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Posts from the Election 2013 Category


Mayor de Blasio, Inequality, and Reforming NYC’s Streets

Bill de Blasio with Melissa Mark-Viverito and Jumaane Williams, two members of the City Council’s growing Progressive Caucus. Photo: NYC Public Advocate

One of the most insightful questions of the 2013 campaign season came two weeks ago, when WNYC’s Brian Lehrer asked Bill de Blasio if he considered transportation policy “one of his tools to fight inequality.”

De Blasio, who overwhelmed his opponents this election cycle by appealing to New Yorkers’ sense of economic fairness, gave this response:

Transportation determines opportunity, livability, business climate. For many people, the absence of affordable transportation, in outer-borough locations especially, constrains their opportunities.

Those two sentences are an excellent distillation of why de Blasio is viewed with a mixture of hope and trepidation by New Yorkers who care about livable streets.

You can tell the mayor-elect has a command of the issues. He gets that access to transit is linked to economic opportunity. Maybe he’s even taken a good long look at the Pratt Center’s maps showing the lengthy commutes that low-income New Yorkers grind through every workday.

And yet, he didn’t actually say “transit.” Intentionally or not, sticking to the neutral phrase “transportation” signaled an absence of commitment. In two sentences, de Blasio showed off his policy chops while managing to avoid the appearance of taking sides.

De Blasio’s policy book laid out ambitious goals for streets and transit, including pledges to adopt a zero tolerance stance toward traffic deaths and to allocate more street space to transit by implementing at least 20 BRT routes. By and large, though, these promises have stayed buried in campaign documents. While de Blasio stated his support for bike lanes and pedestrian plazas in interviews, it all seemed to carry less weight after the candidate said during a televised debate that “the jury’s out” on the major Midtown street reclamations.

Safe streets and quality transit never did make it into his stump speech. But once de Blasio begins governing the city, the management of New York’s streets will be one of the few areas in which he can make a noticeable mark on his signature issues — inequality and affordability.

The de Blasio campaign’s top policy proposal — raising income taxes on wealthy New Yorkers to fund universal pre-K — depends on Albany. If he pulls it off, the change could be profound, but it will take a generation for the effects to fully play out.

New York City’s streets, meanwhile, can be made more equitable while de Blasio is still mayor. Most households in New York (54 percent) don’t own cars, and households that do own cars earn more than twice as much, on average, as households that do not. Our streets, however, are designed to favor the privileged: A few well-off people in space-hogging SUVs can delay hundreds of less affluent people riding the bus. This is one thing that the mayor of New York has the power to change, if he wants to.

The inequality of NYC’s street system on full display at 125th Street. Photo: Benjamin Engle

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Election Day Open Thread

What’s on your mind as you vote today? Tell us in the comments.


De Blasio: “Transportation Determines Opportunity, Livability, Biz Climate”

On WNYC this morning, Brian Lehrer posed the best transportation question of the 2013 mayoral campaign, asking Bill de Blasio, “Have you thought about transportation as one of your tools to fight inequality?”

Here’s what the mayoral frontrunner said:

Transportation determines opportunity, livability, business climate. For many people, the absence of affordable transportation, in outer-borough locations especially, constrains their opportunities.

An encouraging response, but left unsaid by the candidate is that the means of “affordable transportation” are trains, buses, biking, and walking. Most New Yorkers don’t have cars, and many households simply can’t afford the thousands of dollars in annual costs that come attached to car ownership. De Blasio’s policy platform does include ambitious goals to speed up bus service, but on the air he didn’t specifically mention transit as a tool to reduce inequality.

Lehrer moved on to Tuesday’s mayoral debate, saying he was surprised to hear de Blasio self-identify as a motorist when responding to a question about pedestrian plazas. When he asked if de Blasio thought Bloomberg’s policies were “too anti-car,” the candidate responded:

No, I would not say that. A lot of what the mayor’s done is right in this area. Sometimes I think he did it in a way that was less consultative with communities than it could have been.

The core of it I agree with fully. We have to focus on pedestrian safety, we have to focus on bicycle safety. The “Vision Zero” approach which I subscribe to, literally the goal is to have zero fatalities amongst pedestrians and bicyclists. And we have a lot of the tools we need to fundamentally change our approach to safety.I do believe in the bike lanes we have and in expanding them further. I do believe in the traffic calming measures. Pedestrians plazas are part of that.

But on the Times Square and Herald Square plazas specifically, de Blasio was less clear:

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“Vision Zero,” or Zero Vision? De Blasio Says “Jury’s Out” on Midtown Plazas

Bill de Blasio, who adopted an aggressive street safety platform during the Democratic mayoral primary, reverted back to a livable streets skeptic at last night’s mayoral debate. The mayoral frontrunner claimed “the jury’s out” on the city’s popular Midtown pedestrian plazas, which among other benefits have led to dramatic reductions in pedestrian injuries. Republican candidate Joe Lhota was non-committal too, but given the de Blasio campaign’s stated commitment to eliminating traffic deaths, his response was especially jarring.

At the 51-minute mark, moderator Maurice Dubois asked the candidates a question dripping with windshield perspective: “Would you take out the tables and chairs from Times Square and Herald Square and reopen Broadway?” De Blasio responded:

I have profoundly mixed feelings on this issue. I’m a motorist myself, and I was often frustrated. And then I’ve also seen on the other hand that it does seem to have a positive impact on the tourist industry. So for me, the jury’s out on that particular question. I think it’s worth assessing what the impact has been on traffic, what the impact has been on surrounding businesses. I would keep an open mind.

“He may be the judge but the jury has spoken,” Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White told Streetsblog this morning. Since the plazas were installed in 2009, they’ve been the subject of numerous polls, traffic studies, and business reports from the city, independent pollsters, and business groups. Given the evidence, de Blasio’s assertion that there needs to be even more review defies credulity.

“The position de Blasio articulated last night is completely inconsistent with Vision Zero,” White added, referring to the candidate’s campaign plank to eliminate traffic deaths within 10 years. “Putting pedestrians first is clearly saving lives and boosting business, and nowhere is that more apparent than in Times Square.”

Two months after the Times Square plazas were first installed, a Quinnipiac poll showed that 58 percent of New Yorkers supported them, with only 35 percent opposed. A Times poll this year showed that 72 percent of New Yorkers, including strong majorities in every demographic, support the citywide plaza program.

Before the plazas were made permanent in 2010, surveys from the Times Square Alliance business improvement district found that the majority of property owners and retail managers supported the program. In 2009, 70 percent of Times Square residents and workers supported the plazas; in 2012, the percentage jumped to 80 percent, the Alliance said. After pedestrianization, Times Square has consistently ranked as one of the most desirable retail destinations on earth.

Citing the plaza’s popularity and safety gains, including dramatic reductions in the number of pedestrians walking in the roadbed and a 35 percent drop in injuries, the Alliance said there’s no reason why the city should halt construction on a permanent plaza. “The current capital project to build a world-class plaza in Times Square — already well underway — makes sense to continue,” the group said in a statement.

The sentiment is similar on 34th Street, where the local BID is looking to come to an agreement with the city that would give it more control over maintaining and programming the plazas. “The pedestrian plazas are a huge success, and must stay,” Dan Biederman, head of the 34th Street Partnership, said in a statement. “They have created great new urban life, raised real estate values, and cut pedestrian injuries.”

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Ignoring Dozens of CB Votes, Lhota Says Bike Lanes Drop From the Sky

When it comes to bicycling, Joe Lhota has a penchant for ignoring facts in favor of opinions. As Hurricane Sandy approached landfall, the then-MTA chief tweeted a photo of a man riding in a shared lane on Fifth Avenue in Park Slope, implying that bike lanes are to blame for bike-bus crashes. This May, he said that DOT didn’t coordinate with the fire department on bike-share station siting, when FDNY said that, in fact, DOT vetted the locations with them.

Now, we have another example of the Republican mayoral candidate ignoring reality, captured by YouTube user gifterphotos and tweeted by New York Observer editor Colin Campbell. Lhota was speaking on Sunday at the Flatbush Jewish Community Relations Council when he got to the topic of community consultation: “We now have more and more bike lanes. Let’s not debate whether or not we should have bike lanes,” he said. “But how is it possible that bike lanes go in your street without any community input whatsoever? The community boards don’t know about it. It just happens.”

Has Joe Lhota been to a community board meeting lately? Maybe he missed the bike lane planning and requests led by community boards in Co-Op City, Middle Village, Long Island City, Bay Ridge, Staten Island, and the Upper West Side, to name a few. Maybe he forgot that Local Law 90 requires DOT to give community boards a comment period on significant streetscape changes, including most new bike lanes. Perhaps he wasn’t aware that DOT was already doing this type of outreach before the law passed, and that while community boards are advisory bodies, the agency usually defers to them, even when it means a dangerous street design will remain in place.

Lhota continued: “When was there a speech or a major understanding of what the strategy is about bike lanes in New York? Where do you want to go with it? What is the vision for that? It just happened, and it just keeps being rolled out.” Maybe Lhota wasn’t paying attention during Mayor Bloomberg’s agenda-setting PlaNYC speech in 2007, or didn’t see the documents and updates that followed. Perhaps he didn’t see the city’s street design manual, which lays out which types of streets are fit for particular street safety interventions, including bike lanes.

For someone who once occupied the post of deputy mayor for operations, those are some awfully big blind spots about how the city currently operates.

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StreetsPAC Endorses in Four More City Council Races

StreetsPAC announced general election endorsements in four City Council races today.

StreetsPAC supports incumbent Jimmy Van Bramer for District 26 in Queens, which covers Woodside, Sunnyside, Long Island City, Astoria, and Maspeth. “Jimmy Van Bramer has long been a champion for safe and complete streets,” says a StreetsPAC press release. “He has stood with victims’ families when reckless drivers have taken their lives, and has tirelessly advocated for more effective traffic laws.” Van Bramer is a supporter of speed cameras and Citi Bike, StreetsPAC says, and he wants to extend the city’s bike lane network, including the installation of a lane on the Pulaski Bridge. Van Bramer is unopposed, according to the Campaign Finance Board.

In District 5, StreetsPAC likes Ben Kallos to succeed Jessica Lappin as council rep for the Upper East Side and Roosevelt Island. Kallos would like to see bike-share expanded to the district, according to StreetsPAC, and would work to bring crosstown Select Bus Service to the Upper East and Upper West Sides. A “regular cyclist,” Kallos wants traffic calmed near the Queensboro Bridge, and “envisions a true complete-streets treatment for Second Avenue after subway construction ends, with loading zones, performance-based parking, and a protected bicycle path.” Kallos is running against David Garland in the general.

Across Central Park on the Upper West Side, Helen Rosenthal is the StreetsPAC pick to fill the District 6 seat, which will be vacated by term-limited Gale Brewer. Says StreetsPAC: “A lifelong cyclist who looks forward to commuting to City Hall by bicycle, Helen Rosenthal will work to bring Citi Bike to the Upper West Side and, with the inclusion of Central Park in District 6, remove cars once and for all from the park loop.” StreetsPAC cites Rosenthal’s record as chair of Community Board 7, including her support for protected bike lanes on Columbus and Amsterdam Avenues. Rosenthal is also interested in “the eventual completion of an uninterrupted greenway around Manhattan.” Rosenthal is running against Tom Siracuse and Harry DeMell.

StreetsPAC has endorsed John Mancuso in Staten Island’s District 50, to replace term-limited James Oddo. StreetsPAC says Mancuso’s “most urgent” priority is safety improvements for Hylan Boulevard and other crash-prone Staten Island streets. “John Mancuso is a breath of fresh air for Staten Island, which is in dire need of more and better transportation options,” said StreetsPAC board member Glenn McAnanama, via the press release. “John clearly understands that the solution to Staten Island’s traffic problems isn’t just wider roads. He will advocate for rational bridge tolling, and his support for pedestrian and bike access to the Verrazano Narrows Bridge will help make the Harbor Ring a reality.” Mancuso is running against Steven Matteo.

StreetsPAC is NYC’s first livable streets political action committee.

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Transportation Mainly a Pocketbook Issue at First Mayoral Debate

Transportation didn’t get much airtime during last night’s debate between Bill de Blasio and Joe Lhota, but the candidates did trade a few jabs. Over the course of the debate, which aired on WABC, the pair fielded a handful of questions on MTA fares, traffic enforcement, waste management, and development — with Lhota at one point deriding Robert Moses.

All in all, these exchanges were a pretty sad commentary on the state of the mass-audience transportation policy debate. To hear the candidates, transportation is mainly a pocketbook issue, not a matter of making streets safer or developing a more efficient system to get around the city.

Here were the highlights:

  • Responding to the first question of the night, Lhota said that rather than cracking down on motorcycle gangs — he seemed to confuse motorcycles with bicycles during this exchange — de Blasio would direct NYPD to have coffee with them. De Blasio rebutted that police should target the groups “on the spot,” and that his NYPD would have no tolerance for those who would harm drivers or impede auto traffic. “Anyone who tries to slow down traffic on a highway, or create any situation that might endanger motorists, those folks are going to end up in jail,” de Blasio said. No one brought up the fact that no charges were filed against the drivers who killed three kids last week, or that traffic crashes are the leading injury-related cause of child deaths in NYC.
  • Lhota praised the Bloomberg administration for subsidies that helped Fresh Direct move to the Bronx. De Blasio said that corporate subsidies are “not the way forward.”
  • Responding to a viewer question about MTA fare hikes, Lhota correctly noted that the agency’s financial problems are caused by state lawmakers. “The state of New York keeps raiding MTA funds,” said Lhota. “There was a time when New York State was number one in their subsidies to mass transit. Now they’re dead last of all the states in this country that actually have mass transit.” Lhota said Albany compelled fare and toll hikes in 2009 (true in a sense, but omits the primary causes — economic collapse, rising MTA debt, and other fixed costs — and Albany’s failure to enact bridge tolls), and that he “did everything [he] could to keep costs down.” He also said he helped keep Verrazano-Narrows bridge tolls at $6 for Staten Island motorists. Lhota again pledged to “get more money for the MTA.” Other than blaming Lhota for fare and toll hikes, de Blasio had nothing to say. “I think he should just own his history and acknowledge it,” de Blasio said, before launching into a non sequitur about corporate tax breaks.
  • Another viewer asked whether the candidates supported the 91st Street waste transfer station, part of the city’s plan to spread the burden of sanitation truck traffic more equitably. De Blasio said he’s in favor of a “five borough approach to dealing with our sanitation reality,” and that he would take “very, very seriously” concerns over truck emissions, truck traffic, and resulting dangers to kids. Lhota opposes the station, and said Manhattan should continue to send its trash to New Jersey.
  • To an open-ended question about their “dream” for New York City, Lhota said he wants to create a Battery Park City on the East River, with residential and commercial development, basically the same as Bloomberg’s “Seaport City” concept. “We’re recognizing our waterfront once again once Robert Moses decided to make it disappear,” he said.
  • It was nothing new, but Lhota reiterated his intent to keep Ray Kelly as police commissioner, while de Blasio said he would not.

Last night’s debate was the first of three. The second one is scheduled for next Tuesday, October 22.


The Lhota Platform: No Walking, No Biking, No Details on Street Safety

It looks like Joe Lhota didn’t listen to Nicole Gelinas or Transportation Alternatives. Yesterday, Lhota released what his campaign billed as a “comprehensive policy book” [PDF], but New Yorkers interested in safer streets or better bicycling and walking are still awaiting much of any policy from the Republican candidate.

After platitudes about how “an effective transportation system is a key part of New York City’s economy and quality of life,” we get to the meat of Lhota’s plan: A bullet-point list of what he promises to do as mayor.

If you never walk in NYC, you'll love Joe Lhota's transpo platform. Image: Joe Lhota for Mayor

  • Take control of the MTA’s bridges and tunnels to reduce costs to commuters
  • Fight for funding for the MTA’s 5-year capital program
  • Create a feasibility study to expand the New York City subway system
  • Re-establish the Mayor’s Office of Transportation to communicate the city’s transportation needs and priorities to other agencies
  • Ensure the building of four new Metro-North stops in the Bronx with access to Penn Station
  • Encourage park and ride stations at the end of suitable subway lines
  • Ensure that New York City roads are in a good state of repair
  • Synchronize traffic lights to mitigate traffic and enhance mobility
  • Examine the use of “smart” traffic lights
  • Consider the expansion of right on red in certain parts of the city
  • Expand Select Bus Service
  • Support expanded Staten Island Ferry service
  • Make the Rockaway Ferry permanent
  • Support a West Shore Rail Line on Staten Island
  • Ensure the completion of the 2nd Avenue Subway

Of the 15 bullet points, three are just about traffic lights — that’s 20 percent of his platform. In the policy book’s environment section, Lhota repeats his desire to install park-and-ride lots at the end of subway lines and promises Upper East Siders that he will not open 91st Street waste transfer station, which is part of a plan to move some of the city’s trash disposal burden, including truck traffic, from poorer neighborhoods.

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Last-Minute Voter Guide to the Public Advocate Run-Off

Have you voted yet?

The Democratic runoff election for public advocate is happening right now. Candidates Tish James and Dan Squadron each have impressive bona fides when it comes to livable streets. In his four years in Albany, Squadron took the lead in shepherding a number of street safety bills through the State Senate. StreetsPAC-endorsed James has been a reliable voice of reason in the City Council, a proponent of street redesigns in her district, and has pledged to use the public advocate’s office to draw attention to NYPD traffic enforcement. In a televised runoff debate, both reiterated their support for congestion pricing.

Despite having a relatively tiny budget and limited power, the public advocate has bully a pulpit that can be used to highlight whatever issues s/he deems important. The public advocate steps in if the mayor is unable to complete a term, and the job often serves as a springboard to run for higher office.

Here’s an overview of positions taken by James and Squadron on street safety, transit, parking and related issues.



Turnout today is expected to be very low, so your vote can help make the difference for either candidate. The polls close at 9 p.m.


Priority Number One Under Joe Lhota’s DOT: Sync the Stop Lights

On his radio show this morning, John Gambling asked Joe Lhota what he thinks about congestion pricing and transportation issues generally. Lhota spent the next three minutes (starting at 8:25) explaining that under his administration, DOT would focus on its “core competency.” Bus lanes didn’t make the cut. Bikes? Forget about it.

You could be forgiven for thinking this man never ran the nation's largest transit system. Photo: MTA/Flickr

“You’ve got to ask yourself, what is the core mission, and are you doing it?” Lhota said. “There are tons of things that we need to do to reduce traffic,” he said, “before we get to the draconian stage of congestion pricing.”

Lhota then listed three priorities for his DOT commissioner. First, sync traffic lights to improve the flow of traffic. Second, focus on pedestrian safety. Third, keep the streets in a state of good repair. At least walking is in there somewhere.

He also repeated a campaign promise from the primaries to build park-and-ride lots for suburban commuters at the ends of subway lines in Queens and the Bronx, and said he would promote off-peak truck deliveries. Lhota has previously bashed bike-share planning and said he would reevaluate the city’s plazas and consider removing bike lanes, but didn’t talk about those issues on Gambling’s show this morning. Nor did the former MTA chair mention bus improvements in his transportation vision.

While it was good to hear Lhota talk about pedestrian safety, however briefly, he hasn’t put forward any ideas about how to, as he said, “keep these numbers down.” For someone who used to run the nation’s largest transit system, Lhota’s first general-election foray into transportation policy was a disappointing one. He still has some time to take advice from Nicole Gelinas.