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Posts from the "William Thompson" Category

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Bill Thompson Rents Ads-by-Bicycle to Woo Borough Park Voters

The scene on 13th Avenue in Borough Park earlier today. Photo: Jewish Political/Twitter

Here’s an ironic twist for the mayoral candidate who all but ignored bicycling and walking in his transportation platform: Bill Thompson has rented mobile advertisements-by-bike, with yellow-vested, red-helmeted riders pedaling around Borough Park with Yiddish-language advertisements for his campaign.

Despite Thompson’s anemic transportation policy, it’s a step up from the last time around. In 2009, he made an anti-BRT campaign stop in Bed-Stuy and promised to remove a bike lane on Grand Street in Manhattan; now, he promises “a true BRT system,” but remains noncommittal on bike lanes.

Don’t forget: Polls close at 9 p.m. Before heading out to vote, check your voter registration status and polling location.

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Thompson Puts Cars First in Transportation Platform

It looks like Bill Thompson didn’t get the word about how well bike lanes and pedestrian plazas are polling.

Bill Thompson unveils his transportation platform this morning. Photo: Dana Rubinstein/Capital New York

This morning, at a Staten Island bus depot that is most easily accessed by car, Thompson got in line behind Christine Quinn and Bill de Blasio, the other leading mayoral candidates, by unveiling his transportation platform. And man, is it a doozy.

“Of the three leading Democratic candidates for mayor, Thompson offered by far the most driver-friendly transportation vision for New York City,” reports Capital New York’s Dana Rubinstein. “He mentioned pedestrians not at all.”

Here are the salient points of Thompson’s plan:

  • Parking: Thompson promises pay-by-phone parking meters, framing it as a way to reduce parking tickets. He also says he will work with churches to provide parking to businesses and residents during the week.
  • Tolls: Rubinstein reports that Thompson called for “toll equity.” However, his website says he opposes “bridge tolls over the East and Harlem Rivers that would create hardship for working families.” Rubinstein asked about the Move NY plan, which adds tolls to the East River bridges but lowers them where transit options aren’t available. “I’m not prepared to adopt that,” Thompson replied.
  • Bikes: Bicycling wasn’t mentioned in Thompson’s platform or speech, so Rubinstein asked him about it. ”My greatest concern has been the lack of coordination with communities and the fact that they weren’t involved in the planning,” Thompson said. (Maybe he should go to a community board meeting sometime.) Thompson says he likes bike-share but, according to Rubinstein, “thinks some bike lanes are alright and others aren’t.”
  • CityTicket: Thompson would push to expand this MTA program, which charges $4 for weekend trips within city limits on Metro-North and LIRR, by allowing it on weekdays and lowering the price to cost the same as a MetroCard swipe.
  • Ferries: Thompson supports increased night and weekend Staten Island Ferry service and pledged to find funds to maintain service to the Rockaways.
  • Buses: Thompson promises “a true BRT system” to serve areas including Staten Island and eastern Queens. He also spoke about adding more express bus routes and restoring buses cut in 2010, Rubinstein said.
  • MTA Funding: Restoration of the commuter tax is high on Thompson’s list, as is a weight-based vehicle registration surcharge that he estimates could raise $1 billion. Thompson has advocated these ideas, which would require state approval, since at least 2008.

Thompson’s platform does not have a definitive street safety plank, saying only that ”Thompson will ensure the safety of pedestrians, drivers and cyclists.” At the event unveiling his transportation platform, Thompson received the endorsement of Amalgamated Transit Union Local 726.

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At Forum, Mayoral Candidates Back Bus Lanes, Shy Away From Funding

Democratic (top) and Republican and independent (bottom) candidates for mayor talked transportation this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

At a mayoral forum on transportation this morning, the first since a February event hosted by Transport Workers Union Local 100, eight candidates offered ideas on how they would improve the city’s road and transit network. For the most part, the candidates were eager to support buses, quick to get agitated about bike lanes, and short on realistic ideas for how to fund their plans.

The forum, organized by the University Transportation Research Center, packed a room with over 200 students and transportation professionals at Baruch College, with questions posed to the candidates by a lineup of experts. There were two panels: the Republican and independent candidates — Adolfo Carrión, John Catsimatidis, Joe Lhota, and George McDonald – followed Democratic candidates Sal Albanese, John Liu, Bill Thompson, and Anthony Weiner. Bill de Blasio and Christine Quinn did not show, leaving empty seats behind their name tags.

Many of the candidates wanted more mayoral control over the city’s transit network, if not an outright transfer of responsibility from the state. While city control of subways and buses is unlikely, Lhota said, “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bring it up.” Even without full control, he said, the mayor can exert influence through MTA board appointments, providing operating subsidies, and adding bus lanes.

The candidates all cited the need to expand the bus network, particularly Select Bus Service and express buses; many of them also spoke highly of ferries, which require substantial subsidies.

Albanese, Carrión, and McDonald all endorsed “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz’s “fair toll” plan, which would increase or add bridge tolls where there are transit options while cutting tolls where transit is scarcer. Albanese said he would split revenue from the toll plan: Three-quarters of it would go to transit operations, with the goal of reducing the pressure for fare hikes, and a quarter would go to capital investment. McDonald, citing the MTA’s growing operating budget, driven by labor and debt costs, said he would dedicate all of the program’s revenue to capital investments.

Catsimatidis said that he opposes any proposal that would add or increase tolls, while Thompson repeated his long-standing call for assessing vehicle registration fees by weight and reinstating the commuter tax, which would be dedicated exclusively to transit. Liu, while calling a return of the commuter tax unrealistic, said Congress should allocate more funds to transit.

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At Transit Forum, Albanese, Allon, and Carrión Support Rational Tolls

Mayoral candidates Bill Thompson, Christine Quinn, John Liu, Bill de Blasio, Adolfo Carrión, Tom Allon, and Sal Albanese gathered to talk transit at a Friday evening forum. Photo: Stephen Miller

Friday’s transit forum hosted by Transit Workers Union Local 100 and a coalition of rider advocacy groups offered an opportunity for a more more detailed discussion of transit policy than this year’s mayoral race has seen so far. While the candidates offered few specifics about how they would improve transit for the millions of New Yorkers who depend on trains and buses, clear differences emerged, especially on the question of how to increase funding for the debt-ridden MTA.

Five Democrats — former City Council City member Sal Albanese, Public Advocate Bill de Blasio, Comptroller John Liu, City Council Speaker Christine Quinn, and former comptroller Bill Thompson — were on hand, as were former Bronx borough president Adolfo Carrión, running on the Independence Party line, and Manhattan Media publisher Tom Allon, running as a Republican. Conspicuously absent was Republican Joe Lhota, whose resume includes a recent one-year stint as MTA chair.

The transit issue that the mayor can control most directly is the allocation of street space. How much real estate should be dedicated exclusively to transit, so riders don’t get bogged down in traffic? More than anyone else, the mayor has the power to decide.

Albanese had the most specific proposal, calling for 20 new Select Bus Service routes by 2018. De Blasio said he wants more Bus Rapid Transit outside of Manhattan, citing a JFK-to-Flushing route as an example. When Streetsblog asked after the forum if the Bloomberg administration has been implementing the SBS program quickly enough, de Blasio said he didn’t know enough to say if implementation was going slowly, but that the implicit answer is “yes” because his vision calls more more BRT in the outer boroughs.

Carrión, who called for a new goal of providing 30-minute commutes from the city limits to the CBD, cited the Select Bus Service route on Fordham Road as a successful transit enhancement, noting that it has won over merchants who were initially skeptical. Quinn and Thompson, meanwhile, spoke about improving bus service, but not specifically about SBS or BRT. And Liu said that Bus Rapid Transit should be part of the city’s transit mix, but didn’t get more specific than that.

On the issue of funding the MTA, the mayor has far less direct control than the governor and the state legislature but still commands a powerful bully pulpit that can set the agenda.

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NYers Not Sold on Notion That Livable Streets Are Wrecking Economy

pollgrab.jpg
Here's a chart breaking down New York Times exit poll results from the mayoral election.

What sticks out to us is not so much that 3 percent of voters rated transportation as the "one issue" that mattered most to them, since many who participated could care a great deal about transportation and you wouldn't know it. Notice instead how Bloomberg dominated the issue of economy and jobs, even in this terrible downturn, despite Thompson's attempts to portray livable streets improvements as assaults on small businesses.

Obviously, despite the low level of interest indicated here, transportation matters. Otherwise pols wouldn't drone on about the MTA ad nauseam. But what do these numbers tell you?

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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.

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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.
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Thompson: Baseless Speculation Trumps Safety Gains on Grand Street

Mayoral contender Bill Thompson continues to elaborate on his opposition to the city's expanded bike infrastructure. In an interview published Friday, Thompson told the Downtown Express that just because injuries are down on Grand Street since the installation of a protected bike lane last year, doesn't mean those improvements should be preserved.

According to Dept. of Transportation statistics, accidents of all types are down by nearly 30 percent on Grand St., but Thompson said those were not enough reasons to keep the lane.

“Then you move forward,” Thompson told the Express. “So you'll have a safer street where the businesses are going to wind up closing? That's not what you're looking to do. You're looking to strike that balance so it works.”

He said last week that he would have his transportation commissioner take a new look at any lanes that seemed to be problematic, such as along Grand St. and in Astoria, though he did not promise to definitely close any. He favors bike lanes and suspects ones on wider streets such as on Eighth and Ninth Aves. are working better.

So in Thompson's view, safety gains on Grand Street, proven by measured reductions in injuries, are no match for unfounded accusations that, all evidence to the contrary, bike lanes are bad for business. The implication: car traffic propels commerce even in dense, walkable lower Manhattan. Also, let's not forget that the vast majority of Grand Street's curbside parking has been retained. Eliminating the bike lane would simply allow motorists to resume driving faster and double-parking without blocking vehicles behind them. How is that good for business?

I'm not sure whether candidate Thompson can be swayed by studies, common sense, and the vision of a city where better streets for pedestrians and cyclists attract more foot traffic for local businesses. At this point, it seems pretty clear that his ear is more attuned to whoever whines the loudest.

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Thompson vs. Bloomberg: The Ultimate Bicycling Referendum?

bloomberg_thompson.jpgTonight's debate will be broadcast on NY1.
Tonight at 7:00, mayoral contenders Mike Bloomberg and Bill Thompson face off in the first debate of the general election. Andrew Hawkins at City Hall News has some good pre-debate reading for New Yorkers who care about how this election will affect the future of our streets and public spaces.

To date, Thompson has uncorked a steady flow of escalating anti-bike lane statements, couched in a demand for greater "community input." The argument never squared with DOT's habit of seeking community board approval for bike projects, nor does it jibe with recent resolutions in favor of protected bike lanes passed by Manhattan Community Boards 7 and 8. So Hawkins' sources offer up a few other explanations for Thompson's stance:

George Arzt, a veteran Democratic political consultant, said Thompson appears to be making a grab for working class, outer borough votes with his calls to remove bike lanes and dump Sadik-Khan.

"It's a 718 issue, as we used to say," said Arzt. "He sees this as an advantage to do something for the car drivers, many of whom hate the bicycle lanes and are fearful of running over a cyclist."

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Bill Thompson Was for Bike Lanes Before He Was Against Them

The current iteration of Grand Street, by most any objective measure, has to be considered a success. In the year since it was reconfigured to host the city's first parking-protected bike lane, with the blessing of Community Board 2, injuries are down 30 percent, with about 1,000 cyclists using the lane daily.

thompson_grand2.jpgThompson tells NY1 he'll "review" recent safe street projects.
Other recent street safety projects are paying off with similar dividends, according to DOT data:

  • After the Ninth Avenue protected bike lane was installed in 2007, injuries among all users dropped 56 percent.
  • The protected Broadway bike lane between 42nd and 35th Streets brought a 50 percent drop in injuries.

Given quality of life improvements like these, it would make sense for mayoral challenger Bill Thompson to promise to at least stay the course, if not to one-up the incumbent. And in his responses to the Transportation Alternatives Candidate Survey, Thompson comes across as a big believer in the benefits of livable streets. New MTA revenue streams, expanded BRT service, ramped-up traffic enforcement, on-street parking reform -- when playing to the TA crowd, the candidate is nearly pitch perfect.

But depending on whom he's talking to, Thompson is either eager to expand on the safe streets initiatives of the past few years or eradicate them on day one -- starting with a shake up at DOT and removal of the Grand Street lane.

If increased safety and community board approval wouldn't be enough for a project to be judged a success by Mayor Thompson, what criteria would he use? Though we were assured several times that the candidate supports bike lanes, our conversation with a Team Thompson spokesperson did little to clear things up.

"It's a wide range of factors," said the spokesperson. "It's not just the small businesses in the area, it's also the community. I can't comment on something in the future. I mean, obviously you have to look at each bike lane separately, right?"

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