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Posts from the "Lew Fidler" Category

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City Council Votes to Increase Oversight of Bike Lane Removal

Yesterday the City Council passed Lew Fidler’s Intro 412 — the bill mandating community board notification about the installation of bike lanes — setting the stage for some showboating from Fidler, Speaker Christine Quinn and Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca.

Little-known fact: Lew Fidler's bill also requires the city to notify community boards before a bike lane is removed. Photo of Bedford Avenue bike lane erasure: Elizabeth Press

“Our legislation will ensure the Department of Transportation works with community boards and fully considers feedback from neighborhood residents on where, and how, bicycle lanes are installed,” Quinn said in a statement.

This is kind of like bragging about legislation that ensures the Department of Sanitation will pick up the trash. The city already brings bike lane proposals to community boards. The past few years have produced a long record of community board votes in favor of safer streets, as well as a few that went in favor of the status quo. With or without this bill, the bike lanes are going in where the community boards sign off on them.

Defending the need for the legislation, Vacca told NY1, “I don’t think it’s anti-bike to make sure that local neighborhoods have input as to where bike lanes go.”

Can’t argue there. Having a public process for bike lane installation is not anti-bike. What’s anti-bike is to imply that the recent expansion of bike lanes has somehow lacked sufficient public input, which is the message that comes across from the coverage of this bill.

It’s also strange that the City Council thinks it’s necessary to mandate notification for all bike lanes, but not for all changes to motor vehicle lanes. If the city wants to carve out some left-turn bays from a pedestrian median, for instance, there’s no law requiring a public hearing.

So yeah, it’s anti-bike to grandstand about the imaginary problem of community input on bike lanes when the council could be focusing on real transportation problems like the MTA debt bomb, obscenely wasteful subsidies for stadium parking, or NYPD’s refusal to disclose information on traffic crashes.

In any case, Quinn, Vacca, and Fidler missed their chance to boast about the real innovation in this bill. It requires the city to inform community boards before any bike lane is removed:

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City Council Singles Out Bike Lanes in Bills to Codify DOT Outreach

Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca. Image: CBS 2

The City Council Transportation Committee held hearings on three bills today, each of which would add more requirements to the Department of Transportation’s review process for street redesigns, especially bike lanes.

For the most part, the bills codify what DOT already does: present bike projects to community boards, coordinate with other agencies before implementation, and report back on the results.

Intro 412, sponsored by Lew Fidler, would require community board hearings on all bike lanes at least 90 days before construction. (An existing law already mandates CB hearings prior to the installation of most bike lanes.) Intros 626 and 671, both sponsored by committee chair James Vacca, would require DOT to consult with other city agencies before undertaking a major transportation project and mandate the release of safety and traffic speed data for those projects. Each of the three bills would amend Local Law 90, which the council passed at the end of 2009, requiring DOT to go to community boards for all projects that add or remove a travel or parking lane for more than four blocks.

DOT only opposed one of the bills. “We agree with the idea behind Intro 671,” said Deputy Commissioner for External Affairs David Woloch, “but we also believe that since each project DOT conducts is unique, it requires a customized data collection plan.” Woloch said that Gale Brewer’s Local Law 23 of 2008, which created the agency’s Sustainable Streets Index, was preferable in that it maintained the needed flexibility of measurement. During the hearing, Vacca did not spend significant time discussing this bill or pushing back on DOT; he focused on the other two pieces of legislation instead.

The other two bills merely codify existing department practices, Woloch said, adding that DOT already goes to community boards for all bike lane projects, as Fidler’s bill would require. “This process has been successful in gaining community understanding and support for bicycle lane projects,” he said. DOT also already consults with NYPD and FDNY on all street redesigns and works with the Department of Small Business Services and Mayor’s Office for People With Disabilities on more general policy issues. While Woloch said that DOT would need to see some minor changes to the bills’ language — changing the wording to clarify that community boards would hold hearings over bike lanes, not DOT itself, for example — the department was on board with the basic concepts.

That made for a conciliatory hearing while DOT’s reps were testifying. “I’m thrilled that the commissioner is behind it, because I think she gets it,” said Fidler of his bill. He also said that he could tell DOT’s public outreach had significantly improved. “There’s been a notable difference in DOT’s outreach, at least in my community, in the last few years.” While he carped about “bike lanes dropped from the sky,” Fidler also said that he expected his bill to constrain future administrations more than this one, which was already complying with its rules.

Transportation Alternatives came out strongly against Fidler’s bill, saying that it would add unnecessary red tape to nuts-and-bolts safety improvements. With Local Law 90 on the books, the Fidler bill would only cover the smallest bike projects, which shouldn’t require additional oversight unless community boards or the DOT want it, he said. Currently, the law already requires DOT to get community board input on projects that take away or add a travel lane or parking lane for four blocks or more.

“We’re talking about the most minor, the most routine bike lanes that DOT paints,” said TA general counsel Juan Martinez. “When we’re talking about these routine improvements, the months of delay that happen when you have to go through the community board means New Yorkers’ safety is delayed.”

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If the Streets Get Safer, Southern Brooklyn Residents Will Ride

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Southern Brooklyn's bus riders want the option of safe cycling. Image: Murray Lantner

Southern Brooklyn isn’t necessarily known as the epicenter of New York City cycling. Car-ownership rates are some of the highest in the city, and elected officials from the area tend to be particularly vocal livable streets opponents. But a recent, admittedly unscientific, survey shows that there’s a hunger for bike infrastructure from Sheepshead Bay to Mill Basin.

Murray Lantner, a livable streets activist who lives and grew up in Mill Basin, conducted the survey last fall, asking bus riders how they felt about bike lanes. About two-thirds of those who responded said that they’d like to see more bike lanes in their neighborhood. “Safety was a big concern,” said Lantner, “for them, or often for their kids.”

In these neighborhoods, relatively distant from the city’s job centers, cycling is more likely to link up with the subway system than serve as a stand-alone commute mode. Half the respondents said that if there was a network of safe bike lanes leading up to the King’s Highway B/Q station, along with bike parking, they’d start cycling to the subway rather than wait for the bus.

The survey has a small sample size and the data isn’t from a truly random group of bus riders — respondents were told the survey was about cycling. (You can see the whole thing, along with a letter Lantner wrote to the local community boards and elected officials in this PDF.) Even so, it shows that there’s a sizable pool of would-be cyclists in the area. And their voices aren’t being heard.

Instead, the elected and appointed representatives of these neighborhoods dominate the conversation and are uniformly anti-bike. A Courier-Life article from September noted that community board opposition to bike lanes has sprung up in Manhattan Beach, Gerritsen Beach, and Canarsie in recent months.

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Lew Fidler Threatens to Thwart Bridge Tolls

As opposition to East and Harlem River bridge tolls is reportedly "softening" in the State Senate, Lew Fidler tells Crain's that a transfer of city-owned crossings to the MTA would require a home rule message from the City Council, and says he would join efforts to stop such a transfer in order to prevent tolls from being enacted. The full blurb is behind the subscriber wall, but here are Fidler's quotes.

"A real property transfer is subject to our land use review procedure," says Councilman Lew Fidler, D-Brooklyn. "I surely would object on that basis and join any lawsuit brought if it were done without our consent."

The groups fighting bridge tolls would likely challenge any plan that lacked a home rule message from the City Council.

"I realize that two bucks is not a burdensome amount, but if you think that amount will remain so low, I have a bridge to sell you," Fidler says.

What role the council might play in the MTA rescue plan, if any, remains to be seen -- as does the strength of council opposition to tolls in the face of near-immediate transit fare hikes and service reductions. With the city's delegation in Albany finally waking up to the fact that more of their constituents ride than drive, you've got to wonder how it would play -- even in the farther reaches of Brooklyn and Queens -- if council members like Fidler and John Liu tried to scuttle a workable rescue of the transit system.

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Congestion Pricing vs. Ravitch Plan: Which is Better for the Boroughs?

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Under the Ravitch Plan, driving into Manhattan over the Third Avenue Bridge will be a relative bargain for Richard Brodsky's Westchester constituents.

It’s easy to dismiss City Councilmembers Lew Fidler and Peter Vallone, Jr. as transportation troglodytes. They’ve led the pushback against bridge tolls -- most recently at the City Council hearing this week on the Ravitch Commission recommendations -- yet neither has ever put forth a workable alternative for reducing job-killing, community-wrecking traffic congestion. Judging by their anti-toll rhetoric, you’d think that half their district drives to jobs in the Manhattan Central Business District, yet the actual percentages who do so are surprisingly meager: 5.3 percent for Fidler’s Brooklyn district and 4.4 percent for Vallone’s Queens district (plus another 1.7 percent and 1.3 percent, respectively, who carpool).

But in one respect, bridge-toll opponents may have a point: tolling equity. According to my calculations, 60 percent of the proposed Ravitch bridge tolls would be paid by Brooklyn and Queens residents. Yet these residents make only 36 percent of car trips into the CBD. The disparity would mean a hefty cross-subsidy -- worth a few hundred million dollars a year -- of the region's drivers by drivers from these two boroughs.

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Lew Fidler: Let’s Get to Work

Here's more on yesterday's congestion pricing debacle in Albany, this time from City Council Member Lew Fidler. Direct quotes are in quotation marks.

Fidler_color_pic.jpgStreetsblog: What's your reaction to today's news?
Fidler: "Look, it would do nobody any good for one side to gloat and for the other side to sulk. We need to really get to work on the problems that we've all acknowledged. You're familiar with the musical Oklahoma? The cowmen and the farmers need to be friends."

"I had a conversation with Melissa Mark-Viverito today [before the news from Albany], on a what-if basis. Can we move forward and work on something together? It was positive."

Streetsblog: So what do you propose as an alternative?
Fidler: "I put out my plan, you guys are familiar with it. Parts are available for fair consideration. Clearly there's a notion that a broad-based tax will be necessary to fund the capital plan for mass transit."

For all the negativity on hydrogen fuel cell cars, I hope it did not escape everyone's notice that Westchester [White Plains] has entered into a pilot program. We need to incentivize the infrastructure for fuel cell vehicles. These cars are feasible today. Would you be the first one on your block to get one? We need to find a way.

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Pricing Clears Committee, Moves to Full Council Tonight

The Committee on State and Federal Legislation has voted in favor of the congestion pricing home rule message. Tonight, the full City Council will decide whether the state legislature can vote on the real bill. Transportation Alternatives' Noah Budnick is on the scene and providing us with updates. The Daily Politics is getting the news out pretty quickly too. Here's the roll call:

Maria Baez (chair), Bronx - yes
Joseph Addabbo, Queens - no
Eric Martin Dilan, Brooklyn - no
Lewis Fidler, Brooklyn - no
Melissa Mark Viverito, Manhattan - yes
Michael McMahon, Staten Island - yes
Hiram Monserrate, Queens - yes
Joel Rivera, Bronx - yes
Larry Seabrook, Bronx - yes

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Fidler Waxes on “Haves” and “Have-Nots”


In this five-minute speech, delivered at the Stonewall Democratic Club in Manhattan and captured by The Politicker, Council Member Lew Fidler draws on the 2005 mayoral campaign of Freddy Ferrer to rehash the old saw that congestion pricing would create a city of "haves" and "have-nots."

"This is its stated purpose. This is exactly how it's supposed to work, so there's no debate on this point: it allocates your ability to enter the heart of our city by who can and can not afford it."

Again, Fidler betrays his windshield perspective. Of course congestion pricing will not keep a single person from entering Lower Manhattan, as long as they can walk, bike, or pay the (up to) $2 transit fare. And, as has been stated ad nauseum on Streetsblog, the city is already stratified, only in reality the "haves" have cars and/or parking placards while the "have-nots" have MetroCards.

Judging by the tepid reception Fidler gets here, his audience seems to get this, even if the councilman does not.

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Pricing Hearing: Sadik-Khan and Aggarwala Explain the Details

Yesterday morning's hearing at City Hall, which garnered much press today, gave Janette Sadik-Khan and Rohit Aggarwala the chance to clarify a number of misconceptions about congestion pricing in front of a sizable contingent of City Council members. As expected, one of the first points to come up was whether drivers from New Jersey will contribute anything to the congestion pricing revenue stream. Turns out they will.

In her opening remarks, Sadik-Khan mentioned that drivers entering Manhattan through the Lincoln and Holland tunnels will pay $45 million per year as a result of pricing. When Council member Joel Rivera asked about the logic behind the number, Sadik-Khan and Aggarwala explained that drivers who pay with cash instead of EZPass will not be eligible for the pricing offset. In other words, those drivers will pay both the Port Authority toll and the full pricing fee.

Pricing revenue would also come from drivers who use the tunnels during the Port Authority's daytime off-peak hours (9 a.m. - 4 p.m.), when the toll is $6. During those times, even drivers who take advantage of the pricing offset would still pay $2 towards the congestion fee. Aggarwala noted that two-thirds of all drivers who use the Hudson River tunnels would pay all or part of the fee.

In another exchange, Council member Melissa Mark-Viverito, a pricing supporter, asked whether the 367 buses to be added before pricing takes effect would be on new or existing lines. Sadik-Khan revealed that the buses will be spread among 33 existing lines and 12 new lines.

Mark-Viverito also wanted to know who would be able to veto any changes to the way congestion pricing revenue is spent. That power, said Sadik-Khan, would reside with the MTA Capital Program Review Board, currently a four-member panel that would grow to five members under the congestion pricing bill. (A rep appointed by the City Council speaker would join appointees of the governor, mayor, Senate majority leader, and Assembly speaker.) To change how congestion pricing revenue is spent, Aggarwala explained, the MTA would have to make a distinct proposal that would in turn have to be approved by the review board.

After the jump -- more from yesterday's hearing, including a back-and-forth with Streetsblog sparring partner Lew Fidler.

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Undecided Council Members Speak Up at Pricing Hearing

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Janette Sadik-Khan and Rohit Aggarwala (left table) fielded questions this morning from City Council members, including Lew Fidler and Larry Seabrook.

At the first part of today's congestion pricing hearings, Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and Rohit Aggarwala, director of the Office for Long-Term Planning and Sustainability, fielded questions from the City Council's nine-member State and Federal Legislation Committee. Several other Council members, including Speaker Christine Quinn, were also there to ask questions, and the chamber was packed with supporters of both pro- and anti-pricing groups.

The hearing followed word this morning that State Senate Majority Leader Joe Bruno has introduced a congestion pricing bill in Albany -- the same legislation that Governor Paterson announced on Friday, which is based on the recommendations of the Traffic Congestion Mitigation Commission. Quinn began the proceedings with a short but full-throated speech in support of pricing, saying, "The benefits so far outweigh any of the negatives, the concept of inaction is simply, in my opinion, not an option. We have to seize this moment to create a sustainable revenue source for mass transit." Then, after Sadik-Khan delivered her comments (which got big applause), the Council members started popping questions.

Two Council members who have not declared a position on pricing took part in the Q&A during the time I was there to observe. One was Larry Seabrook, a Bronx Democrat who has been identified as a possible swing vote on the committee. "How are we going to say these projects won't stay on the drawing board for another 30 years?" he asked, referring to projects in the MTA capital plan targeted for the Bronx.

Sadik-Khan assured him about the lock box language in the current bill, adding, "I don't see any other way to fund the projects that your district so desperately needs without the revenues from the congestion pricing program." Seabrook repeated his position that the lock box must be ironclad, but appeared satisfied that his concerns had been addressed, wrapping up by thanking the commissioner for considering his district.

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