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Posts from the Ydanis Rodriguez Category

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What Will It Take to Bring Bike-Share to Every Borough?

City Council members want bike-share to expand into their neighborhoods in a five-borough network. Officials at DOT and bike-share operator Motivate share that vision, but they said at a hearing today that it won’t come cheap.

Citi Bike's planned expansions won't make it to the poorest parts of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan. Image: Citi Bike

Citi Bike’s planned expansions won’t make it to most of Queens, Brooklyn, or the Bronx. Image: Citi Bike

After a rough start, Citi Bike’s recent success has prompted a growing number of elected officials to call for expanding the bike-share network to more neighborhoods and to lower-income New Yorkers.

The current phase of expansion is set to wrap up next year, extending the service area to Harlem, Astoria, and Crown Heights. Beyond 2017, the growth of the system is uncertain.

But transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez wants bike-share stations in every community board in the city by 2020. “It is imperative that we turn Citi Bike into a public good, a resource for our lowest-income communities, an opportunity for growth and human capital development,” he said.

That’s no small task: The capital cost of adding one bike to the system is $6,000 (including the dock and other hardware), and Motivate says installing stations in every community board in the city would require 70,000 to 80,000 bikes. So blanketing the city with bike-share would cost more than $400 million.

So far, Citi Bike has launched and expanded using sponsorship revenue, member fees, and other private sources — not public funds. That will probably have to change to bring bike-share beyond the 2017 expansion zone. Both DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg and Motivate CEO Jay Walder said today that public funding would likely be necessary to make citywide bike-share a reality.

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Envisioning a More Equitable Future for NYC’s Burgeoning Bike-Share

Speakers at this morning's panel on bike-share equity. From left: TA Executive Director Paul Steely White, Pratt Center Policy Director Elena Conte, Bed-Stuy Restoration Executive Vice President Tracey Capers, and City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: David Meyer

From left: TA Executive Director Paul Steely White, Pratt Center Policy Director Elena Conte, Bed-Stuy Restoration Executive Vice President Tracey Capers, and City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: David Meyer

After a rough start, Citi Bike is on a roll. Recent service improvements and expansions have turned around enrollment numbers and led to countless record-setting days for NYC bike-share ridership. But while the service has become a viable and successful new way to get around, bike-share has yet to reach most of the city’s low income neighborhoods and communities of color.

That can change, according to participants at an NYU Rudin Center panel yesterday on bike-share equity, but only if residents of those communities see bike-share as intended for them. Doing that means providing low-cost enrollment fees, enabling local residents to take charge of efforts to promote bike-share specifically and cycling in general, and expanding the Citi Bike network to the city’s more peripheral and transit-poor neighborhoods.

Even Citi Bike's planned expansions won't make it to the poorest parts of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan. Image: Citi Bike

The next planned phase of Citi Bike expansion won’t make it to the poorer parts of Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan. Map: Citi Bike

Station density is the hallmark of an effective bike-sharing system, which means the network should be contiguous with stations spaced close together. But for Citi Bike that also means its limited resources were first deployed in the most affluent parts of the city, and for the most part the network has yet to reach poorer neighborhoods.

“The planning of the network starts in the Central Business District and emanates out from there,” said Pratt Center Policy Director Elena Conte. “The other thing that starts in the Central Business District of Manhattan and emanates out from there… is escalating real estate prices.”

Conte said Citi Bike’s association with gentrification — along with the way the service is branded, marketed, and priced — turns lower-income New Yorkers off the service. “I think the perception of Citi Bike in a lot of communities is that there’s a ‘tell, don’t show’ about how it’s good for you,” she said. “You look at the bikes, they have a corporate logo. You look at who’s on the bikes, they don’t necessarily look like you.”

In Bedford-Stuyvesant, one of the few predominantly black neighborhoods with bike-share stations until this year’s expansion into Harlem, the Bed-Stuy Restoration Corporation has worked to promote the service for NYCHA residents, women, and people of color by organizing community rides, for instance.

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MTA: Don’t Ask Us to Do More for NYC Bus Riders

NYC's buses are the slowest in the nation. Image: TransitCenter

NYC’s buses are the slowest in the nation. Image: TransitCenter

Bus ridership in New York City has steadily declined since 2002, and bus riders put up with the slowest average speeds in the nation. But the MTA is in no hurry to fix the problem.

At a City Council hearing this morning, MTA representatives touted the agency’s piecemeal efforts to improve bus service while pushing back against recommendations from transit advocates to address the entire bus system.

Advocacy organizations with the NYC Bus Turnaround Coalition have called for a citywide overhaul of NYC buses. While the scale of their proposal is large, many of the solutions they put forward can be implemented in, say, a single Andrew Cuomo term as governor.

Today, transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez and other council members pushed MTA and DOT officials to adopt a comprehensive approach to solve the problems facing the city’s bus system. The MTA insisted that it’s already doing what it can to turn around bus service.

Transit advocates want the MTA to do more, faster. “What we’re calling for in this campaign is much more widespread implementation of those solutions and implementation much more quickly than we’ve been seeing,” TransitCenter’s Tabitha Decker said at a rally before the hearing.

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Rodriguez Wants DOT to Remedy NYC’s Most Cramped Sidewalks

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Sixth Avenue by Radio City Music Hall. Photo: Kevin Case/Flickr

City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez wants DOT to address overcrowding on some of the city’s most cramped sidewalks. A bill introduced this week would require DOT to identify 10 locations with the heaviest pedestrian traffic volumes and “develop strategies for improving safety and traffic flow at such locations.”

“In this city, most New Yorkers rely on public transportation — and we also walk,” Rodriguez told AMNY. “It’s important that this is a starting point to look for opportunities to make sidewalks more walkable and safer and make sure the DOT has the data to make that possible.”

Speaking with Gothamist, Rodriguez spokesperson Russell Murphy identified Seventh and Eighth avenues in the vicinity of Penn Station and Times Square as areas in need of upgrades.

A temporary sidewalk extension on 32nd Street near Penn Station, installed by Vornado Realty Trust in 2015, was popular with the public, but plans to make it permanent were shelved after businesses complained about the lack of loading zones. Vornado’s Plaza 33, on 33rd Street at Seventh Avenue, returned this year after a successful 2015, but Vornado and DOT have not committed to making it permanent.

And while those projects can help alleviate crowding on cross streets, no plans are on the table to widen sidewalks on Midtown avenues, where there are so many people on foot that during peak hours they can’t fit on the sidewalk and walk in traffic lanes.

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It’s Time to Think Big to Turn Around Lousy Bus Service in NYC

 Image: TransitCenter

Bus ridership has dropped 16 percent in NYC since 2002, even as population and subway ridership have increased. Image: TransitCenter

Bus service in New York is getting worse and losing riders, and unless policy makers step in and make systemwide improvements, those trends may accelerate in a vicious cycle. New York can turn things around, advocates say, with a suite of policies to get buses moving quickly and reliably again.

Today a coalition of transit advocates unveiled their blueprint to fix the city’s surface transit system and win riders back over. The solutions they propose in “Turnaround: Fixing New York City’s Buses,” a new report from TransitCenter, are broad and thorough but eminently achievable — rethinking the bus network, modernizing fare technology and dispatching, and expanding street design features that have already sped service on a handful of routes to improve routes all over the city.

The poor state of bus service in New York amounts to a crisis, said Riders Alliance Executive Director John Raskin. With an average weekday speed of 7.4 mph, New York’s buses are among the slowest in the nation, and they’re getting slower. Making matters worse is the lack of reliability — traffic congestion, lengthy routes, and shoddy dispatching often cause long gaps in service as buses bunch up in clusters of two or more vehicles.

It’s no wonder that bus ridership in New York has steadily declined even as population and jobs have increased.

TransitCenter’s report touches on a number of ways the MTA and NYC DOT should improve bus speeds and reliability while redesigning routes to reflect current rider needs, including:

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Rodriguez: Wouldn’t DOT Like More Vision Zero Funding? Trottenberg: Nope

The de Blasio administration continues to resist the City Council’s efforts to devote more resources to street redesigns that will save lives.

Speaking at a transportation committee hearing yesterday, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg said DOT has sufficient funding in the city budget to redesign, within six to seven years, the 292 dangerous intersections where most fatal traffic crashes occur. That “general timetable” is based on an annual pace of redesigning between 50 and 80 of the intersections identified by DOT in its pedestrian safety action plans.

While DOT may be on track to hit that implementation target, the city is not on track to achieve the mayor’s Vision Zero goal of eliminating traffic deaths by 2024. After declining in the first two years of the de Blasio administration, fatalities did not drop through February this year — the last time the city updated its public crash data. Advocates have noted that at the current rate, the city will not eliminate fatalities until the 2050s.

In a statement following March’s hearing, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White called on the city to increase funding for operational projects — which can make streets safer quickly and at a low cost — to $52.4 million for 98 projects total, compared to 80 completed by the city in 2015.

Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez expressed frustration that de Blasio’s executive budget adds no new dollars for Vision Zero street safety projects, which the council requested during the preliminary budget process. He pressed Trottenberg on the pace of progress on wide, arterial streets in particular, where the majority of fatal crashes occur.

Trottenberg reiterated her previous stance that DOT does not need more funding for street redesigns, arguing that progress on arterials was not solely a matter of money. “It’s partially a funding issue, but it’s partially a project delivery and staffing issue,” she said, pointing to the extensive communication and outreach DOT conducts for even its quick and low-cost projects.

But if that’s the case, additional resources in the budget should still help DOT staff up and deliver more projects. For whatever reason, the de Blasio administration has decided against increasing its capacity to implement street redesigns.

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Car-Free Day Doesn’t Mean Much Without New Policies to Reduce Traffic

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To be meaningful, Car-Free Day needs to be tied to permanent traffic reduction policies. Photo: David Meyer

New York City is America’s car-free capital, home to eight and half million people, most of whom get around without owning a car. When so many of us already live car-free, what more can come out of an event like last Friday’s Car-Free Day?

There are basically two ways an awareness-raising event like Car-Free Day can go. It can be a big galvanizing moment, like the original Earth Day in 1970, that shows the political strength of a social movement and leads to real public policy changes. Or it can be an exercise in conscience soothing and public relations, like the modern incarnation of Earth Day, where governments, corporations, and private citizens “go green” for a day, then carry on with business as usual the next morning.

Car-Free Day 2016 wasn’t what you would call a big galvanizing moment.

Don’t get me wrong. City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez mobilized an impressive coalition for the day, working on a short schedule with, I’m guessing, a tiny budget. And it’s great that some of NYC’s large employers asked people to get to work without a car. Most of us do that already, sure, but more than a million of us do not. Maybe some habitual car commuters switched things up on Car-Free Day and found that the train, bus, or bike works better than they thought.

The trouble is, Car-Free Day was not tied to any concrete public policy proposals that would get the city closer to Rodriguez’s goal of reducing private car ownership. Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg ran down the list of what NYC DOT is doing to make streets safer for walking and biking, but those projects were already in the works.

Like San Francisco’s version of Bike to Work Day, where every elected official from the mayor on down gets seen biking to City Hall without making any real policy commitments, New York’s Car-Free Day didn’t take on much more significance than a photo op.

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Scenes From NYC’s First “Car Free Day”

Broadway between 17th and 23rd Streets was closed to traffic for four hours today. Photo: David Meyer

Broadway between 17th and 23rd Streets was car-free for four hours today. Photo: David Meyer

New York City’s first “Car Free Day,” the brainchild of City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, is underway.

On the streets, there are three car-free zones in Manhattan in effect from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.: blocks abutting Washington Square Park, Wadsworth Avenue between 173rd and 177th Streets, and Broadway from Union Square to Madison Square.

While the initiative is much more modest than events like Bogota’s, where the annual car-free day removes an estimated 600,000 private vehicles from the streets, or Paris’s, where last year the mayor made a third of the city off-limits to cars for a day, Rodriguez has said he hopes the event can build momentum for his efforts on the council to increase the share of car-free households in NYC.

City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez speaks about Car Free Earth Day at a press conference this morning. Photo: David Meyer

City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez. Photo: David Meyer

Speaking near Madison Square this morning alongside DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, Rodriguez emphasized that cutting traffic is necessary to prevent catastrophic climate change. “For me this is not about a politician trying to do something that people will like to hear, this is for my daughters,” Rodriguez said. “By reducing cars, by reducing emissions… we can make a major contribution.”

Rodriguez has pulled together a coalition of more than 35 organizations and companies to participate in the initiative, encouraging employees and members to go car-free for the day.

In introducing Rodriguez, Trottenberg promoted the de Blasio’s administration’s policies to reduce New York City’s carbon footprint, and tied those efforts to her work at DOT to increase biking and reclaim street space for pedestrians. “As we’re focused on making the city greener — we’re focused on alternative modes of transportation — we’re also making the city safer,” Trottenberg said, referring to DOT’s Vision Zero program.

Trottenberg lauded Rodriguez for his efforts on the council. “I’m really proud, Mr. Chairman, of our partnership,” she said. “You really have been a force of nature on [Car Free Day].”

Mayor de Blasio himself was absent, however, and there was no new policy announcement to accompany the day’s events — no new budgetary commitment to bus lanes or bike lanes, no expansion of on-street parking reform to cut traffic, no concrete steps that will reduce driving beyond the city’s existing efforts.

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Rodriguez on Car Free NYC: Climate Change Is a Call to Action on Transit

This Friday is Earth Day, and to mark the occasion, City Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez is spearheading the “Car Free NYC” initiative. The idea is to raise awareness of the connections between climate change, vehicle emissions, and access to transit. More than three dozen large employers have signed on to encourage their workers to walk, bike, or ride transit to work instead of driving — and that coalition continues to grow.

Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, left, and Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, center, discuss transit concerns on a tour of transit-strapped central Queens. Photo: David Meyer

Council Transportation Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, left, and Council Member Elizabeth Crowley, center, on a tour of the old Montauk Line tracks in central Queens. Photo: David Meyer

In addition, there will be three car-free zones in Manhattan: Wadsworth Avenue between 173rd Street and 177th Street, in Rodriguez’s Washington Heights district; Broadway between Union Square and 23rd Street; and the streets surrounding Washington Square Park.

Streetsblog joined Rodriguez last week on a walking tour of the old rail line in Maspeth and Middle Village that local Council Member Elizabeth Crowley wants to resurrect as light rail (the LIRR discontinued service in the late 1990s due to low ridership). We spoke about his goals for Car Free Day, how he’s been spreading the word about it, and that bill to give members of the press exemptions from parking rules.

Below is a transcript of our conversation, edited for length and clarity.

What do you hope to be the overall impact of this year’s Car Free Day?

This is about having a conversations about the need to reduce cars. My goal is to see a reduction of cars by 2030 from the 1.4 million car owners that we have to one million. The way our city can accomplish that goal? Through the educational part. We need to encourage as many New Yorkers as possible to understand that we have a good system of mass transportation, with the buses, train, and ferries, but at the same time we have to identify transportation deserts throughout the five boroughs, especially in the outer-borough areas, where we can still do better connecting those communities through mass transportation. I believe we’ll see some car owners decide to park their car and use mass transportation that day.

The second thing is that New York City has always been on the frontline; what happens in New York City is usually followed by other cities in our nation and throughout the world. What better way to celebrate Earth Day than saying we will reduce emissions [and] we will discuss how we can release New Yorkers in the future from depending on their car?

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NYPD on Parking Perks for Press: Do as We Say, Not as We Do

The City Council’s attempt to return parking privileges to the New York press corps faces opposition, ironically enough, from the New York City Police Department.

Intro. 779, sponsored by transportation committee chair Ydanis Rodriguez and 34 of his colleagues, would allow people with press-designated license plates from New York, New Jersey, or Connecticut to “park where parking or standing is otherwise prohibited except where standing or stopping is prohibited to all motor vehicles” without any time limit or payment, so long as the driver is “engaged in the covering of a news event or matter of public concern.”

A car with state-issued press license plates parked illegally on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: David Meyer

A car with state-issued press license plates parked illegally on Jay Street in Downtown Brooklyn. Photo: David Meyer

While the bill would not provide physical parking placards for press vehicles, the effect would essentially be the same. There are supposed to be limits on the parking privileges conferred by placards, but in practice, placards are routinely abused as a blanket exemption from all parking laws.

“Let me make it clear, our members are not looking for some sort of perk. This is about allowing working journalists to more efficiently relay information to the people of New York City,” said Steve Scott of the New York Press Club. “We can’t do that if we’re circling the block looking for a place to park.”

The press was explicitly given a similar privilege until 2009, when Mayor Michael Bloomberg stripped it as part of a general cutback on placard distribution. Currently, vehicles with state-issued “New York Press” license plates may park in certain press-designated parking zones. Members of the media at today’s hearing conceded they already count on lenient traffic enforcement agents to give them a pass when they park illegally.

The agency with the most placards is NYPD, whose officers have made a laughingstock of the current system by parking their personal vehicles anywhere with impunity, with or without official placards. So it was more than a little ironic that NYPD Inspector Dennis Fulton opposed the expansion of parking perks at today’s City Council transportation committee meeting.

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