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Posts from the Ydanis Rodriguez Category

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

car-free-day-2016

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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Three Pieces of the Manhattan Grid Will Go Car-Free on Earth Day

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Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez announces Car Free NYC at NYU this morning. Photo: @NYCCouncil

New York will create three car-free zones on Earth Day, April 22, as part of an initiative called “Car Free NYC” announced by City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez this morning.

The car-free areas will be Broadway from the Flatiron Building to Union Square, the streets surrounding Washington Square Park, and Wadsworth Avenue between 173rd and 177th Streets in Rodriguez’s Washington Heights district.

In addition, city agencies and several large businesses, schools, and hospitals will encourage employees to leave their cars at home for the day’s commute (April 22 is a Friday), offering promotions and discounts for people who don’t drive to work.

Image: Car Free NYC

The official logo of Car Free NYC

In recent years, big cities across the world have used car-free days to raise awareness of the harm cars cause to urban areas. “Each city [that has held a car-free day] has realized the benefits of going car-free, with fewer emissions, less stress and greater ease of mobility for all street users,” said Rodriguez. “This is something we can and should commit to, to drive home the cost of our over-reliance on cars in New York City.”

New York’s car-free day won’t be as big as, say, the one in Paris, where private cars were banned in about a third of the city, but Rodriguez said that this year’s event will be a first step that can expand on future Earth Days.

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NYPD Still Resisting Attempts to Reform Parking Placard Abuse

Fraudulent parking placards are rampant in NYC, but NYPD remains opposed to a bill that would require the city to include a barcode on placards to ensure proper enforcement.

It may look official, but this “Amtrak police surgeon” placard was not issued by the city. Still, NYPD is in no hurry to cut down on placard fraud. Photo: Noah Kazis

Testifying before the City Council transportation committee today, NYPD Assistant Commissioner Richard Schroeder cited “significant fiscal, operational, and technological issues that… cannot be resolved within the one year effective date of the legislation” as one reason why the department opposes Intro 326, sponsored by Council Member Dan Garodnick. When Garodnick introduced a similar bill in 2011, it also met resistance from NYPD.

Schroeder said the legislation doesn’t give NYPD enough time to build a secure database of placards issued to city agencies by DOT and NYPD. He also noted that barcodes would not be able to completely prevent the fraudulent reproduction of placards, since they can be easily scanned and copied. He said NYPD was open to other strategies to improve enforcement, and expressed hope that DOT’s adoption of pay-by-phone parking technology could help mitigate the problem.

DOT Assistant Commissioner for Parking Operations Mike Marisco later testified that pay-by-phone “will also provide opportunities for much more efficient ways of managing permits.” While that’s intriguing, it’s not at all clear how placard management will be improved by a better parking meter payment system. Fake placards, after all, let people park without paying a cent.

There are approximately 104,000 valid NYC parking placards in circulation, with the largest chunk distributed to members of NYPD. They entitle the placard holder to park for free in any legal parking spot.

The placard system is problematic for several reasons, including the fact that it creates a huge incentive to drive for tens of thousands of public employees in some of the most transit-rich parts of the city. Legitimate placards are often abused as entitlements to park illegally in bus stops, crosswalks, or no-standing zones. Fake placards are shockingly easy to produce and work as well as the real thing. The mere sight of something vaguely official-looking on a dashboard is enough to intimidate enforcement agents.

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Will the City Council Press NYPD to Enforce the Right of Way Law?

NYPD is barely enforcing a key Vision Zero law more than a year after it took effect, and it seems the City Council isn’t planning to do anything about it.

He's the Energizer bunny of car-centric thinking. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The pressure is not on Police Commissioner Bill Bratton to take pedestrian safety seriously. Photo: Policy Exchange/Flickr

The aim of the Right of Way Law, also known as Administrative Code Section 19-190, was to give NYPD precinct officers a tool to penalize motorists who injure or kill. The law made it a misdemeanor for drivers to strike pedestrians and cyclists who have the right of way. After it took effect, NYPD Chief of Transportation Thomas Chan said all 35,000 uniformed officers would be trained to enforce it.

The Right of Way Law is a centerpiece of Mayor de Blasio’s Vision Zero initiative. Failure to yield is the top contributing factor in 27 percent of pedestrian fatalities and severe injuries, according to DOT’s 2010 pedestrian safety study. But NYPD is not applying the law in proportion to the scale of damage caused by drivers who fail to yield.

Precinct cops are starting to use the Right of Way Law, but mostly to issue traffic summonses, not misdemeanor charges. The misdemeanor provision remains the province of the Collision Investigation Squad — and CIS has applied it in just a handful of cases.

Last fall Mayor de Blasio’s office told Streetsblog that, in addition to misdemeanor cases handled by CIS, precinct cops are issuing Section 19-190 summonses for failure-to-yield violations that don’t result in physical harm. The violations are classified as traffic infractions, not crimes, and are subject to a $250 fine.

According to the city’s open data portal (enter “19-190” in the search field), NYPD cited 145 drivers for traffic infractions under Section 19-190 from September 2015, when NYPD began tracking the summonses, through mid-December. Of those 145 cases, 31 were dismissed.

Meanwhile, the number of Right of Way Law misdemeanor cases is stuck in double digits — DNAinfo reported Monday that 31 drivers who killed people were charged criminally in the first 16 months the law was on the books — though New York City drivers injured thousands of people in that time. Nearly all reported charges were filed after crashes worked by CIS, which handles only the most severe collisions, causing critical injury or death.

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Trottenberg Announces Plaza Equity Program at Plaza de Las Americas Reveal

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and a cast of uptown players marked the opening of Plaza de Las Americas today. Photo: Brad Aaron

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, and a cast of uptown players marked the opening of Plaza de Las Americas today. Photos: Brad Aaron

Just eight months after the groundbreaking ceremony, officials held a ribbon-cutting this morning at Plaza de Las Americas, an impressive new public space in Washington Heights. Also today, Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg announced a City Hall initiative to assist plazas in neighborhoods without the resources of a major business improvement district.

Plaza de Las Americas reclaims one block of W. 175th Street, between Broadway and Wadsworth Avenue, with 16,000 square feet of pedestrian space. Bookended to the north and south by the United Palace theater and a grocery store, respectively, the plaza comes equipped with electric and water service for vendors. Other amenities include a public restroom, decorative pavers, benches, trees, and a fountain by artist Ester Partegás.

The block has been the site of a farmers market since 1980, and since 1994 vendors have set up on the street to sell household wares, clothes, and other items. Sponsored by the Washington Heights and Inwood Development Corporation, the proposal to make those uses permanent received $5 million in city funds when it was chosen in the first round of the plaza program in 2008. The project was designed and built by DOT and the Department of Design and Construction.

“After years of planning, today we come together to celebrate the location our community has valued for decades transformed into an even better venue,” said City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez in prepared remarks. “La Plaza de Las Americas will be a focal point for the communities of Northern Manhattan and assuredly a boon to local business and our very active street vendors.”

Other electeds on hand included Congressman Charles Rangel, State Senator Adriano Espaillat, Assembly Member Guillermo Linares, and Manhattan Borough President Gale Brewer.

Trottenberg announced the OneNYC Plaza Equity Program, which will allocate $1.4 million from the city budget to provide maintenance and management assistance to 30 “medium and high need” plaza projects, most of them in Queens, Brooklyn, the Bronx, and Upper Manhattan. Trottenberg said projects are eligible to receive up to $80,000, along with other assistance, such as organizing and fundraising help, for up to three years. Plazas that lack resources for upkeep can quickly fall out of favor with the public.

Another tidbit: Rodriguez said he’d like to see Plaza de Las Americas extended to St. Nicholas Avenue, two blocks east, as a “gateway” to Washington Heights and Inwood.

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Rodriguez Champions Toll Reform in Broad Vision for NYC Transportation

Reforming New York’s broken road pricing and parking policies top an extensive list of transportation priorities from City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez, which he unveiled this morning in a speech at New York University’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez outlines his transportation vision this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

City Council Transportation Committee Chair Ydanis Rodriguez outlines his transportation vision this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

The most pressing item on Rodriguez’s agenda is the Move New York toll reform proposal, which would put a price on the four East River bridges and a cordon at 60th Street while reducing tolls on outlying crossings. “There is no longer a question of should we pass this plan, but when,” he said. “I will commit myself, over the coming weeks and months, to ensure that my council colleagues get behind this transformative plan.”

If City Hall coalesces behind the road pricing plan as a way to fill the gap in the MTA’s capital budget, it still must gain the support of Governor Andrew Cuomo, who has a famously rocky relationship with Mayor Bill de Blasio. So far, the mayor has indicated that he is open to the idea of toll reform, but has not made it one of his priorities in Albany.

With a champion in Rodriguez, it’s conceivable to see a path forward for Move New York through the City Council. Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito reportedly has a more genial relationship with the governor than de Blasio does.

Rodriguez is seeking to leave his own mark on Move New York, proposing that a portion of toll revenue be set aside in what he’s calling a “Community Transit Fund.” Through a to-be-determined mechanism — Rodriguez has previously suggested community boards or participatory budgeting — neighborhoods would be able to steer funds to local transportation priorities.

Rodriguez laid out ambitious goals for traffic reduction in a plan that goes beyond road pricing. He’d like to cut the number of households in the city that own cars from 1.4 million in 2010 to 1 million in 2030. That would drop New York’s car ownership rate from 45 percent to 30 percent when the city’s projected population increase is taken into account.

By 2030, Rodriguez wants NYC to reach 12 percent bicycle mode share and 2,000 total miles of bike lanes, including 400 miles of protected bikeways. (De Blasio had initially aimed for 6 percent by 2020, then his administration scaled-back its targets.) Rodriguez also called for a car-free Earth Day next year.

Reducing the number of cars in the city will be tough as long as New York requires the construction of parking in new development. The de Blasio administration has proposed eliminating parking mandates for affordable housing near transit, a measure Rodriguez said should also apply to market-rate units. Rodriguez said he’s looking to hold a hearing soon on off-street parking reform.

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Rodriguez Bill Would Mandate Daylighting at 25 Intersections Per Year

City Council transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez introduced legislation today intended to improve pedestrian safety along bus routes and at intersections with high crash rates.

Ydanis Rodriguez, with Council Member Brad Lander at right, outside City Hall today. Photo: @ydanis

Transportation chair Ydanis Rodriguez, with Council Member Brad Lander at right, outside City Hall today. Photo: @ydanis

Intro 912 would require DOT to daylight the five “most dangerous intersections” in each borough annually, as determined by the number of fatalities and injuries. Curb extensions would be installed to prevent parking within 15 feet of selected crossings.

Twenty-five intersections a year isn’t a large number, but by codifying the selection process based on crash data, daylighting projects would not be subject to the whims of community boards, which routinely prioritize parking over street safety. It would also compel DOT to make more consistent use of an effective and relatively simple street safety tool.

A second bill, Intro 911, would require DOT to study pedestrian and cyclist safety along bus routes and implement traffic-calming measures — including turn restrictions, neckdowns, daylighting, and leading pedestrian intervals — at “high risk intersections.” It would also require DOT to develop a comprehensive strategy for bus route safety.

Finally, Reso 854 calls on the MTA to study measures to reduce “blind spots” on buses and install audible warnings to alert drivers to the presence of pedestrians.

“The most important is the one that will mandate DOT to remove two parking spots in each of the five most dangerous intersections in [each borough],” Rodriguez told Stephen Miller today, following an event on Manhattan traffic congestion organized by Borough President Gale Brewer. “The reason why this legislation has strong merit is because 74 percent of pedestrians killed in New York City are killed in intersections. Eighty-nine percent of cyclists killed in New York City also are killed in intersections.”

“We believe that we, working together with DOT, will be able to do daylighting,” said Rodriguez. “It will improve visibility for drivers.”

The bills have support from several council members, including Brad Lander, Margaret Chin, Helen Rosenthal, and Rory Lancman.