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Avella, Savino Back 25 MPH Bill — Now NYC Republicans Must Convince Skelos

Three men in a room: Can Marty Golden, left, and Andrew Lanza, center, convince Dean Skelos not to hold life-saving speed limits hostage? Photos: NY Senate

Do Marty Golden, left, and Andrew Lanza, center, want Skelos to hold a vote on the 25 mph bill? Photos: NY Senate

State Senator Tony Avella, who opposed an earlier bill to lower New York City’s default speed limit to 20 mph, says he will vote for Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein’s bill to set the limit at 25 mph. He’ll be joined by fellow IDC member Diane Savino, who will sign on as a co-sponsor. So it’s up to New York City’s two Republican state senators to convince Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos to bring the bill up for a vote tomorrow, the final day of the legislative session.

Skelos has been noncommittal. “I don’t know if it will be on the floor. It is certainly one of the things we will be discussing,” he said earlier today, according to the Daily News. “I know how important it is to Mayor de Blasio and he’s certainly one of my best friends.”

The “best friends” comment from Skelos refers to de Blasio’s efforts to secure Democratic control of the State Senate, a goal that Governor Cuomo endorsed last month as part of a deal to earn the backing of the Working Families Party.

It’s up to New York City’s two Senate Republicans, Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza, to convince Skelos that this lifesaving bill should rise above party politics. Neither have responded to Streetsblog’s requests for comment.

Klein is confident the bill will pass tomorrow. “This bill is a top priority of mine and I expect it to pass by the end of session,” Klein said in a statement to the Daily News.

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Down to the Wire: Senate Could Vote on 25 MPH Speed Limit Tomorrow

Senators to watch: Marty Golden, Andrew Lanza, Tony Avella, Diane Savino, and Dean Skelos. Photos: NY Senate

Senators to watch: Marty Golden, Andrew Lanza, Tony Avella, Diane Savino, and Dean Skelos. Photos: NY Senate

Update: Tony Avella and Diane Savino have backed the 25 mph bill, leaving it up to Republicans Marty Golden and Andrew Lanza to convince Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos to hold a vote on the bill.

Lowering New York City’s default speed limit from 30 to 25 mph depends on the votes of a handful of key state senators tomorrow, the final day of the legislative session. Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein expects his bill to come up for a vote, according to WNYC, but the measure could become a victim of party politics.

The senators to keep an eye on are Marty Golden, Andrew Lanza, Tony Avella, and Diane Savino. None of them have responded to Streetsblog’s requests for comment. Golden and Lanza, the city’s two Republican senators, will likely determine the ultimate position of Senate Co-Leader Dean Skelos of Long Island.

As members of the Klein-led Independent Democratic Conference, Avella and Savino occupy important spots in the Senate. Avella came out against an earlier 20 mph bill but hasn’t said anything about the 25 mph legislation now up for debate. Savino hasn’t said anything publicly, either, but reports from late last month indicated that she might back the bill.

You can contact the senators at their Albany offices:

Skelos, who shares power with Klein in a day-by-day agreement, remains noncommittal. “I don’t know if it will be on the floor. It is certainly one of the things we will be discussing,” he said, according to the Daily News. ”I know how important it is to Mayor de Blasio and he’s certainly one of my best friends.”

Mayor de Blasio, you may remember, brokered an endorsement deal with the Working Families Party in which Governor Cuomo came out in favor of Democratic control of the Senate, a shift that would cost Skelos his position atop the chamber. Best friends, indeed.

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All Eyes on Senate as Families for Safe Streets Push for Lower Speed Limit

From left, Greg Thompson, Joy Clarke, DOT's Juan Martinez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Aaron Charlop-Powers, Mary Beth Kelly, and Ellen Foote in Albany yesterday on a Families for Safe Streets visit to legislators. Photo: Families for Safe Streets/Twitter

From left, Greg Thompson, Joy Clarke, DOT’s Juan Martinez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Aaron Charlop-Powers, Mary Beth Kelly, and Ellen Foote in Albany yesterday on a Families for Safe Streets visit to legislators. Photo: Families for Safe Streets/Twitter

Yesterday, five members of Families for Safe Streets were joined by Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg in Albany to build support for a bill to lower the city’s default speed limit to 25 mph. Advocates say Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver is set to sign on as a sponsor, while City Hall and advocates continue to aim for support in the State Senate, potentially from Senate Co-Leader Jeff Klein.

A source tells Streetsblog that Trottenberg met with Klein this morning, asking him to add his name to the legislation. As leader of the Independent Democratic Conference, which shares power with Senate Republicans, Klein could put the bill over the top in the chamber. DOT and Klein’s office have not responded to questions about the meeting.

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The fate of legislation to reduce the default speed limit in NYC to 25 mph and make it easier to designate 20 mph streets may rest with State Senator Jeff Klein.

“I think he’s receptive to the change. He was a big, big supporter of speed cameras,” said Aaron Charlop-Powers, whose mother was was killed while riding her bike to work in the Bronx in 2010. “I’m hopeful that he’ll also emerge as a sponsor in this session.”

The bill seems to have a clear path to passage in the Assembly. Caroline Samponaro of Transportation Alternatives said Silver supports the 25 mph bill“We really heard there was commitment from him to move the bill forward with the speaker as the lead co-sponsor,” she said.

While Silver’s office has yet to return a request for comment, other members of the Assembly leadership are on the record signaling they will support the 25 mph bill. Ways and Means Committee Chair Herman ”Denny” Farrell told Streetsblog yesterday that while he needed more information and assurances that it would not lead to unfair speed traps on major streets, he’s receptive to the bill. “That one I’ve got to hear more about,” he said. ”I will probably vote for the 25 mph [bill].”

The bill already has the support of 38 Assembly members, including Codes Committee Chair Joe Lentol, Bronx Democratic Party leader Carl Heastie, and Harlem representative Keith Wright, who until recently was chair of the state Democratic Party.

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Key State Senator Tony Avella Opposed to 20 MPH Speed Limit Bill

State Senator Tony Avella is opposed to legislation that would lower the default speed limit in NYC to 20 miles per hour.

Tony Avella believes some NYC neighborhoods prefer faster, more dangerous traffic.

Tony Avella believes some NYC neighborhoods prefer faster, more dangerous traffic.

He’s also against lowering the speed limit to 25 mph on Northern Boulevard — where drivers have killed at least seven pedestrians, including two young kids, since 2010. That’s supposed to happen this month as part of DOT’s arterial slow zone program. Avella sent a letter to Mayor de Blasio and other electeds asking that the city refrain from making any changes on Northern Boulevard until there is “community input,” a spokesperson said.

As a member of the Independent Democratic Conference that, along with Republicans, controls the Senate, Avella could help get the 20 mph bill passed. Streetsblog spoke with Avella today. Here’s what he had to say.

We’re calling to see what your position is on 6496, the bill that would make the default speed limit in New York City 20 miles per hour.

I certainly agree with the intention of the bill. I’ve actually been fighting with the Department of Transportation to make the streets and city of New York much safer going back to my days in the City Council, when I actually had a piece of legislation to try and reform the way the agency approves street lights and all four-way stop signs.

The concern I have about the way the current bill is constituted is making it the default 20 miles per hour across the entire city, and making communities then have to petition the city to raise the speed limit in certain areas, whether it’s Northern Boulevard or Queens Boulevard, back to 30 miles per hour. I actually met with [Families for Safe Streets, which went to Albany last week], and I basically told them the same thing. It’s so difficult to get the Department of Transportation to approve anything these days, I can’t see making communities go back to them to get a speed limit which they already have on major thoroughfares. I’m in total agreement of lowering the speed limit around schools, on quiet residential streets, but I think this is not a cure-all to the problem itself, and I think we need to have a much more comprehensive approach.

And there has to be community input. You cannot just make this across the board without community input. And I think that’s what’s going on. I’ve always been a community person, and I think that this has to be something that people really want to do. And I don’t think because the mayor likes this that we should do it.

Well the effort to do it is pretty much ground-up. The City Council didn’t take this up until they were contacted by people who had lost family members to drivers.

Forgive me for saying this — I’m not in any way deterring from the message that they have — but in all the years I’ve been in office, not one person has ever asked me to lower the speed limit to 20 miles per hour. What they’ve asked for is traffic lights, stop signs, speed bumps, changing the direction of traffic from two-way to one-way streets. Not one person has ever asked me for a 20 miles per hour speed limit.

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Tony Avella and David Weprin Launch Preemptive Attack on NYC Toll Reform

Remember these guys? This morning, State Senator Tony Avella and Assembly Member David Weprin stood at traffic-choked Queensboro Plaza to say they don’t care if the Move NY toll reform plan reduces tolls on bridges near their eastern Queens districts — they refuse to support any proposal that adds tolls to East River crossings. In a bid to preempt any forthcoming effort to fix the region’s dysfunctional road pricing system, they’re introducing legislation in Albany to prohibit charging drivers on city-owned bridges. The gesture is pure theatrics, since NYC already can’t put a price on those bridges without approval from the state.

State Senator Tony Avella and Assembly Member David Weprin oppose a plan that would bring lower tolls to the Throgs Neck and Whitestone Bridges in eastern Queens. Photo: Stephen Miller

State Senator Tony Avella and Assembly Member David Weprin are back promising to keep NYC streets choked with traffic. Photo: Stephen Miller

It’s also a return to form for two of the most outspoken opponents of the 2008 congestion pricing proposal. At that time, Avella and Weprin were in the minority of City Council members who voted against congestion pricing. Now they’re in Albany, and they still don’t want to do anything to fix a tolling system that’s free in the most congested parts of the city and more expensive in outlying areas with worse transit options.

“I’m puzzled as to why they would oppose a plan that would lower by nearly half the tolls on five out of six Queens bridges,” said Alex Matthiessen of Move NY. The Whitestone and Throgs Neck bridges, which would see lower tolls under the Move NY plan, are within Avella’s district.

The Move NY plan, put together by “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz, works like this: All drivers that enter the Manhattan’s congested core by crossing either the East River or 60th Street would pay a toll, while drivers on bridges linking the other boroughs, where there are fewer transit options, would see their tolls go down. The net result: More funds dedicated to transportation in the region, with the majority of it going to improved transit service.

The argument from Avella and Weprin, who were joined by the Queens Chamber of Commerce and Keep NYC Congestion Tax Free (yes, it still exists), is basically that the Move NY plan is too good to be true. “It sounds nice,” Avella said. “But the proposal will never work in reality.” He claimed that funds generated by the plan could be shifted to non-transportation uses, and that the state could simply revert tolls on the outer-borough crossings to their previous levels without consequence.

Matthiessen called this “a cynical and paranoid viewpoint,” adding that “it would be political suicide for the governor, which controls the MTA, to allow the MTA to simply restore the old high tolls.”

Opponents of the Move NY plan also said that it would have a disproportionate impact on many small businesses that make multiple trips each day between the outer boroughs and Manhattan. ”We want this plan to have as minimal an impact on businesses as possible,” Matthiessen said. “We don’t want to penalize those people,” he said, adding that the plan would use E-ZPass information and license plate scanners to only charge commercial drivers once per day, instead of each time they make a crossing.

Sounding an old and discredited theme, Weprin called bridge tolls a regressive tax. In reality, car commuters to Manhattan — including those in Weprin’s and Avella’s own districts — are wealthier than most city residents.

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Avella Lines Up for Rockaway Beach Rail Reactivation, Against QueensWay

As work is set to begin on a state-funded feasibility study to convert the Rockaway Beach Branch into a 3.5-mile park and multi-use path, State Senator Tony Avella — former City Council member, onetime mayoral hopeful, and current candidate for Queens borough president — is the latest elected official to line up behind southern Queens transit activists who are trying to stop the greenway plan and instead bring back rail service.

State Senator and Queens Borough President candidate Tony Avella has sided with rail reactivation advocates over greenway proponents in central Queens. Photo: Stephen Miller

The Rockaway Beach Branch has remained unused for over four decades, with weeds growing over tracks that once took trains between the Long Island Rail Road main line in Rego Park and the Rockaways. Studies for the JFK AirTrain rejected the corridor as a route for the airport connector, and without rail service on the horizon, Friends of the QueensWay formed to push the park effort, winning the support of the Trust for Public Land and a $467,000 grant from the Cuomo administration last December to fund a feasibility study. The effort has gained the backing of a number of elected officials, with mayoral candidate Anthony Weiner unveiling his support in a policy book update this morning.

As the QueensWay has gained traction, others have ramped up the push to reactivate rail service instead.

Advocates from the Rockaways and central Queens neighborhoods formed the Queens Public Transit Committee early this year, taking an “all-of-the-above” approach by calling for Select Bus Service on Woodhaven Boulevard, improved local bus service in the Rockaways, and a permanent ferry from the Rockaways. They’ve also taken the unfortunate position of calling for tolls to be eliminated on the Cross Bay Bridge.

But Rockaway Beach Branch rail service is the group’s priority. “The most efficient way is this train system,” said committee leader Philip McManus of Rockaway Park. “This goes all the way from South Queens all the way into Manhattan, and the Select Bus Service will not do that.” McManus said a study should determine whether LIRR service, which would not require tunneling, or subway service, which would require a new tunnel beneath Rego Park connecting to Queens Boulevard, is the preferred option. “Whatever works,” he said at this morning’s press conference on Liberty Avenue. “We need a legitimate study, but it has to be first that the public needs to support this. That’s why we’re here.”

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Thompson, Avella Pledge to Dump Sadik-Khan If Elected

dem_bums.jpgTony Avella and Bill Thompson. Photo: Daily News.
I didn't get to watch last night's Democratic mayoral debate between Bill Thompson and Tony Avella, so I missed the high drama that ensued when the candidates were asked if they'll retain Janette Sadik-Khan as transportation commissioner. Good thing Brian Lehrer played excerpts on his show this morning (check the 13:40 mark). Now I know the answer from both: "No."

Thompson got started with a restrained, "I think you bring your own team to the table." Then Avella took the first rip at the city's new bike lanes and public plazas.

"There has to be community involvement," he said. "You can't just dictate from the top: 'Hey, tomorrow, here's a bike lane, here we're gonna close off the street,' without having communication with the elected officials, the community boards, and the neighborhoods, and that's why she should be fired."

This prompted an escalation from Thompson: "I favor bicycle lanes, however, you are hearing the complaint all over the city of New York, because the communities have not been consulted. They've been ignored. Bicycle lanes have been dropped upon them and there has been no discussion. That's wrong and that shouldn't continue."

Avella and Thompson don't seem to have a very good grasp of the facts on this issue. DOT's plaza program is entirely opt-in. They won't build a plaza in your community unless someone from the neighborhood asks for it. New Yorkers are basically competing with each other to get these public spaces added to their streets. Oh, and attacking the new plazas on Broadway is kind of like pledging to pave Bryant Park at this point.

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Is NYC’s “Sustainable Streets” Plan a Communist Plot?

brodsky_stalin.jpg

This week's Observer is running a profile of DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. It focuses on the speed with which many of DOT's Sustainable Streets projects are moving ahead and seems to suggest either:

a) Improving conditions for New York City's pedestrians, cyclists and bus riders is a Communist plot. Or,
b) The change that Sadik-Khan is bringing to New York City's streets is akin to the Russian Revolution.

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Will Congestion Pricing Make or Break Mayoral Campaigns?

While we wait to see what happens, or doesn't happen, today in Albany, New York Magazine takes a look at four mayoral aspirants and how their positions on congestion pricing may affect their chances of succeeding Michael Bloomberg.

  • City Council Member Tony Avella: "[Avella is] an obscure pol, and attacking CP allowed him to grab attention while promoting his anti-tax agenda. But he may have gone around the bend, ranting about routine horse-trading for council members’ votes."
  • Comptroller Bill Thompson: "The city comptroller has been mildly supportive of congestion pricing, though he’s always been careful to attach caveats ... Why take a bold stance on something that might never happen?"
  • City Council Speaker Christine Quinn: "[S]he used last week’s vote to demonstrate leadership on a contentious issue ... Plus, wrapping her arms so tightly around CP also earned Quinn a big chit with Bloomberg..."
  • Congressman Anthony Weiner: "[I]n the campaign, he’ll cast congestion pricing as Manhattan-centric and elitist, like Quinn. Weiner was thrilled to see her so far out front."

And don't forget Marty Markowitz, whose most notable contribution to the congestion pricing discussion has probably been his vehement opposition to new bridge tolls. 

On a related note, the Daily Politics reports that Deputy Mayor Kevin Sheekey issued a not-so-subtle warning on the radio this morning that state pols will be judged on where they come down, and could be supported or opposed accordingly in future races.

Whether or not the plan passes in Albany, how will congestion pricing influence your vote for the next mayor?

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“Thums” Down and Zero Unispheres for Queens Pricing Supporters

five_unis.jpg
Oppose congestion pricing and all this could be yours

If Tony Avella and David Weprin and other Queens City Council members succeed in killing congestion pricing, at least Queens residents who lose out on transit improvements could take comfort in knowing that their representatives will have escaped the wrath of the Queens Civic Congress. Check out this (unedited) warning from the QCC [PDF]:

Queens Civic Congress puts all elected officials and would be ones on notice that the communities are closely following what people say and how they will vote. The Civic community expect the City Council to vote a strong thums down to the congestion tax." stated Jim Trent, Transportation Chair for the Queens Civic Congress, a the borough-wide coalition of civic and condo, cooperative, tenant and other community organizations. "Anyone who supports the unfair tax and/ or votes for it stands to lose any chance of being 'awarded" the coveted five unispheres rating; it could costs them as they look ahead to the next election.

Photo: K. B./Flickr