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Posts from the "Michael Bloomberg’s Third Term" Category

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How Bill de Blasio and John Liu Can Stand Up for Transit Riders

Contrary to popular belief, the mayor isn't the only elected official with a say in New York City transportation policy. So in this installment of Streetsblog's series on Michael Bloomberg's third term, we're switching things up a bit. We asked New York's most experienced transit advocate, Gene Russianoff of the Straphangers Campaign, how Comptroller-elect John Liu and Public Advocate-elect Bill de Blasio can put their clout to use for New Yorkers who depend on buses and trains. Here's what he told us.

What can the incoming city comptroller and public advocate do to improve the lives of millions of daily subway and bus riders over their next four years in office?

blasio_liu.jpgPublic Advocate-elect Bill de Blasio and Comptroller-elect John Liu.
New Yorkers can be forgiven for putting our focus on the chief executive in City Hall. Our city has what’s called a "strong mayor" form of government. Mayor Bloomberg’s budget powers are great, and virtually all of his commissioners do not have to be approved by the City Council. The mayor is often seen as the Sun King. Everyone else can seem like Rosenkrantz and Guildenstern -- not much of a stage presence.

While it's right to hold the mayor accountable for what the city does on public transportation, there's much that Public Advocate Bill de Blasio and Comptroller John Liu can do on behalf of the city's commuters.

Both gentlemen took stands on key transportation issues as council members. Liu served as chair of the council’s transportation committee and de Blasio promoted the return of F express service in Brooklyn and proposed a "Transit Rider’s Bill of Rights." Additionally, Liu voted for congestion pricing, de Blasio against. Later, de Blasio favored East and Harlem River bridge tolls pegged to the subway fare to fund the MTA, which Liu opposed.

So there’s every reason to expect them to be vocal on transportation. And they’ll have plenty of opportunities to take action. To start with, millions of New York City bus riders have a big stake in the service improvements that newly appointed MTA Chair Jay Walder and Mayor Bloomberg have each made a high priority. De Blasio and Liu, if they choose, can use their new offices to help give millions of transit riders the best possible outcome as these plans advance.

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In Third Term, Bloomberg Must Align All Agencies With PlaNYC

We continue our series on the next four years of New York City transportation and planning policy with today's essay by Ron Shiffman. Co-founder of the Pratt Center for Community Development and a professor at the Pratt Institute's Graduate Center for Planning, Shiffman served on the City Planning Commission from 1990 to 1996. Read previous installments in this series here, here, and here.

When Michael Bloomberg was first elected eight years ago, I and many others thought such a wealthy mayor might assert his independence from developers who choose to serve their own self-interest at the expense of the city's long term needs. Six years later, the release of PlaNYC 2030 finally gave hope to that desire. The mayor put forth a vision that, despite some shortcomings, promised a framework for sustainable, equitable growth. For all the city's progress toward advancing those goals, however, it has taken several steps backward by continuing to build real estate projects that erode the walkable city. Mayor Bloomberg’s re-election provides an opportunity to correct these oversights and refine his administration’s legacy on building an equitable and environmentally sustainable city.

hudson_yard_rendering.jpgA rendering of the proposed Hudson Yards development on the far West Side. Only a hard-fought court battle against Mayor Bloomberg, the Department of City Planning, and other public agencies prevented this project from adding up to 20,000 parking spaces in Manhattan.
When it comes to sustainable development, the mayor's record is mixed at best. Many of his agencies -- such as the Department of Design and Construction with David Burney at its helm, the Parks Department under the able direction of Adrian Benepe, and the Department of Transportation under the energetic and farsighted leadership of Janette Sadik-Khan -- have done a fabulous job promoting and implementing the goals of PlaNYC. With some fine-tuning of the process used to plan our public places, calm traffic, and reclaim our streets, the city can engage more communities in the introduction of these much needed innovations and prevent a harmful backlash.

Unfortunately, creativity, innovation and commitment to the principles of sustainability stop with these few agencies. Other public servants charged with planning for the future of the city have abdicated that responsibility. The Department of City Planning, despite some exemplary work on open space design and enhancing opportunities for world-class architecture, has ignored planning for the New York City of 2030. Instead, it has focused on rezoning the city as if we still lived in the 1960s, using the language and planning concepts of that discredited era rather than preparing to meet the challenges and opportunities of the 21st century.

Together with private developers, the city's Economic Development Corporation and other quasi-government entities, the planning department has embraced outmoded redevelopment plans for Willets Point in Queens, Hudson Yards on the far West Side, Atlantic Yards in Brooklyn, and Columbia University's expansion into Manhattanville without any substantive regard to the principles and goals of PlaNYC.

These large-scale development plans fundamentally ignore the issue of sustainability. And they cast the form of the city in concrete for a century or more.

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High Hopes — And Higher Standards — for Bloomberg 3.0

Our series on the next four years of NYC transportation policy continues with today's essay from Joan Byron, Director of the Pratt Center for Community Development's Sustainability and Environmental Justice Initiative. The Rudin Center for Transportation Policy recognized Byron's work at the Pratt Center with the 2009 Civic Leadership Award. Read previous entries in this series here and here.

In New York political time, four years passes fast. But hey, in Bogotá, Enrique Peñalosa was limited to a single three-year term as mayor, during which he built dozens of new schools and libraries, converted a golf course to a public park, laid down 100 miles of bike paths, and of course, built the Transmilenio, the system against which Bus Rapid Transit aspirants worldwide are measured.

bogota_estacion_jimenez.jpgBogotá built out most of the TransMilenio system during Enrique Peñalosa's single three-year term. Photo of estación Jiménez: Joan Byron.
What can get done under Bloomberg 3.0? The answer depends on lots of things, some of which are now in short supply. Money, for instance. The next several NYC budget years will be hard on everybody, and really hard on the people and neighborhoods who were bypassed by the economic boom, and who've since been battered further by the recession depression. In this environment, will City Hall keep shoveling cash into sports stadia and shopping malls? Will it continue to count on the real estate market to throw off a few crumbs of affordable housing? Or will we seize the moment and use zoning and subsidies as tools to shape the city we want, instead of simply facilitating the worst instincts of developers?

Transportation policy under Bloomberg 3.0: Money's not the problem

The next set of BRT routes needs to fearlessly go where no bus has gone before.
The good news is that some of the most effective transportation investments we can make in the next four years are also the most affordable. Implementing a full-featured and far-reaching Bus Rapid Transit system won't require either New York City DOT or the MTA to come up with a big new pile of capital dollars. Good BRT, like good pedestrian and bike infrastructure, does cost money, but at a pay-as-you-go level, rather than demanding multi-billion dollar upfront investments that can take decades to deliver results. It costs millions, not billions, and it can be up in running in months, rather than decades.

And real BRT will be transformative. New York City today is home to 758,000 workers who travel over an hour each way to reach their jobs. Two-thirds of these folks are going to jobs where they earn less than $35,000. That's not a coincidence -- look at a map, and you'll quickly see that the places poor and working-class people can afford to live are those least well-served by the subway system.

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NYC’s Next Four Years: From Good Enough to Great

Mayor Bloomberg has already shown how much his administration can accomplish in just a few years. Since Janette Sadik-Khan's appointment to head the DOT in 2007, the city has striped hundreds of miles of bike lanes, reclaimed acres of street space for pedestrians and improved bus travel for tens of thousands of New Yorkers. "More of the same" is no longer a dirty phrase when it comes to local transportation policy. During the next four years, the mayor needs to accelerate this progress, and introduce a few key innovations to maximize the value New Yorkers get from their new streets.

itdp_34th_street_brt_proposal.jpgThere is plenty of room to build on the Bloomberg administration's record of support for safer, greener streets. Photosim of 34th Street: Luc Nadal and Marc De Decker, ITDP.
Whether you're a straphanger, a cyclist, or a driver, every trip begins and ends with a walk. Pedestrians have had it good in recent years: Public plazas are sprouting by the dozen, hundreds of intersections have safer sidewalks and crossings, and the city's blueprint for sustainability, PlaNYC, promises that many more improvements are coming soon. How should New York keep this momentum going?

Well, the release of DOT's Street Design Manual back in July was an especially auspicious development. This groundbreaking playbook contains templates that can transform streets in neighborhoods throughout the five boroughs. The manual is an engineering document, but it also makes sense as an outreach tool. Community groups concerned about street safety could use the manual as a menu, requesting traffic calming solutions for their neighborhood from DOT. Liberal use of these new designs, applied through a smart community-based process, could pay huge dividends all over the city.

For a fraction of the cost of subway line construction, buses could move millions, if the mayor throws his weight behind BRT.
Our city's new public spaces and calmed streets won't live up to their potential, though, unless New Yorkers know their roadways are safe places to walk and bike. Under Commissioner Ray Kelly, the NYPD has reduced levels of violent crime to record lows. Law enforcement should tackle traffic crime with equal diligence. Zero tolerance for speeding and dangerous driving, more comprehensive reporting and analysis of traffic crashes, and a relentless advertising campaign -- similar to the one the Mayor used to take on smoking -- would tame the Wild West atmosphere on our streets. If Bloomberg and Kelly successfully drive down traffic crime, hundreds of lives could be saved, thousands of injuries prevented, and countless New Yorkers would get out and enjoy their city more.

One sensible way for the NYPD to roll out this approach to traffic enforcement would be to start in areas frequented by children and seniors. Seniors make up 12 percent of New York's population, yet account for 39 percent of pedestrian fatalities. And according to the Department of Health, auto traffic is the leading cause of injury-related death in children ages 1-14. DOT's Safe Routes to School and Safe Routes for Seniors programs have spawned imitators around the country, but our city is no longer the national leader. Other cities are now far ahead of New York when it comes to implementing these street safety programs. Combined with police enforcement, short-term and inexpensive improvements such as leading pedestrian intervals, reductions in signalized crossing speeds, and a citywide slower speed limit in school zones would prioritize pedestrians, save the lives of children and seniors, and get New York City back in the forefront of planning streets for safety.

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The Winning Transpo Formula for a Third Term: Sustainability + Populism

sheridan_wide.jpgMr. Bloomberg, tear down this highway. A vision of West Farms Road with housing and shops instead of the Sheridan Expressway. Image: South Bronx River Watershed Alliance.
Following Tuesday's citywide elections, Streetsblog asked leading advocates and experts to lay out their ideas for the next four years of New York City transportation policy. What should the Bloomberg administration try to accomplish? Kate Slevin, executive director of the Tri-State Transportation Campaign and editor of its excellent blog, Mobilizing the Region, kicks things off with today's installment.

The headlines after last week's mayoral contest weren't kind to the winner. "NY Voters Seen Wanting More Humble Bloomberg," proclaimed Reuters. "Bloomberg Sweats Out Third Term," wrote the Post. The incumbent's slim margin of victory points to two major takeaways from campaign season in New York City: 1) Mayor Bloomberg is seen as out of touch with everyday New Yorkers, yet 2) was reelected, grudgingly, because the electorate thinks he is doing a decent job.

First up: Publicly support the removal of the Sheridan Expressway as a green jobs program.
Over the next four years, the mayor has an opportunity to rebuild the public's trust and reverse the perception that he doesn't care about the average citizen. It's in his best interest to spend significant time on the latter. A wealthy, assertive politician can seem arrogant to voters in the best of times, and third terms are notoriously difficult for elected officials. If the mayor wants to create a legacy that builds on his existing record, he will have to prove that his policies, including transportation, help working New Yorkers. Here are four ways to help get him there, starting with the most specific.

First up: Publicly support the removal of the Sheridan Expressway as a green jobs program. This highway is a redundant, little used stub running through the Hunts Point community of the South Bronx. For nearly a decade, advocates in the South Bronx River Watershed Alliance (including the Pratt Center, Nos Quedamos, Youth Ministries for Peace and Justice, The Point, Sustainable South Bronx, and my organization, Tri-State Transportation Campaign) have called on the New York State DOT to remove the highway. Doing so would create 700 permanent jobs and hundreds of construction jobs, improve access to the Bronx River, and open up 28 acres for parks and affordable housing.

Bulldozing acres of parks for the new Yankee Stadium gave the impression that the mayor was more willing to help out developers than the average Bronx resident. Removing the Sheridan would help pay back that debt, and fit naturally with the Mayor's long-term sustainability agenda, PlaNYC 2030.

Next, the Mayor should commit to boosting New York City's funding for public transit.

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The Third Term

troika.jpgFor the next four years, Mike Bloomberg will be joined in citywide office by Democrats Bill de Blasio and John Liu.
Mike Bloomberg defeated Bill Thompson yesterday to claim a third term as New York City mayor, but no one except the mayor's own staff is calling the five point margin a victory for the incumbent. The headlines today are all about Bloomberg's surprisingly lackluster showing. After breaking his own records for campaign spending and mounting a juggernaut political operation, the mayor could barely muster a majority of the votes.

And how few votes were cast. Total turnout -- 1.1 million out of about 4 million registered voters -- looks to be even lower than in Ed Koch's election to a third term, back when a million fewer people lived in the city. Participation in New York City's democratic process hasn't been this paltry since the days before women were enfranchised.

The Thompson camp appeared to take some satisfaction in the relatively close finish. Still, Democrats have got to be second guessing themselves today. No doubt much hand-wringing will ensue about the failure of President Obama and local power brokers to rally around the party's standard bearer.

But here are some numbers to chew on: Thompson lost by 50,000 votes, and New Yorkers make more than two million bus trips every day. What if the Democratic candidate had actively campaigned on specific ideas to improve bus service? Vastly outspent or not, Thompson couldn't clear the bar set by Freddy Ferrer in 2005 despite an electorate that seemingly felt little enthusiasm for the incumbent. (Disgust with the term limits extension may explain why Bloomberg himself garnered 200,000 fewer votes than he did four years ago, even though his approval rating, at 70 percent, remains quite high.)

Instead, when it came to New Yorkers' transportation concerns, Thompson sounded few consistent themes except the notion that self-serving complaints from a few local merchants should take precedence over safety gains and transit improvements on our streets. The Democratic Party -- purported defender of the working class and the environment -- failed to make the connection between urban transportation, economic opportunity, and sustainability.

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