercial parking facilities to set aside 10 percent of spaces, or 10 spots, whichever is less, for car-sharing programs.
  • Intro 947: Responding to the deaths of Robert Ogle and Alex Paul and Diego Martinez and Hayley Ng, Queens Council Member Elizabeth Crowley's bill would raise the fine for unattended idling vehicles to $250. The current fine: five bucks.
  • Continuing his crusade against the travesty that is parking enforcement, Vincent Gentile's Intro 1076 would require DOT to give 60 days notice to community boards and council members in advance of changes to parking meter regulations.
  • Intro 1077, another Gentile bill, looks as if it would basically codify DOT's current practice of presenting new projects -- pilot projects, specifically -- to community boards prior to implementation.

In the end the votes matter most, but it's interesting that Gentile, for instance, is not a co-sponsor of Crowley's anti-idling bill or Liu's car-sharing intro, but is on board with Lappin's commercial cyclist regulations. Guess we all have our priorities.

Tomorrow's hearing, one of the last of Liu's tenure as committee chair, convenes in the council chambers at 10 a.m.


On Tuesday Your Vote is Really Going to Count


We're off today for Yom Kippur but here's a reminder:

Two important citywide elected positions are going to be decided in tomorrow's Democratic primary election run-off. David Yassky and John Liu are vying to be New York City's next Comptroller and Bill de Blasio and Mark Green are running for Public Advocate. Since no serious Republican opposition is expected in November's general election, the winners of tomorrow's run-off win the whole enchilada. 

If you've ever wanted to know what it feels like to be a powerful Democratic party Boss with lots of political influence, then do this on Tuesday morning September 29: Wake up, slap some suspenders over your shoulders, and stuff a cigar in your face and a pocket watch in your vest. Waddle over to your local polling place and simply cast a vote. That's it. That's all you have to do to wield serious power on Tuesday.*

Only 11 percent of registered Democrats bothered to vote in the primary two weeks ago and turnout for tomorrow's run-off is going to be absurdly low. If you are one of the few people who show up to the polls on Tuesday, your individual vote will count for a lot. You may never again have so much influence over a citywide election, so get out there and enjoy it just like Vito Lopez does. On Tuesday your one vote makes you the Boss.

Find your polling place here.

* Actually, if you really want to feel like a Democratic Boss, then you should drive to the polling place, don't walk. Once you've arrived feel free to park in front of a hydrant or in some other illegal spot. Remember: You're the Boss!


The Comptroller Race: Who Will Stand Up for Transit?

liu_yassky.jpgJohn Liu and David Yassky might be headed for a run-off in the comptroller race.
We've got two more citywide elections to review on the eve of tomorrow's primary vote -- the contests for comptroller and public advocate.

If you're a little unclear about what these positions do, here's the short version: The comptroller is the city's financial watchdog, and the public advocate is the watchdog for everything else, evaluating the effectiveness of city policies and sometimes serving as a check against mayoral power. Whoever holds these positions will wield important oversight powers for the next four years, and we'll probably see one or both of the winners make a run for mayor at some point.

In the right hands, both offices can advance the cause of livable streets. We'll review the comptroller race first and then take a look at the public advocate contenders later today.

The comptroller can't cast a vote in Albany for a transit funding package, but he or she can certainly help frame the debate. Democratic mayoral contender Bill Thompson could have used his comptroller's pulpit to reinforce the Ravitch Commission bridge toll plan this year. Instead he opted to push for vehicle registration fees as an alternative to road pricing, giving the State Senate additional cover for its watered down transit funding package.

The race to succeed Thompson, which will effectively be decided in the Democratic primary, pits four City Council members against each other: David Yassky of Brooklyn, and John Liu, Melinda Katz, and David Weprin of Queens. Neither Katz nor Weprin cleared the most elementary livable streets hurdle during their council tenures, with each siding against congestion pricing in last year's vote. So let's review the intriguing Yassky-Liu rivalry.