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Posts from the "Ruben Diaz Jr." Category

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Instead of Reforming NYC Tolls, Ruben Diaz, Jr. Proposes Soaking the Bronx

Like the Tea Party adherents who are always going to equate walkability and sustainable transportation with a global UN conspiracy, some New York City electeds are always going to call road pricing “regressive” no matter how much the evidence suggests otherwise.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr.

But Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. really ought to know better. Diaz has a piece in the Daily News attacking the Move New York plan, which would inject some reason into New York’s tolling system by raising rates in the congested heart of the city and lowering rates on less-trafficked crossings farther from the core, yielding significant funds for transit in the process. Not only would Diaz’s counter-proposal do nothing to solve the chronic traffic congestion that makes trips miserable for bus riders — to raise as much revenue as the Move NY plan, his proposal would also end up costing Bronx residents a lot more than toll reform.

Unlike the dyed-in-the-wool road pricing opponents New York got to know so well in 2007 — the Richard Brodskys and Lew Fidlers — Diaz doesn’t represent the region’s car-oriented edges. More than 60 percent of Bronx households don’t own cars, according to the 2000 Census [PDF].  The allegation of a “regressive tax” collapses when you consider that the average car-free household in the Bronx earns less than half as much as the average car-owning household.

Even in terms of the cost to drivers, though, the Diaz approach doesn’t add up. Diaz says it’s a certainty that the Move NY toll discounts on outer borough bridges won’t last. So that’s how he can dismiss the 40 percent or larger drop in rates on all four of the Bronx’s tolled bridges. But the Move NY plan needs enabling legislation from the state to move forward, so the new toll ratios would be enshrined in law.

Taking a page from Fidler, Diaz does float a counterproposal — a weight-based vehicle registration fee — that’s supposed to signal that he really does care about transit, but is destined to go nowhere.

To raise the same amount of money as the Move NY plan, about $1.45 billion per year, the registration fee assessed in the five boroughs would have to be raised by $785 per vehicle, reports Move NY analyst Charles Komanoff. Because car ownership is higher in the Bronx than in Manhattan, the Diaz proposal would actually cost his constituents much more than Move NY.

In the Bronx, the average cost per household would work out to $390, according to Komanoff, but just $187 per household in much wealthier Manhattan.

This is a significantly worse deal for the Bronx than the Move NY plan, which calls for Manhattan residents to shoulder a much greater share of the costs. Probably not what Diaz wants out of a transit funding plan.

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Yankee Stadium Parking Garages “Almost Certainly” Coming Down

How long now before the Yankee Stadium parking fiasco becomes an unpleasant memory?

The site of one Yankee Stadium garage, at River Avenue and 153rd Street, was proposed for redevelopment as a hotel and conference center in 2011. Photo: BOEDC

In a brief Crain’s item published last Friday (hat tip to Tri-State), Marlene Cintron, president of the Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation, said that occupancy rates at the taxpayer-financed stadium garages are down from last year, and now stand below 50 percent.

The Bronx Parking Development Company is in default, as expected, according to Crain’s, and bondholders are weighing their options.

Seven companies responded to a request for information to build hotels on the garages, which Cintron said would almost certainly have to be torn down.

Though there were rumblings of repurposing or replacing some stadium parking over a year ago, this appears to be the first time a public official has publicly suggested that the garages could be erased completely.

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., who has his predecessor Adolfo Carrion and the New York City Economic Development Corporation to thank for this mess, broached the idea of siting a hotel near the stadium in his 2010 State of the Borough address. Ironically, Daily News columnist Juan Gonzalez wrote last February that initial proposals were dismissed because developers insisted on “major city subsidies.” Diaz also reportedly asked the Bloomberg administration to replace “some of the garages” with low-income housing. This outcome seems unlikely, given that bondholders, unlike the EDC, expect a return on their investment.

Diaz spokesperson John DeSio told Streetsblog last year that whatever becomes of the garages, the next developer should learn from the city’s mistakes — the squandering of millions of dollars on parking that the neighborhood didn’t want, and the Yankees didn’t need; approving the deal before conducting an economic feasibility study, and so on. Regardless, given the sordid history of the stadium garages, residents of the South Bronx, and city and state taxpayers at large, would do well to keep their ears to the ground.

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Neighborhood Slow Zone Opens in Claremont, Perhaps the First of Many

The "gateway" treatment at Longfellow Avenue and 167th Street marks the lower speed limit with prominent signage and stenciling on the street. A new speed hump is just visible in the background. Photo: Noah Kazis

The city’s first “neighborhood slow zone” officially opened this morning, bringing a 20 mph speed limit and new traffic calming treatments to the residential Claremont neighborhood in the Bronx. Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, joined by Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca and local District Manager John Dudley, announced that the 20 mph zones would soon be coming to neighborhoods across the city. Starting today, residents and community boards can apply for their own slow zone.

The new Claremont zone covers the roughly 35 city blocks bounded by 167th Street, 174th Street, Southern Boulevard and West Farms Road/Boone Avenue. At each entrance to the zone, street signs flank the road announcing the 20 mph limit and that it is a residential area. Inside the zone, stencils and street signs continue to trumpet the lower speed limit. Nine new speed humps have been added to five already in place, which Sadik-Khan said makes the zone largely self-enforcing. In London, slow-speed zones incorporating traffic-calming treatments are preventing dozens of deaths and serious injuries each year.

Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., City Council Transportation Committee Chair Jimmy Vacca and District Manager John Dudley announced the opening of the Claremont neighborhood slow zone. Photo: Noah Kazis

“To some people, this neighborhood is nothing more than a shortcut,” said Sadik-Khan. That attitude, she noted, has had deadly results. In the last five years, 46 people were killed or seriously injured in traffic crashes in the larger community district between 2006 and 2010. The slower speeds would restore the streets to the community, she said. “Our streets are for New Yorkers. They’re where we live, where we play, where we shop.”

“The slow zone is now one where pedestrians will feel safe,” said Diaz, who said he’d been hearing complaints about safety in the area since he served in the state Assembly. Diaz touted the fact that the program would be expanding to other neighborhoods. “This is not going to stop at Claremont,” he said.

Vacca, too, celebrated the safety improvements. “They will save lives,” he declared. In addition to the speed bumps slowing down cars, he urged motorists to respect the speed limit voluntarily. “Look at your speedometers and see how fast you’re already going, and then slow down,” he said.

The form to get your own neighborhood slow zone is already live on DOT’s website, where the agency lays out the characteristics that will lead to successful applications. DOT is looking for zones that include schools, daycare centers, senior centers, and mostly residential uses, taking up an area roughly five blocks by five blocks and set off by clear boundaries, such as parks or major roads. The city wants to keep the slow zones separate from commercial areas, bus and truck routes and hospitals and fire stations.

Applications must come from community boards, business improvement districts, civic associations or elected officials, and are due by February 3. The first round of slow zones will be selected in March, according to DOT, and installed over the course of next year.

More photos of the slow zone below:

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Replacement For Yankee Stadium Parking Will Still Have to Pay The Bills

Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz is hoping that a new hotel can replace excess parking near Yankee Stadium. Photo: Crain's.

As the operator of the taxpayer-financed Yankee Stadium parking garages heads toward default, there’s no longer any question that providing so much parking in such a transit-rich location was a mistake on the scale of Carl Pavano’s contract. The decision to give up $2.5 million in city taxes and $5 million in state revenue has proven a poor investment indeed. The question, at this point, is what comes next.

One idea, from Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr., is to convert one of the garages into a hotel. “One of the older garages is perfect for hotel development,” said John DeSio, a spokesperson for Diaz. Diaz advocated for a new Bronx hotel in his State of the Borough address two weeks ago, saying that “a new hotel would create hundreds of good-paying jobs offering health benefits, pension plans, and a chance for its workers to have a better life.”

While the garages were built on what used to be public parks, the South Bronx is unlikely to see that parkland return. “We have to come up with a plan that not only benefits the neighborhood but is palatable for the bondholders,” explained DeSio. The bondholders will have to okay any new use for the garages, so it will have to be a revenue-generator.

In terms of parking policy more broadly, DeSio said that while there aren’t any major developments where parking is an issue currently being considered by the borough president’s office, “I’m sure that we’d have to take to heart what happened here in the future.” (Plans for a new East Bronx mall anchored by a Target are too preliminary to comment on for now, he said.) DeSio also suggested that the private sector will notice this high-profile case of wasting resources on providing an excessive supply of parking.

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Bike to Work Day Finale: Why the Bronx Commutes By Bike

Streetfilms' Robin Urban Smith was up on the Grand Concourse this morning for one of New York's Bike to Work Day traditions -- the Bronx Borough President's ride from Poe Park down to Lou Gehrig Plaza. Watch and see all the different answers you get when you ask people, "Why do you bike to work?"

After the jump, more Bike to Work Day pics by photographer Andrew Hinderaker from today's pit stops and press events.

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Time to Call Your Legislators About Congestion Pricing

With mixed messages at best coming from Albany and time running out, state legislators need to hear from constituents who support congestion pricing.

It's clear that even in areas where pricing received unanimous support in the City Council, some state lawmakers are not getting the message. Here's Bronx Assembly Member Ruben Diaz, Jr., via NY1:

"It's just a bad approach where working class citizens of the city of New York are going to wind up having to pay either $8 or eventually a fare increase."

If pricing passes, just 3.7 percent of those who live in Diaz's district would pay the congestion charge. That leaves 96.3 percent to face more fare increases if pricing fails. Legislators like Diaz need to understand that, by voting against pricing, they will be responsible for increases in transit costs, and delays in improvements, which will be borne by nearly 100 percent of the working class citizens they represent.

This is the most important New York City transportation policy moment in decades. It's worth a phone call.

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Pricing Round-Up: Dems Conference in Albany

Assembly Democrats met behind closed doors last night to gauge their collective sentiment on congestion pricing. According to the Post, only seven of the 36 legislators who spoke during the meeting expressed support, but the one who matters most, Shelly Silver, remains uncommitted: 

Silver, who has not voiced a public position on the issue, said the meetings will continue today, and he refused to declare the plan dead.

Meanwhile, Assembly Minority Leader Jim Tedisco has proposed that pricing be attached to the budget, the Daily Politics reports, which would make it tougher to vote down. But on this count, Silver's position is already well-known.

Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver reportedly is vehemently opposed to including congestion pricing in the budget, and has said he doesn't want to deal with this issue at all until after the budget is passed.

After the jump, a collection of quotes from lawmakers following last night's meeting.

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