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Posts from the "Vacca Watch" Category

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About Time: James Vacca Declares Traffic Safety a “Civil Rights Issue”

Good on you, Jimmy. What's next? Photo: DNAinfo

Bravo, James Vacca.

On Wednesday Vacca joined Council Member Gale Brewer in calling attention to the needs of blind and sight-impaired pedestrians, particularly as they apply to new pedestrian plazas.

Brewer has introduced a bill requiring textured pavement around the perimeters of plazas and bike lanes, while other bills would speed up the installation of audible pedestrian signals and mandate accessible online notifications concerning changes to street design. DNAinfo reports:

“This is a serious civil rights issue,” said City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca, who said he first became aware of the challenges of new street designs from his father, who was blind.

Vacca’s assessment is spot on. Being able to navigate your way to the grocery store without fear of being run over is a civil rights issue. As is taking a bike ride through your neighborhood. As is crossing the street with your elderly mother. As is surviving the walk home from school. Especially so when the risk of being hurt or killed in traffic is higher for some New Yorkers than others.

Vacca has spent a lot of time on camera since taking the helm of the transportation committee, and he has yet to call attention to the hundreds of road deaths and thousands of injuries that occur annually. He has yet to credit the new pedestrian spaces, bike lanes, and street redesigns for making New York a safer city.

After a year devoted to nitpicking street safety improvements and targeting those who need them while pandering to parking scofflaws, maybe he and the council will at last turn to the business of safeguarding the rights of everyone who deserves to move about the city safely.

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James Vacca, Welcome to Sweeneyland

With his skeptical reaction to the latest poll showing majority support for cycling infrastructure, James Vacca has established himself as the city’s most authoritative voice for anti-bike nonsense.

To deniers like Jimmy Vacca, these folks don't count. Photo copyright Dmitry Gudkov

This week Transportation Alternatives released the results of a telephone survey of 603 likely New York City voters, conducted by the firm Penn Schoen Berland. Along with support for preserving transit and stepping up traffic enforcement, pollsters found that 60 of respondents support bike lanes.

As the Penn Schoen Berland findings are in line with that of recent polls by Quinnipiac and Marist, the chair of the City Council transportation committee could reasonably be expected to make a statement of some sort lauding the city’s progress in making streets safer for cyclists and pedestrians. But here’s Vacca, as quoted by City & State:

“I would think that many people who speak in favor of bike lanes may reserve judgment based on where the bike lane would be, and on whether it was affecting their community, their business strip or their small businesses,” said City Councilman Jimmy Vacca, who chairs the Transportation Committee. “On a case-by-case basis, while people are in favor of bike lanes, they may say, ‘Wait a minute, on this street it may not work.’ ”

On first read you might interpret Vacca’s remarks as a series of unsubstantiated assumptions strung together by weasel words — and you’d be right. But look closely. Not only does Vacca dismiss poll data with his bike lane-bashing straw man, he repeats the canard that bike lanes, and the traffic-calming effect that comes with them, are bad for business. And he again implies that residents have no say in where lanes will or won’t go in their neighborhoods, when in reality projects are subject to an extensive public review process. (Since the council has codified much of what DOT has been doing all along, it will be interesting to see what criticisms Vacca and company think up now that they’ve vanquished the transparency bogeyman.)

More poll respondents said they wanted to add bike lanes (43 percent) than maintain the status quo (33 percent) or decrease the number of lanes (17 percent). Rather than align with council members like Mark Weprin and Melissa Mark-Viverito, who have responded in thoughtful and productive ways to support for lanes in their districts, Vacca is tacking toward the NIMBY fringe. The only other critic of the TA survey cited by City & State was tried and true hater Sean Sweeney, who declared that “the people of New York have had enough of bike lanes.” With allies like Sweeney, Vacca is looking like less like a leader than a reactionary who refuses to be convinced on the merits of cyclist and pedestrian safety.

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Vacca Watch: Transpo Chair Ignores His Own Hearing, Calls Plazas Bad for Biz

James Vacca got a lot of press for attacking the DOT plaza program at a hearing in his committee, but didn't seem to listen to the business reps he invited to testify. Image: CBS 2

James Vacca should know better.

On Tuesday, the City Council passed his bill requiring the Department of Transportation to consult with the Department of Small Business Services, among other agencies, whenever it implements major changes to a street. Vacca gave this explanation of the bill’s significance: “Many of the bike paths, many of the pedestrian plazas negatively impact small businesses and their ability to survive in the City of New York.”

Say what?

Just about every single plaza that DOT has built or approved (see here, here, here, and here) is sponsored by a local business association. The tiny handful that are not still have prominent local sponsors like Heritage Health and Housing in West Harlem. We reached out to Vacca’s office to ask him to specify some of the “many” plazas that have hurt small business. So far, there’s been no reply.

As chair of the City Council Transportation Committee, Vacca has a talented staff to make sure he understands the issues. So why does he keep mangling them in public?

Vacca can’t plead ignorance. At a hearing on public plazas in his own committee earlier this year, Vacca heard from representatives of four business groups: the 34th Street Partnership, the Dumbo BID, the Pitkin Avenue BID, and the South Bronx Overall Economic Development Corporation. Each of them raved about the plazas.

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Vacca: Want Safer Streets? Don’t Even Try to Join Your Community Board

Does it get less democratic than this? The City Council Transportation Committee Chair, James Vacca, just told the New York Post that Transportation Alternatives shouldn’t help people join their local community boards.

Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca. Image: CBS 2

For the past few years, TA has held an annual event walking people through the process of applying for community board membership. The event is open to the public. If you go, you don’t get a seat on your community board, but you’ll come away with a better understanding of how to get appointed by your local council member and borough president.

But apparently, if you’ve demonstrated an interest in safer streets for biking and walking and better transit, you’re persona non grata to Vacca:

City Councilman James Vacca (D-Bronx), chair of the Transportation Committee and a bike-lane critic, blasted the pro-biking group’s influence peddling.

“If such a ‘jamboree’ was held by real-estate developers in any neighborhood in the city, I think there would be a hue and cry, and rightfully so,” Vacca said. “We don’t want any board to be dominated by any particular interest.”

Transportation Alternatives spokesman Michael Murphy shot back, “We are empowering residents to get involved in their own communities. I can’t think of anything more democratic than that.”

He also took a jab at Vacca, who was a community-board district manager for 26 years before becoming a councilman.

“It’s pretty ironic that Chairman Vacca, the self-proclaimed champion of community process, is criticizing us for encouraging local residents to participate in community process.”

“We don’t want any board to be dominated by any particular interest.” Agreed. So why do people who speak up in favor of safer streets get booted from their local community boards? And why, in districts where the vast majority of residents don’t own cars, do the interests of the privileged few with free curbside parking so often trump the interests of the many who would benefit from a more democratic use of street space?

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What Should James Vacca’s Pet Peeve Committee Tackle Next?

December 2010: Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca rallies to keep parking prices low.

James Vacca is redefining the role of the City Council Transportation Committee.

If you’re concerned about issues such as the gradual collapse of the transit system, the scandalous waste of taxpayer money used to subsidize parking for billion-dollar businesses, or the shocking injustices suffered by victims of traffic violence, there isn’t much on the agenda for you. On the other hand, if you’re a car owner who’s distraught over the appearance of bike lanes, or who perceives the enforcement of parking laws as a personal affront, Vacca’s committee is at your service.

The latest indignity to garner the attention of the committee is the sticker that the Department of Sanitation attaches to the windows of cars that impede city street sweepers. While it seems like a distinctly Noo Yawk brand of poetic justice — your car trashes up the city, the city trashes up your car — according to Vacca and fellow City Council Member David Greenfield, it is insult added to injury.

“A $60 ticket or $65…is enough,” says Vacca (the fine is $45 to $65, depending on location). “The sticker is cruel, the sticker is overkill, it is unnecessary, it is excessive.”

“It’s really cruel and unusual,” agrees Greenfield, who has proposed a bill to eliminate the stickers.

Though sanitation officials say the sticker, in use since 1988, is a more effective deterrent than a fine — a point arguably bolstered by the hyperbole employed to condemn it — the safe money says the council will again bow to drivers who flout the law and order the policy altered or abandoned.

Assuming the suggestion box is open to all New Yorkers, and not just the affluent car-owning minority, what transportation-related policies do you consider “cruel and unusual”? No gripe is too trifling for Vacca’s Pet Peeve Committee.

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James Vacca, NIMBY Accomplice

So we’ve gone through the initial round of coverage and reactions to Wednesday’s bike-share announcement.

Photo: YourNabe

Mixed in with a healthy amount of fairly straightforward reporting, there were the predictable slants. The Brooklyn Paper went in search of controversy. The Post and the Daily News editorial boards fantasized about dismemberment and death. Perpetual Soho crank Sean Sweeney produced perhaps the single most clearly-articulated expression of NIMBYism in his long NIMBY career.

Steve Cuozzo, of course, took the crazy prize for writing about the nefarious link between the city’s bike policy and escalating gun violence. (The Daily News gets the runner-up trophy for the brilliant idea of installing widespread red light cams for bikes.)

But what about the sane community? Someone who has actual civic responsibility. Someone who should ostensibly know about transportation policy and how New York needs to catch up to cities like Washington and Boston, which already have public bike systems up and running. Someone like City Council Transportation Committee Chair James Vacca.

He gave the papers this nugget:

The rubber will only hit the road if DOT is totally committed to working with local neighborhoods and Council Members in the siting and implementation of Bike-Share, because these stations are going to take up valuable real estate on our public streets and sidewalks.

Classic Vacca. The same day DOT comes out and says in no uncertain terms that they’re going to embark on an extensive round of public workshops to determine where bike-share stations will go, he chides them about public process.

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“Stop Means Stop”: Vacca Gives Thumbs-Up to Busy Red Light Cameras

We’ll overlook the number of contortions performed by the Daily News to make today’s report on the success of red light cameras look like a “he said she said” story. It’s simply not a surprise when the city press corps assigns comparable weight to the wishes of motorists to break the law with impunity and the right of pedestrians and cyclists — and, in this case, other drivers — to reach their destinations in one piece.

So while the News and other outlets (the story made the AP wire) howl over $52 million in fines issued to “unsuspecting motorists” for running red lights in 2010, here’s the real news: a lot of drivers are running red lights. The fact that, in the course of a year, just 150 cameras caught a reported 1,053,268 drivers potentially putting lives at risk is a pretty good sign that the actual amount of red-light running is off the charts. (Is Komanoff in the house?) One can’t also help but conclude that the 2010 figures represent about 1,053,268 drivers who, if not for the cameras, would have gotten away with it.

But that’s not much of a surprise either. What jumped out at us, again, is the show of support for red light cameras from James Vacca. An avowed skeptic of other traffic-taming infrastructure and promoter of unfettered parking access, the City Council transportation committee chair has remained consistent in his condemnation of reckless driving. Said Vacca to the News:

“People who run red lights can kill people. These cameras go a long way towards making this a safer city.”

“I hope we get to the point where these cameras do not raise revenue and there is compliance with red lights,” he said. “Stop means stop.”

Granted, this is no big lift, and it’s exactly what the council transportation chair should be saying. But with more red light cameras, along with speed cameras, on the agenda, Vacca’s ongoing vocal support could be a big help in prodding Albany to allow the city to deploy additional life-saving, and popular, traffic tech.

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Vacca Watch: Transpo Chair a Big Booster of Parking Minimums

Last year, City Council Member James Vacca supported a plan to increase parking minimums in the red striped areas, which largely run along the path of the 6 train through the Bronx. For a larger version of the image, click here.

The Bronx is booming. Over the last decade, no borough added more new residents or posted faster wage growth.

The Bronx’s incredible resurgence even attracted national attention last week from USA Today, which turned to City Council Member James Vacca to explain the wave of residential development in the borough. Vacca used the opportunity to basically argue for halting growth in much of the outer boroughs, advocating for restrictions on density and higher parking requirements.

As both a council member and a community board district manager, Vacca has responded to rising demand for housing by fighting for zoning changes that would lock in a more car-centric cityscape. Neighborhoods like Throgs Neck were granted the city’s special suburban-style classification (the technical term is “Lower Density Growth Management Area“), meaning even more parking and even larger yards are now required for new development.

Regrettably, there’s nothing unusual about New York’s representatives closing the door to development in their neighborhoods by pushing for a major downzoning, even near transit. Swathes of the city have seen development restricted, nearly always to cheers from residents and elected officials.

On a City Council full of believers in subsidized parking, Vacca has managed to distinguish himself with a laser-like focus on providing more and cheaper parking, even right next to the subway. In explaining why development had to be limited, the transportation chair told USA Today, “Many of these row houses that went up came without parking or adequate parking.”

Nowhere has Vacca’s commitment to high parking requirements been more evident than in a rezoning adopted last March for the Westchester Square and Pelham Bay neighborhoods of the Bronx, which he strongly supported.

In 2006, the Department of City Planning had rezoned most of the area as low-density districts with high parking requirements. Along the last six stops of the 6 train, however, urban-style growth would still be allowed. In fact, City Planning explicitly reduced parking requirements on shopping streets close to transit. The East Bronx would be allowed to stay semi-suburban, but not near the subway.

Last year’s change effectively undid that policy, hiking parking requirements in the same areas where they had been left low.

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Vacca Watch: Traffic and Parking Über Alles

This double Q & A in City Hall News with Transportation Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan and City Council Transportation Committee chair James Vacca has a lot of revealing moments.

Image: CBS 2

There’s Vacca’s desire for better cross-Bronx bus service, combined with his assessment that the MTA will have to “do more with less” and his observation that “I don’t sense at this point in time that there is a groundswell of support” for either congestion pricing or bridge tolls. Add it all together, and it paints a bleak picture: The transit system is inadequate, it’s going to have even less funding to work with, and even though we know we can do something about it, political leaders are going to sit on their hands because there’s no “groundswell of support” for the solutions.

Then there’s the question, “Have new bike lanes and pedestrian plazas won over New Yorkers, or are they seen as a temporary fad?” Sadik-Khan reached right for the numbers: 56 percent public approval for bike lanes, 40 percent improvement in pedestrian safety on streets with bike lanes, 50 percent reduction in injuries to all users on streets with protected bike lanes.

Vacca reached for outdated theories about traffic, unsupported assumptions about bike lanes, and an abiding belief that car parking is essential for commerce:

I do think the question people have to ask when they have a pedestrian-plaza proposal, and it’s a fair question: If you omit traffic here, where does traffic go, and what is the impact of the diversion on those surrounding streets? Is there a need for more pedestrian-friendly streets in this city?…On the bike lanes I think you have to look on a case-by-case basis. Perhaps in some communities, bike lanes have had a positive impact, and in other communities, we hear the bike lanes are not used. And why are there bike lanes that are not used omitting lanes of parking that could be available for the small-business community or commercial tenants? I think on bike lanes, neighborhood input becomes very important.

Does anyone who thinks seriously about transportation still believe that traffic flows like a river? That diverting it from one place will cause it to shift someplace else? There are piles of empirical studies showing this is not the case.

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Vacca Watch: Transpo Chair Stokes Fears of Phantom Bike Lanes on NY1

To borrow from the Wall Street Journal’s Jason Gay, this NY1 segment starring City Council Transportation Chair James Vacca seems to come straight out of the “shrill and embarrassing” early 2011 phase of NYC bike coverage.

Once reporter Michael Herzenberg intones in his best investigative journalist voice that “believe it or not, many of the most controversial lanes were actually part of a city master plan developed under a different administration,” we are well into bizarro land. An NYC where there’s no public opinion data showing 56 percent of voters favor the expansion of the bike network, where one cyclist is presumed to speak for everyone who might ride a bike, and where a document from 1997 — an era when no one ever considered building a protected bike lane on the streets — is controlling the bike policies of today.

And there is the transportation chair, waving at a street and expressing his consternation that it may one day sport a bike lane. Or maybe just bike stencils. Who knows? Yes, it’s on a Giuliani-era map of potential bike routes, but DOT hasn’t actually proposed implementing a bike lane there.

Eventually, we get to the actual news, which is that Vacca has proposed a bill requiring the city to update the bike master plan every five years, starting in 2012. Innocent enough, right? But here’s the bizarro part: Vacca’s bill would compel DOT to estimate, “to the extent practicable,” where every route in the plan would eliminate parking spaces or travel lanes. Safety first.

The fact is that every bike project already goes through the community board process before implementation. Vacca’s bill would add an extraneous layer of bureaucracy to the long-term endeavor of building out a connected network for safe cycling.

Vacca spokesperson Bret Collazzi compared the bill to long-range exercises like the city’s waterfront plan or the school construction authority’s five-year plans. But the waterfront plan is an outline. So is the bike plan — details like configuring the bikeway and determining what happens at the curb don’t get hammered out in a long-range plan.

Collazzi also contended that presenting detailed projections upfront, even for projects that might not get built for decades, is “a more responsible way to do community planning.” He cited the Prospect Park West redesign as an example of a project that would have benefited from Vacca’s approach, since it appears in the master plan as a one-way, un-protected lane. But the PPW process was as community-based as you can get, the result of years of public workshops, meetings, and votes. It was, in fact, the community board that asked DOT to study the two-way protected bike lane that was eventually built.

As it happens, the point about PPW’s place in the 1997 master plan was also raised by none other than former deputy mayor Norman Steisel, a fierce opponent of the PPW project, in an email to DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan, and copied to Vacca, last fall [PDF]. When Steisel forwarded his message to Marty Markowitz and Iris Weinshall, he said of Sadik-Khan, who worked under him in the Dinkins administration: “she once considered me a mentor, now her tormentor.”

Transportation Alternatives responded to the Vacca bill in a statement:

What’s more valuable: a human life or a parking spot?

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