Gotham Gazette Gotham Gazette is an online publication covering New York policy and politics as well as news on public safety, transportation, education, finance and more. http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/polly-trottenberg 2017-10-23T04:49:44+00:00 Webmaster webmaster@gothamgazette.com What About the Buses? 2017-08-04T04:00:00+00:00 2017-08-04T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7109:what-about-the-buses Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/governorandrewcuomo-photo_by_marc_a._hermann_--_mta_new_york_city_transit-5.jpg" alt="governorandrewcuomo photo by marc a. hermann mta new york city transit" width="640" height="451" /></p> <p>(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)</p> <hr /> <p>Newly-minted MTA chief Joe Lhota held a press conference last week to announce a rescue plan for the city’s ailing subway system. The agenda includes signal fixes, maintenance work, new emergency response teams, and even rider communication shifts. Lhota’s blueprint comes with $800-plus million price tag, he said, which set off another round of feuding between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo about how much the city and the state will each pitch in.</p> <p>While there is a great deal of attention necessarily being paid to the state of the city’s subway system, absent from the new MTA plan was measures to improve bus service. Transit advocates, city and state elected officials have subsequently pointed to buses as an overlooked but essential factor in improving New York City’s transit system, to provide commuters more reliable options and to reach people who live outside subway zones.</p> <p>Indicative of the need for attention to buses is the fact that subway underperformance and drops in service reliability have not spawned an increased reliance on the city’s bus system. In fact, as the New York Times <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/nyregion/new-york-city-subway-ridership.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> in February, bus ridership fell by approximately 1.6 percent on weekdays and 4 percent on weekends in 2016 from the year before, in keeping with a multi-year trend of falling bus usage. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Following Lhota’s announcement of the new “<a href="http://www.mtamovingforward.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NYC Subway Action Plan</a>,” State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, who chairs the Assembly committee with MTA oversight, commended Lhota for releasing an emergency subway plan, but also encouraged him to address buses in the near future.</p> <p>“While I recognize that our signals, tracks, cars, and user experience are all at the forefront of public concern and discourse, there are many New Yorkers who need improvements in other areas as well,” said the Dinowitz statement. “Accessibility concerns and bus service remain in need of attention also, and I encourage Chairman Lhota to address these issues soon,” he said. While Dinowitz’s committee has done little by way of MTA oversight in recent years, the Assembly member has put forth some of his own recommendations and took part in a two-day series of subway rides on Thursday and Friday to talk to riders directly.</p> <p>John Raskin, executive director of transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, who has written and spoken favorably of Lhota and his plan, also said he would like to see advancements on buses.</p> <p>“Focusing on bus service is a quick and affordable way to improve public transit for millions of daily riders. Implementing long-overdue bus improvements would be a great compliment to the longer, more expensive work that will be needed to overhaul subway service,” he wrote in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “In the near future, the MTA could improve bus service by switching to a system of boarding through all doors, as well as redesigning bus routes to match how people travel today,” he continued, also proposing “adding bus lanes to local routes so buses don't get caught in traffic jams.”</p> <p>The bus system, particularly bus lanes, as many transit experts point out, can be changed relatively quickly, and by the mayor, if need be. Still, the state-run MTA holds the majority of control over buses as a whole.</p> <p>There is growing consensus among experts and elected officials pointing to expanding both Select Bus Service (SBS), essentially express buses, and transit signal priority (TPS), which helps buses move more quickly through traffic light changes.</p> <p>SBS is one of the joint ventures set in motion over the past few years that has shown signs of success. Ths mode differs from traditional buses in that passengers board from all doors, speeding up the process at each stop, and the stops are less frequent on routes, making SBS something of an “express.” SBS also uses proof-of-payment, where instead of dipping a metrocard, riders buy tickets at bus stop kiosks prior to boarding (they are checked randomly).</p> <p>SBS has been deployed on 14 routes across the city; several potential routes to expand the service have been proposed as well. Prominent current examples of SBS are on 1st and 2nd Avenues in Manhattan; the newly-added crosstown 79th Street and 86th Street routes Uptown; the B41, B44 and B46 in Brooklyn; the S79, connecting Bay Ridge and Staten Island; the Q70 which goes to LaGuardia Airport; and several others.</p> <p>“Both the MTA and New York City DOT can speed up the installation of Select Bus Service, which has proven both popular and effective, making buses run faster and attracting more riders who had given up on the slow local service that came before it,” wrote Raskin. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio, for his part, often refers to SBS as a model. “That’s something we think has been a real success story -- so there are sometimes when things have been done the right way, and that’s one of them,” he said when asked about the buses by Gotham Gazette at a Thursday press conference. “Then we want to keep expanding. It’s a good news story,” he continued. “I’d put it in the same category as the other, newer types of transportation that are being developed rapidly: the ferry system, light rail, and obviously the expansion of Citi Bike -- all of these are going to be necessary to give people more options,” he said.</p> <p>“For [SBS expansion] to be achieved,” de Blasio said, “it requires cooperation between the city and the state and the MTA, and obviously investment by the city on the capital elements of each route.”</p> <p>Advocates and experts have also called for an expansion of bus service to places that are particularly distant from a subway stop and existing bus routes, such as certain parts of Brooklyn and Queens.</p> <p>With the impending closure of the L train in 2019, transit advocates have<a href="http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/2017/7/12/%E2%80%98summer-hell%E2%80%99-hits-brooklyn-transit-system" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> called</a> for augmented bus service during the shutdown, which former MTA chief Tom Prendergast <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/bus-service-prove-vital-manhattan-line-shutdown-article-1.2635845" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pledged</a> to address last year.</p> <p>Last month, a coalition of eight transit advocacy groups gathered to announce a list of commitments they would like New York City lawmakers to champion and implement. Improving bus service was among the seven demands. “Unfortunately, service is often slow and unreliable, and buses are generally neglected by policymakers, at the expense of residents who already have the most punishing commutes,” the <a href="http://tstc.org/transportation-equity-agenda-2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">plan</a> states.</p> <p>The coalition of advocates is urging the city to add additional bus lanes to local routes along with expanded Select Bus Services. But new bus routes are not the only way to improve service. Stricter, even dedicated bus lanes -- through physical barriers and NYPD enforcement -- are other options in the city’s toolbox. All-door boarding, an important component to SBS, is another endeavor for the city to consider putting into place across the system.</p> <p>Asked about attention to buses as the subway system has become more unreliable and MTA Chair Lhota said more temporary subway line shutdowns would be needed, an MTA spokesperson said, "We are also focused on our bus customers and several initiatives are already in place to improve bus service. As you know, the MTA is committed to maintaining and expanding Select Bus Service, which has been successful in reducing dwell times at bus stops. Every bus in our system can be tracked with GPS and customers can access this information on the MTA Bus Time app. The same data we use for the app we use to monitor bus schedule and service to help mitigate issues that may arise on the road in real time. Installation of a new fare payment system, which is being worked on, will also speed up boarding," said Kevin Ortiz, of the MTA.</p> <p>"Additionally, we continue to work with DOT to advance the rollout of Traffic Signal Prioritization city-wide and are looking at implementing all-door boarding where it is practical to do so," Ortiz added. "However, we don’t have direct control of road conditions on city streets. We are continuing to collaborate with DOT and NYPD to prioritize bus service as they address traffic congestion, unauthorized vehicles in bus lanes, double parked cars, and other factors that have the most direct impact on bus speeds and service reliability."</p> <p>Advocates have argued in favor of expanding transit signal priority (TSP) as a way to speed up existing bus routes. “Mayor de Blasio's administration could also make a difference, by accelerating the implementation of transit signal priority, where lights turn green faster when buses are waiting,” Raskin explained.</p> <p>Along these lines, <a href="http://transitcenter.org/about/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">TransitCenter</a>, an organization of transportation experts, published a <a href="http://transitcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Waiting-for-the-light-1-2.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> on TSP. It notes that trips take longer than needed because “New Yorkers are stuck spending 21% of their bus rides stopped at red lights—but they shouldn’t be.” “Transit signal priority (TSP) can be used to extend green lights or shorten red ones when a bus is approaching, speeding up trips and improving schedule reliability,” it says.</p> <p>The report also outlines New York City shortcomings compared to buses in other major cities. “Other cities around the world aren’t waiting for the light: New York is behind peers like London and Los Angeles, which have been utilizing signal priority for nearly two decades,” the TransitCenter report notes. “There are around 260 intersections providing bus priority in New York today, versus 3200 such intersections in London and 654 in Los Angeles.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Given the fact that the city already uses TSP, and is effective along these routes -- the report cited city DOT data showing that TSP reduced travel time by 18% -- the proposal suggests that the city adopt a goal of utilizing TSP for 20 new routes by 2018.</p> <p>“Chairman Lhota and Commissioner Trottenberg should work together to prioritize transit on NYC streets by applying TSP more aggressively and more quickly,” the report reads. “Strong leadership is needed from both NYCDOT and the MTA to realize the relatively painless gains transit signal priority offers.”</p> <p>Recently, TSP has garnered more support from New York officials. “Transit Signal Priority gives a Green Light to New York City bus riders,” <a href="https://transportationtodaynews.com/news/4607-nyc-transportation-department-releases-report-transit-signal-priority-technology-used-city-buses/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Transportation, in a recent press release. “We have seen travel time savings of 5-30 percent on the SBS routes where we installed this technology and now that the MTA is moving forward with its TSP procurement, we are pleased to announce that DOT will quadruple our installation rate, covering over 1,000 intersections total and 15 additional routes by 2020.”</p> <p>City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, echoed Trottenberg. “Transit signal priority is a crucial part of improving bus service across the city,” he stated in the press release. “With buses shedding riders over the past few years,” he continued, alluding to the reduction in bus ridership, “improvements like this are how we will regain their trust that buses are a fast and efficient option.”</p> <p>On the state level, in April, the Governor announced a new line of MTA buses that would be equipped with Wi-Fi and USB ports. Two thousand of these newly designed buses will be put to use in the next five years, according to the governor. Cuomo argued they will help reinvigorate the city’s bus system.</p> <p>“From opening the Second Avenue Subway, to bringing Wi-Fi and cell service to underground subway stations, we are reimagining the mass-transit experience for the metropolitan area,” Cuomo said in a press release. “These new state-of-the-art buses will better connect passengers who are on-the-go, create a stronger mass-transit system and bring New York into the 21st Century,” the statement continued.</p> <p>The high-tech bus model introduction and a late April <a href="http://www.mta.info/press-release/nyc-transit/governor-cuomo-announces-green-bus-pilot-program-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">press release</a> regarding the addition of a bus “pilot program,” an introduction of 10 new environmentally friendly buses to the existing system, were the last times the state has given buses attention. The governor has mostly spent his MTA attention on subway-related matters, alternating between celebrating the Second Avenue Subway expansion, deflecting responsibility to the city, proposing additional gubernatorial powers to appoint MTA board members, telling the city to pay more money for the system, and taking renewed control of the situation.</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: this article was updated with comment from the MTA.</p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/governorandrewcuomo-photo_by_marc_a._hermann_--_mta_new_york_city_transit-5.jpg" alt="governorandrewcuomo photo by marc a. hermann mta new york city transit" width="640" height="451" /></p> <p>(photo: Marc A. Hermann/MTA)</p> <hr /> <p>Newly-minted MTA chief Joe Lhota held a press conference last week to announce a rescue plan for the city’s ailing subway system. The agenda includes signal fixes, maintenance work, new emergency response teams, and even rider communication shifts. Lhota’s blueprint comes with $800-plus million price tag, he said, which set off another round of feuding between Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo about how much the city and the state will each pitch in.</p> <p>While there is a great deal of attention necessarily being paid to the state of the city’s subway system, absent from the new MTA plan was measures to improve bus service. Transit advocates, city and state elected officials have subsequently pointed to buses as an overlooked but essential factor in improving New York City’s transit system, to provide commuters more reliable options and to reach people who live outside subway zones.</p> <p>Indicative of the need for attention to buses is the fact that subway underperformance and drops in service reliability have not spawned an increased reliance on the city’s bus system. In fact, as the New York Times <a href="https://www.nytimes.com/2017/02/23/nyregion/new-york-city-subway-ridership.html" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> in February, bus ridership fell by approximately 1.6 percent on weekdays and 4 percent on weekends in 2016 from the year before, in keeping with a multi-year trend of falling bus usage. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Following Lhota’s announcement of the new “<a href="http://www.mtamovingforward.com/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">NYC Subway Action Plan</a>,” State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz, who chairs the Assembly committee with MTA oversight, commended Lhota for releasing an emergency subway plan, but also encouraged him to address buses in the near future.</p> <p>“While I recognize that our signals, tracks, cars, and user experience are all at the forefront of public concern and discourse, there are many New Yorkers who need improvements in other areas as well,” said the Dinowitz statement. “Accessibility concerns and bus service remain in need of attention also, and I encourage Chairman Lhota to address these issues soon,” he said. While Dinowitz’s committee has done little by way of MTA oversight in recent years, the Assembly member has put forth some of his own recommendations and took part in a two-day series of subway rides on Thursday and Friday to talk to riders directly.</p> <p>John Raskin, executive director of transit advocacy group Riders Alliance, who has written and spoken favorably of Lhota and his plan, also said he would like to see advancements on buses.</p> <p>“Focusing on bus service is a quick and affordable way to improve public transit for millions of daily riders. Implementing long-overdue bus improvements would be a great compliment to the longer, more expensive work that will be needed to overhaul subway service,” he wrote in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “In the near future, the MTA could improve bus service by switching to a system of boarding through all doors, as well as redesigning bus routes to match how people travel today,” he continued, also proposing “adding bus lanes to local routes so buses don't get caught in traffic jams.”</p> <p>The bus system, particularly bus lanes, as many transit experts point out, can be changed relatively quickly, and by the mayor, if need be. Still, the state-run MTA holds the majority of control over buses as a whole.</p> <p>There is growing consensus among experts and elected officials pointing to expanding both Select Bus Service (SBS), essentially express buses, and transit signal priority (TPS), which helps buses move more quickly through traffic light changes.</p> <p>SBS is one of the joint ventures set in motion over the past few years that has shown signs of success. Ths mode differs from traditional buses in that passengers board from all doors, speeding up the process at each stop, and the stops are less frequent on routes, making SBS something of an “express.” SBS also uses proof-of-payment, where instead of dipping a metrocard, riders buy tickets at bus stop kiosks prior to boarding (they are checked randomly).</p> <p>SBS has been deployed on 14 routes across the city; several potential routes to expand the service have been proposed as well. Prominent current examples of SBS are on 1st and 2nd Avenues in Manhattan; the newly-added crosstown 79th Street and 86th Street routes Uptown; the B41, B44 and B46 in Brooklyn; the S79, connecting Bay Ridge and Staten Island; the Q70 which goes to LaGuardia Airport; and several others.</p> <p>“Both the MTA and New York City DOT can speed up the installation of Select Bus Service, which has proven both popular and effective, making buses run faster and attracting more riders who had given up on the slow local service that came before it,” wrote Raskin. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio, for his part, often refers to SBS as a model. “That’s something we think has been a real success story -- so there are sometimes when things have been done the right way, and that’s one of them,” he said when asked about the buses by Gotham Gazette at a Thursday press conference. “Then we want to keep expanding. It’s a good news story,” he continued. “I’d put it in the same category as the other, newer types of transportation that are being developed rapidly: the ferry system, light rail, and obviously the expansion of Citi Bike -- all of these are going to be necessary to give people more options,” he said.</p> <p>“For [SBS expansion] to be achieved,” de Blasio said, “it requires cooperation between the city and the state and the MTA, and obviously investment by the city on the capital elements of each route.”</p> <p>Advocates and experts have also called for an expansion of bus service to places that are particularly distant from a subway stop and existing bus routes, such as certain parts of Brooklyn and Queens.</p> <p>With the impending closure of the L train in 2019, transit advocates have<a href="http://www.brooklyneagle.com/articles/2017/7/12/%E2%80%98summer-hell%E2%80%99-hits-brooklyn-transit-system" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer"> called</a> for augmented bus service during the shutdown, which former MTA chief Tom Prendergast <a href="http://www.nydailynews.com/new-york/manhattan/bus-service-prove-vital-manhattan-line-shutdown-article-1.2635845" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">pledged</a> to address last year.</p> <p>Last month, a coalition of eight transit advocacy groups gathered to announce a list of commitments they would like New York City lawmakers to champion and implement. Improving bus service was among the seven demands. “Unfortunately, service is often slow and unreliable, and buses are generally neglected by policymakers, at the expense of residents who already have the most punishing commutes,” the <a href="http://tstc.org/transportation-equity-agenda-2017.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">plan</a> states.</p> <p>The coalition of advocates is urging the city to add additional bus lanes to local routes along with expanded Select Bus Services. But new bus routes are not the only way to improve service. Stricter, even dedicated bus lanes -- through physical barriers and NYPD enforcement -- are other options in the city’s toolbox. All-door boarding, an important component to SBS, is another endeavor for the city to consider putting into place across the system.</p> <p>Asked about attention to buses as the subway system has become more unreliable and MTA Chair Lhota said more temporary subway line shutdowns would be needed, an MTA spokesperson said, "We are also focused on our bus customers and several initiatives are already in place to improve bus service. As you know, the MTA is committed to maintaining and expanding Select Bus Service, which has been successful in reducing dwell times at bus stops. Every bus in our system can be tracked with GPS and customers can access this information on the MTA Bus Time app. The same data we use for the app we use to monitor bus schedule and service to help mitigate issues that may arise on the road in real time. Installation of a new fare payment system, which is being worked on, will also speed up boarding," said Kevin Ortiz, of the MTA.</p> <p>"Additionally, we continue to work with DOT to advance the rollout of Traffic Signal Prioritization city-wide and are looking at implementing all-door boarding where it is practical to do so," Ortiz added. "However, we don’t have direct control of road conditions on city streets. We are continuing to collaborate with DOT and NYPD to prioritize bus service as they address traffic congestion, unauthorized vehicles in bus lanes, double parked cars, and other factors that have the most direct impact on bus speeds and service reliability."</p> <p>Advocates have argued in favor of expanding transit signal priority (TSP) as a way to speed up existing bus routes. “Mayor de Blasio's administration could also make a difference, by accelerating the implementation of transit signal priority, where lights turn green faster when buses are waiting,” Raskin explained.</p> <p>Along these lines, <a href="http://transitcenter.org/about/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">TransitCenter</a>, an organization of transportation experts, published a <a href="http://transitcenter.org/wp-content/uploads/2017/07/Waiting-for-the-light-1-2.pdf" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">report</a> on TSP. It notes that trips take longer than needed because “New Yorkers are stuck spending 21% of their bus rides stopped at red lights—but they shouldn’t be.” “Transit signal priority (TSP) can be used to extend green lights or shorten red ones when a bus is approaching, speeding up trips and improving schedule reliability,” it says.</p> <p>The report also outlines New York City shortcomings compared to buses in other major cities. “Other cities around the world aren’t waiting for the light: New York is behind peers like London and Los Angeles, which have been utilizing signal priority for nearly two decades,” the TransitCenter report notes. “There are around 260 intersections providing bus priority in New York today, versus 3200 such intersections in London and 654 in Los Angeles.” &nbsp;</p> <p>Given the fact that the city already uses TSP, and is effective along these routes -- the report cited city DOT data showing that TSP reduced travel time by 18% -- the proposal suggests that the city adopt a goal of utilizing TSP for 20 new routes by 2018.</p> <p>“Chairman Lhota and Commissioner Trottenberg should work together to prioritize transit on NYC streets by applying TSP more aggressively and more quickly,” the report reads. “Strong leadership is needed from both NYCDOT and the MTA to realize the relatively painless gains transit signal priority offers.”</p> <p>Recently, TSP has garnered more support from New York officials. “Transit Signal Priority gives a Green Light to New York City bus riders,” <a href="https://transportationtodaynews.com/news/4607-nyc-transportation-department-releases-report-transit-signal-priority-technology-used-city-buses/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">said</a> Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of New York City’s Department of Transportation, in a recent press release. “We have seen travel time savings of 5-30 percent on the SBS routes where we installed this technology and now that the MTA is moving forward with its TSP procurement, we are pleased to announce that DOT will quadruple our installation rate, covering over 1,000 intersections total and 15 additional routes by 2020.”</p> <p>City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, echoed Trottenberg. “Transit signal priority is a crucial part of improving bus service across the city,” he stated in the press release. “With buses shedding riders over the past few years,” he continued, alluding to the reduction in bus ridership, “improvements like this are how we will regain their trust that buses are a fast and efficient option.”</p> <p>On the state level, in April, the Governor announced a new line of MTA buses that would be equipped with Wi-Fi and USB ports. Two thousand of these newly designed buses will be put to use in the next five years, according to the governor. Cuomo argued they will help reinvigorate the city’s bus system.</p> <p>“From opening the Second Avenue Subway, to bringing Wi-Fi and cell service to underground subway stations, we are reimagining the mass-transit experience for the metropolitan area,” Cuomo said in a press release. “These new state-of-the-art buses will better connect passengers who are on-the-go, create a stronger mass-transit system and bring New York into the 21st Century,” the statement continued.</p> <p>The high-tech bus model introduction and a late April <a href="http://www.mta.info/press-release/nyc-transit/governor-cuomo-announces-green-bus-pilot-program-new-york-city" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">press release</a> regarding the addition of a bus “pilot program,” an introduction of 10 new environmentally friendly buses to the existing system, were the last times the state has given buses attention. The governor has mostly spent his MTA attention on subway-related matters, alternating between celebrating the Second Avenue Subway expansion, deflecting responsibility to the city, proposing additional gubernatorial powers to appoint MTA board members, telling the city to pay more money for the system, and taking renewed control of the situation.</p> <p> </p> <p>Note: this article was updated with comment from the MTA.</p> Calls for Small & Large Fixes to City Congestion, Transit Woes 2017-06-05T04:00:00+00:00 2017-06-05T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6975:calls-for-small-large-fixes-to-city-congestion-transit-woes Ben Max <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/trottenberg_chan_mccarten.jpg" alt="trottenberg chan mccarten" width="600" height="423" /></p> <p>Cmsr Trottenberg, right (photos: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council Committee on Transportation held a hearing Monday to discuss sources of, and solutions to, traffic congestion in the city.</p> <p>City Council Member Ydanis Rodríguez, chair of the committee, began the hearing by lamenting New York City’s heavy traffic. “As most New Yorkers can tell you, our streets look like parking lots,” said Rodríguez, a Democrat from upper Manhattan. In addition to economic impediments and general inconvenience, the Council member framed congestion as a safety issue as well. “More cars in our road means more dangerous conditions for cyclists, pedestrians and other street users,” he said -- Rodriguez has been a champion of the city’s Vision Zero street safety program.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, also an upper Manhattan Democrat, agreed with Rodríguez’s characterization of the situation and highlighted its urgency. “Congestion is at crisis levels in this city,” he said. “This is a threat to our economy, our environment, it is a safety threat and frankly, for drivers, it is driving them crazy to be stuck in traffic.”</p> <p>The Council members attributed an apparent recent dramatic increase in congestion to the prosperity of various home-delivery and app-based car services alongside longstanding New York City issues such as double parking and placard misuse.</p> <p>However, a portion of the uptick in clogged New York City streets is a product of some unavoidable, as well as wholly positive, developments, argued new York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who was the main representative of the de Blasio administration at Monday’s hearing.</p> <p>In conjunction with population growth, tourism to the city and a booming economy have contributed, Trottenberg said, citing a 68% increase in visitors since 2000 and an addition of 4.3 million jobs in New York City since before the recession. ”While on the one hand, increased congestion is a sign of a thriving economy, we hear loud and clear from community boards, elected officials, businesses, and New Yorkers who drive, are stuck on the bus, or use crowded sidewalks, that they are frustrated by congestion and are asking the city for answers,” Trottenberg said.</p> <p>Trottenberg discussed the two most impactful ways to address the issue: congestion pricing, which would create a new tolling system to, in part, disincentivize driving in the city, especially into Manhattan, and subway expansion, which would encourage more people to choose a train over a car. The commissioner did not indicate that the de Blasio administration is supportive of a congestion pricing plan -- Mayor de Blasio himself said Monday that it has no hope of passage in Albany, so it is not worth fighting for. The de Blasio administration also has little control over subway expansion, given that the MTA is a state-run authority, but could pursue some additional stops if it chose to make that a priority, which it has not.</p> <p>With a handful Council members, Trottenberg discussed secondary areas over which the city has direct control, such as car placard abuse, which take up parking spaces or block traffic, large truck deliveries which often block streets, and bus lane enforcement, to prevent slowing MTA buses.</p> <p>Council Member Margaret Chin, for example, floated the idea of imposing harsher penalties on placard abusers and those that unlawfully veer into bus lanes. NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas M. Chan acknowledged Chin’s concerns, adding that his department is exploring ways to court additional officers to the approximately 3,200 officers tasked with enforcing traffic law. De Blasio recently announced a new crackdown on placard abuse that coincided with his decision to allow tens of thousands of placards to school personnel.</p> <p>But not all Members were on-board with shifting focus towards small fixes over the meat and potato endeavors to ameliorating New York City’s traffic woes.</p> <p>Council Member Corey Johnson, a Democrat representing the West Side of Manhattan, said the city’s proposed congestion-fighting efforts to which it has shifted attention amounted to mere “tinkering around the edges.” Council Member Brad Lander, Democrat of Park Slope, Brooklyn, took issue with the less ambitious approach as well, declaring that anything that did not include transportation investment would be “fooling around at the margins.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio, for his part, threw cold water on the city taking action on ambitious as well as extensive and long-term issues, stating that the political climate in Albany is not ripe for passing a congestion pricing program while continually, and accurately, noting that potential MTA augmentations and fixes fall under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s jurisdiction. Instead, on transit the mayor has favored an approach more immediately implementable steps that do not rely on state approval.</p> <p>When asked at a press conference Monday morning if, absent investment in new subway stations, the city could properly address congestion, de Blasio articulated his approach. “This is going to have to happen in phases over years [in] how we address the problem,” said the mayor. “We need to first think about the things we can do right now…” he said, name-checking expanded ferry service, Select Bus Service, and the BQX lightrail streetcar as the types of New York City mass-transit successes he’s unveiled. “Those are the things that are going to have a big impact for people’s lives right now,” de Blasio said.</p> <p>Though de Blasio said that there is a “real possibility” that New York City would have to build more subways 10 to 15 years down the road, “The things we’ve done right now, are the things we could do right now,” he said. The Select Bus Service “is a real workhorse,” he said while answering a follow-up question.</p> <p>In a similar vein, in lieu of congestion pricing, de Blasio favors other measures to free-up traffic. “There are people who double-park in an abusive manner that blocks up the street for everyone else. There should be enforcement of that,” he said. He doesn’t want overly-strict, nit-picking tickets, he said, but “ticketing that is about keeping the flow of traffic...I want to ticket those that are blocking traffic on a &nbsp;prolonged basis…I want to ticket people who block the box.”</p> <p>Like for much else in New York City politics, the ongoing feud between de Blasio and Cuomo loomed in the background of the transportation hearing and the mayor’s Monday morning press conference. Although the hearing focused on congestion, the MTA’s woes and traffic issues were treated as inextricably linked even without Cuomo being blamed by name for the MTA’s terrible state of disrepair.</p> <p>While Council Member Donovan Richards, a Democrat from Southeast Queens, noted that it is indubitably Cuomo’s responsibility to manage and adequately fund the MTA, he stated that finger-pointing would not cut it moving forward. Richards said his constituents call his office about transportation and don’t care about whose jurisdiction the MTA is. Thus, it was his position City Hall must take it upon itself to solve the city's transportation crises.</p> <p>One way would be to push for a congestion pricing plan without state government approval, by citing a 1957 state law that allows cities home to over a million people to implement their own bridge tolls. This proposal, as <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/proposal-for-congestion-charge-on-new-york-city-motorists-1496581200?mg=prod/accounts-wsj" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> by the Wall Street Journal Sunday, was brought to the forefront by <a href="http://iheartmoveny.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Move NY</a>, an organization that has the most popular current congestion pricing plan, and New York University Law School Professor Roderick Hills. New York City DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel dismissed the proposal, telling the Journal “...legal experts in both the current and previous administrations determined the city does not have this authority.”</p> <p>When asked about the idea during a press gaggle following the Monday Council hearing, Trottenberg echoed Gastel, saying, “I think the city has determined it’s a losing legal fight...In this case, unfortunately, we just don’t have that legal authority.”</p> <p>Furthermore, Trottenberg insisted that piecemeal congestion-fighting proposals have begun to flow from the administration and that more are coming; she did not answer directly whether what she had described reflected the mayor’s anti-congestion positions. She also said that the anti-congestion plan the mayor promised in his February State of the City speech are already partly in process and soon to be more clear.</p> <p>“It’s one of the first elements of it,” Trottenberg said regarding the enforcement pieces she laid out. “I think the congestion plan, it turns out, is going to be kind of a rolling plan, you’ve heard the first pieces of it today, and there will be more to come in the coming weeks.“</p> <p> </p> <p><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/trottenberg_chan_mccarten.jpg" alt="trottenberg chan mccarten" width="600" height="423" /></p> <p>Cmsr Trottenberg, right (photos: John McCarten/City Council)</p> <hr /> <p>The New York City Council Committee on Transportation held a hearing Monday to discuss sources of, and solutions to, traffic congestion in the city.</p> <p>City Council Member Ydanis Rodríguez, chair of the committee, began the hearing by lamenting New York City’s heavy traffic. “As most New Yorkers can tell you, our streets look like parking lots,” said Rodríguez, a Democrat from upper Manhattan. In addition to economic impediments and general inconvenience, the Council member framed congestion as a safety issue as well. “More cars in our road means more dangerous conditions for cyclists, pedestrians and other street users,” he said -- Rodriguez has been a champion of the city’s Vision Zero street safety program.</p> <p>Council Member Mark Levine, also an upper Manhattan Democrat, agreed with Rodríguez’s characterization of the situation and highlighted its urgency. “Congestion is at crisis levels in this city,” he said. “This is a threat to our economy, our environment, it is a safety threat and frankly, for drivers, it is driving them crazy to be stuck in traffic.”</p> <p>The Council members attributed an apparent recent dramatic increase in congestion to the prosperity of various home-delivery and app-based car services alongside longstanding New York City issues such as double parking and placard misuse.</p> <p>However, a portion of the uptick in clogged New York City streets is a product of some unavoidable, as well as wholly positive, developments, argued new York City Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg, who was the main representative of the de Blasio administration at Monday’s hearing.</p> <p>In conjunction with population growth, tourism to the city and a booming economy have contributed, Trottenberg said, citing a 68% increase in visitors since 2000 and an addition of 4.3 million jobs in New York City since before the recession. ”While on the one hand, increased congestion is a sign of a thriving economy, we hear loud and clear from community boards, elected officials, businesses, and New Yorkers who drive, are stuck on the bus, or use crowded sidewalks, that they are frustrated by congestion and are asking the city for answers,” Trottenberg said.</p> <p>Trottenberg discussed the two most impactful ways to address the issue: congestion pricing, which would create a new tolling system to, in part, disincentivize driving in the city, especially into Manhattan, and subway expansion, which would encourage more people to choose a train over a car. The commissioner did not indicate that the de Blasio administration is supportive of a congestion pricing plan -- Mayor de Blasio himself said Monday that it has no hope of passage in Albany, so it is not worth fighting for. The de Blasio administration also has little control over subway expansion, given that the MTA is a state-run authority, but could pursue some additional stops if it chose to make that a priority, which it has not.</p> <p>With a handful Council members, Trottenberg discussed secondary areas over which the city has direct control, such as car placard abuse, which take up parking spaces or block traffic, large truck deliveries which often block streets, and bus lane enforcement, to prevent slowing MTA buses.</p> <p>Council Member Margaret Chin, for example, floated the idea of imposing harsher penalties on placard abusers and those that unlawfully veer into bus lanes. NYPD Transportation Chief Thomas M. Chan acknowledged Chin’s concerns, adding that his department is exploring ways to court additional officers to the approximately 3,200 officers tasked with enforcing traffic law. De Blasio recently announced a new crackdown on placard abuse that coincided with his decision to allow tens of thousands of placards to school personnel.</p> <p>But not all Members were on-board with shifting focus towards small fixes over the meat and potato endeavors to ameliorating New York City’s traffic woes.</p> <p>Council Member Corey Johnson, a Democrat representing the West Side of Manhattan, said the city’s proposed congestion-fighting efforts to which it has shifted attention amounted to mere “tinkering around the edges.” Council Member Brad Lander, Democrat of Park Slope, Brooklyn, took issue with the less ambitious approach as well, declaring that anything that did not include transportation investment would be “fooling around at the margins.”</p> <p>Mayor de Blasio, for his part, threw cold water on the city taking action on ambitious as well as extensive and long-term issues, stating that the political climate in Albany is not ripe for passing a congestion pricing program while continually, and accurately, noting that potential MTA augmentations and fixes fall under Governor Andrew Cuomo’s jurisdiction. Instead, on transit the mayor has favored an approach more immediately implementable steps that do not rely on state approval.</p> <p>When asked at a press conference Monday morning if, absent investment in new subway stations, the city could properly address congestion, de Blasio articulated his approach. “This is going to have to happen in phases over years [in] how we address the problem,” said the mayor. “We need to first think about the things we can do right now…” he said, name-checking expanded ferry service, Select Bus Service, and the BQX lightrail streetcar as the types of New York City mass-transit successes he’s unveiled. “Those are the things that are going to have a big impact for people’s lives right now,” de Blasio said.</p> <p>Though de Blasio said that there is a “real possibility” that New York City would have to build more subways 10 to 15 years down the road, “The things we’ve done right now, are the things we could do right now,” he said. The Select Bus Service “is a real workhorse,” he said while answering a follow-up question.</p> <p>In a similar vein, in lieu of congestion pricing, de Blasio favors other measures to free-up traffic. “There are people who double-park in an abusive manner that blocks up the street for everyone else. There should be enforcement of that,” he said. He doesn’t want overly-strict, nit-picking tickets, he said, but “ticketing that is about keeping the flow of traffic...I want to ticket those that are blocking traffic on a &nbsp;prolonged basis…I want to ticket people who block the box.”</p> <p>Like for much else in New York City politics, the ongoing feud between de Blasio and Cuomo loomed in the background of the transportation hearing and the mayor’s Monday morning press conference. Although the hearing focused on congestion, the MTA’s woes and traffic issues were treated as inextricably linked even without Cuomo being blamed by name for the MTA’s terrible state of disrepair.</p> <p>While Council Member Donovan Richards, a Democrat from Southeast Queens, noted that it is indubitably Cuomo’s responsibility to manage and adequately fund the MTA, he stated that finger-pointing would not cut it moving forward. Richards said his constituents call his office about transportation and don’t care about whose jurisdiction the MTA is. Thus, it was his position City Hall must take it upon itself to solve the city's transportation crises.</p> <p>One way would be to push for a congestion pricing plan without state government approval, by citing a 1957 state law that allows cities home to over a million people to implement their own bridge tolls. This proposal, as <a href="https://www.wsj.com/articles/proposal-for-congestion-charge-on-new-york-city-motorists-1496581200?mg=prod/accounts-wsj" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> by the Wall Street Journal Sunday, was brought to the forefront by <a href="http://iheartmoveny.org/" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">Move NY</a>, an organization that has the most popular current congestion pricing plan, and New York University Law School Professor Roderick Hills. New York City DOT spokesperson Scott Gastel dismissed the proposal, telling the Journal “...legal experts in both the current and previous administrations determined the city does not have this authority.”</p> <p>When asked about the idea during a press gaggle following the Monday Council hearing, Trottenberg echoed Gastel, saying, “I think the city has determined it’s a losing legal fight...In this case, unfortunately, we just don’t have that legal authority.”</p> <p>Furthermore, Trottenberg insisted that piecemeal congestion-fighting proposals have begun to flow from the administration and that more are coming; she did not answer directly whether what she had described reflected the mayor’s anti-congestion positions. She also said that the anti-congestion plan the mayor promised in his February State of the City speech are already partly in process and soon to be more clear.</p> <p>“It’s one of the first elements of it,” Trottenberg said regarding the enforcement pieces she laid out. “I think the congestion plan, it turns out, is going to be kind of a rolling plan, you’ve heard the first pieces of it today, and there will be more to come in the coming weeks.“</p> <p> </p> De Blasio’s 'Piecemeal' Transportation Agenda 2017-04-05T04:00:00+00:00 2017-04-05T04:00:00+00:00 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6855:de-blasio-s-piecemeal-transportation-agenda Ben Max <p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26512250791_ab13b3e79e_z.jpg" alt="de blasio subway" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio on the subway (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Announcing the next steps of his citywide ferry service initiative at a recent press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is pleased with what his administration has done to improve transit options for New Yorkers, but admitted that he hasn’t put forth a coherent, comprehensive transportation agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though transit experts have praised some of de Blasio’s moves to expand the city’s transportation network, many have also criticized what they call a piecemeal approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about that assessment by Gotham Gazette, as well as restrictions he faces in enacting a transportation agenda given that the city is reliant on the MTA, a state authority, de Blasio said that a lot is moving in the right direction. Pointing to a few examples, he claimed “pretty impressive growth in a city that already has a lot of mass transit.” But, de Blasio acknowledged, “What I don’t think we’ve done is sort of put it together in a single statement for people to see how all the pieces connect, and I think that is a commendable idea.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio appeared to think for the first time about having and presenting an overall transportation agenda, perhaps indicative of the fact that he has not approached transportation like he has education or affordable housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like virtually all policy areas, transportation is complex, expensive, and challenging in New York City. For many driving New Yorkers, the top concerns are traffic congestion and smoothly paved roads. For others, the focus, and often the ire, are the city’s subway and bus networks, which are largely controlled by the MTA, which includes several board members appointed by the mayor, and is funded through city and state monies. The majority of the power at the MTA resides with the state, which also allocates a larger portion of the MTA budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">An age-old problem for New York City mayors, though, is that New Yorkers don’t always realize that the MTA is a state authority, and therefore blame the mayor for travel woes. Mayor de Blasio has taken to a common refrain when the MTA comes up during interviews or press conferences: “The MTA subways, buses are run by the State of New York. That is their process to work through. We contribute money to the MTA, but the ultimate decisions are made by the State of New York,” de Blasio said during an interview Tuesday morning on Hot 97 radio.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city can propose its own funding for subway extensions, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg did with the 7 train to the far west side of Manhattan, and influence Select Bus Service routes, which are essentially express buses. The city, through its mayor and MTA board members and state legislators, also has influence over many other MTA decisions.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it is important that any mayoral administration work with the MTA -- additionally challenging these days given the ongoing feud between de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo -- the mayor and his Department of Transportation must find other ways to leave a meaningful impact on city transit, especially in terms of expanding options as the city population, tourism to the city, and subway ridership all swell.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Tuesday morning, de Blasio said that the city must move on transit projects no matter what is happening at the MTA. “[I]t takes a long time for the MTA to do anything that’s big and new,” the mayor said. “We’re able to do these things a lot quicker,” he said, referring to his administration’s efforts on ferries, bike-sharing, and a streetcar project coming to the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. “We’re starting them up now, and we’re doing a lot of the Select Bus Service in parts of the outer boroughs that were underserved, so those are, you know, faster buses that are very appealing to people because they can cut their commute a lot.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, for de Blasio the issue of “transit equity” is part of the discussion in ways it was not for his predecessors, given that the mayor was elected on an equity platform. Where his transportation initiatives reach and what they cost riders are of utmost importance as de Blasio attempts to increase economic mobility and shrink opportunity gaps.</p> <p dir="ltr">Three-plus years in, the de Blasio administration has basically established that three-pronged approach to expanding mass transportation options in the city: ferries, Citi Bike, and the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (or BQX) streetcar. Most of this agenda has not come online yet, though. Each reaches or is projected to reach some key, underserved communities and offers attractive alternatives or supplements to the subway and bus map. But, as de Blasio himself appeared to acknowledge, the pieces have not necessarily made for a comprehensive city approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">These proposals are “piecemeal at best,” said Ben Kabak, who writes the popular Second Avenue Sagas blog, which has focused on the Second Avenue Subway extension but deals with city transit more broadly. “It's hard to say that his administration even actually has a comprehensive plan for transit.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The new ferry service, which will launch this summer, will build out over multiple years; the streetcar is in the planning stages and a few years off; and the ongoing expansion of Citi Bike continues. These marquee measures each fit into the de Blasio equity frame in different ways, though they each also have limitations in that regard.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re creating alternatives for people,” de Blasio told Hot 97. “We’re going to have citywide ferry service starting this year, and including some communities that have really been left out of the equation like Soundview in the Bronx and the Rockaways…We’re [also] talking about a light rail system from Astoria, Queens down to Sunset Park, Brooklyn.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor is faced with major funding and program decisions: how much to contribute to the MTA; how the BQX will be paid for; where to install ferry landings and when; whether to invest public dollars to speed Citi Bike’s move into new neighborhoods; and whether to fund the “fair fares” proposal that would provide subsidized Metrocards to poor New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio is also facing questions about costs related to the ferry system and BQX: fares for each will be pegged to the price of a subway ride, according to the mayor, but there will not necessarily be fare integration, which would allow a free transfer from, say, the BQX to a subway near the route.</p> <p dir="ltr">On “fair fares,” de Blasio has thus far argued the city cannot afford its estimated $212 million annual price tag and said it should be the state’s responsibility anyway. For some, this has detracted from de Blasio’s equity mantel, and a broad coalition of groups and individuals are calling on him to reconsider. Meanwhile, the MTA chair has said it is a city responsibility, calling it a “social program,” not under the MTA’s purview.</p> <p dir="ltr">In its April 3 response to de Blasio’s fiscal year 2018 preliminary budget, the City Council offered the mayor a $50 million compromise for a pilot fair fares program. Nancy Rankin, vice president of policy, research and advocacy for the Community Service Society and City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the transportation committee, discussed the specifics of that proposal outside a City Hall subway station on Wednesday. They explained a three-year ramp-up proposal to fully fund fair fares: first for the 380,000 New Yorkers living in “deep poverty” (families of three making less than $10,00 per year, or families of four making less than $12,000) and eventually for all 800,000 living in poverty.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Look, it’s a world of choices,” de Blasio said at a March press conference centered around his Vision Zero street safety program, when asked why he was subsidizing the ferry service but wouldn’t back the fair fares plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Your choices matter” happens to be a slogan de Blasio has used, alongside the NYPD, when promoting Vision Zero. De Blasio has encouraged New Yorkers, especially drivers, to be more careful, and has put largely successful efforts in motion to reduce pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist fatalities. While it is not exactly about transit options or equity, per se, Vision Zero has a transportation focus and implicit in its safety goals is the use of bikes and expansion of bike lanes.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio’s transportation choices have received mixed reviews -- some wonder if the BQX will actually get built, while some question if it should, for example -- and the mayor has promised an imminent plan to battle congestion on city streets, especially in Manhattan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Paul Steely-White, executive director of advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, told Gotham Gazette in an interview last year that he believes “the city should get more intentional and more systematic in terms of how it's addressing these different options, and how they are going to be greater than the sum of their parts.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Though he did admit he has not shown that overall vision, the mayor thinks that things are going well. “What the city is doing on its own and what the MTA is doing, I think they’re complementary,” de Blasio told Gotham Gazette at a March press conference. “You look at the routes and how they function, I’m very comfortable with the fact that everything is supporting everything else.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think there is a vision in that we’re grabbing every opportunity to fill gaps and reach places that don’t have enough service and it’s moving very steadily by any measure,” the mayor said. “You look at just over the last few years, the growth of Select Bus Service, the ferry system coming online after 100 years, the light rail...I feel good.” The mayor did not acknowledge that much of what he was citing is not yet functional.</p> <p dir="ltr">While de Blasio might characterize his approach as “filling gaps” left by the subway system, others see it as disjointed. “It’s not a comprehensive plan,” Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute told Gotham Gazette in a 2016 interview. “It makes for part of a plan, but it shouldn’t be a whole plan.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked what would constitute a comprehensive plan, Gelinas offered the following: “a goal of something like, you can get anywhere in the five boroughs within 45 minutes…and saying, what do we need to do to make that happen.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Others prefer to point a finger at Gov. Cuomo, arguing that de Blasio is handicapped by the MTA governing structure, the same structure that has Cuomo eyeing a $65 million cut in MTA operations funding, a move being met with significant opposition as state budget talks wind down.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The mayor does not control the MTA, he does not control the subways, and that's really a problem...so what the mayor's doing with the BQX, with Select Bus Service, the ferries, and Citi Bike, is really focusing on what he can control...that I think is a very smart direction to go in, because we can't count on the state, we can't count on the governor,” said Steely-White.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kabak, of Second Avenue Sagas, said last year that he believes for de Blasio, “some of it is perspective...I think he just doesn't have a good grasp of what transit means to so many people in New York.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>BQX</strong><br />The Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) is a 16-mile streetcar system that, if approved, will stretch from Astoria to Sunset Park. De Blasio announced his vision for the project as a centerpiece of his 2016 State of the City address, explaining that it would be an essential piece of his fight for more equity.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The BQX has the potential to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” he said at the time.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the espoused intention behind the BQX is to connect residents of Brooklyn and Queens, especially those in several public housing projects, to job-laden areas along the East River or other transportation into Manhattan, the proposal has been met with considerable skepticism from those who argue that it will only raise real estate prices and advance gentrification.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an interview with Gotham Gazette last year, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg dismissed such claims. “Equity was a huge part of it…I’m not sure we would have been able to convince the mayor if it was only luxury housing, or some of the hipsters moving in. I think what really turned a corner is that there are 44,000 people that live in public housing [along the proposed route]...So I see everything that comes out of the administration through the glasses of, ‘is this good for lower income people?’”</p> <p dir="ltr">Critics wary of too much government-developer collusion have pointed to the involvement of developers such as Jed Walentas, CEO of Two Trees Management, who sits on the executive committee of Friends of the BQX, a non-profit set up to rally public support for the project. While this partnership might make sense considering increased property values are essential to the financing plan for the BQX, which the city says will largely pay for itself, it nevertheless does not sit well with some.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This seems to be very driven by Two Trees, who own a lot of property in DUMBO, and are looking at ways to make that area more accessible,” said Kabak. “So it's a transportation proposal that's put forward by a private entity that stands to gain and may not really solve the problem that the city has regarding mobility.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Some experts, however, are more optimistic. “If anything,” Steely-White of Transportation Alternatives said, “we're recommending that the mayor go even further in this direction, looking at more innovating financing mechanisms for city-led transit expansions…if you look at the innovative, value-capture approach they're taking to the BQX, you know, there's no reason that or other similar approaches could not be used to do more.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Steely-White was referring to a New York City Economic Development Corporation <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/176-16/mayor-de-blasio-details-latest-plans-the-brooklyn-queens-connector--new-21st-century-transit#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimate</a> that the $2.5 billion for the BQX will be recaptured by the city as it takes a percentage of increased property values and development each year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It very well might pay for itself,” said Gelinas, when asked about the BQX, “but that doesn't make it our top transit priority…improving capacity along a very crowded [subway] line may not pay for itself directly, but it affects more people.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has not voiced any intentions to pursue subway expansion, though he did celebrate the opening of phase one of the Second Avenue Subway extension. He <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6767-little-progress-made-on-utica-avenue-subway-expansion-study" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has not pushed to advance the Utica Avenue extension in Brooklyn</a> that many want to see made a priority by the city and state.</p> <p dir="ltr">Transit equity advocates have one major concern about the BQX: whether it will allow for free transfers between the streetcar and MTA-operated buses and subways it is projected to connect with. Such a one-swipe ride would take negotiation between the city and the MTA, and some kind of financial plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">If construction adheres to schedule, work on the BQX will begin in 2019-2020, with the first streetcar expected to be running by 2024, long after de Blasio is out of office, even if he serves two terms.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Ferry Service</strong><br />In addition to the BQX, the de Blasio administration has also been moving forward on bolstering the city’s ferry service. The only public ferry route currently operating is the Staten Island Ferry, which the administration <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/662-15/mayor-bill-de-blasio-dot-commissioner-trottenberg-full-implementation-30-minute" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">moved</a> to run every 30 minutes 24-hours per day, as opposed to the hourly schedule it previously offered during off-peak hours.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an effort to address overcrowding on the subway and provide waterfront commuters with increased transportation access, the city has teamed up with Hornblower, a San Francisco-based boat provider, to build a fleet of city-owned ferries that will eventually provide regular service to all five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If you talk to people in the Rockaways, if you talk to people in South Brooklyn, if you talk to people in Soundview in the Bronx, they will tell you that they didn’t feel like this City’s transportation system was built for them,” de Blasio told reporters at a recent press conference.</p> <p dir="ltr">The project will receive an initial $55 million capital investment, with an additional $30 million expected to be infused each year over six years. The citywide service is expected to serve 4.5 million passengers annually with stops in Astoria, Far Rockaway, and along the Brooklyn coastline that are projected to be operational by the summer of 2017. Additional stops are scheduled to be added to Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the Bronx in 2018, with further expansion likely to include Staten Island and other stops.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked about additional stops, especially to include spots further south on Staten Island, de Blasio was receptive, but non-committal. “I am very open to making additions after we see how the initial runs go…if they continue to be productive, we’ll be open to expansion,” the mayor said. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">However, as with the BQX, there is significant concern among experts that the ferries constitute an ill-advised investment. Arguing that de Blasio is wasting his time with the ferries, Gelinas told Gotham Gazette that “we’re still dealing with the margins…the ferries won’t do in a year what the subway system does in a day.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Kabak agreed, describing the ferry proposal as “very limited in its scope, in that it really only has an impact on people who live very close to the waterfront.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about these concerns, Trottenberg argued that the waterfront was actually targeted specifically because “we have a good number of low-income areas along the waterfront,” adding that “the catchment area for the Brooklyn Navy Yard has lots of jobs, meaning the city suddenly takes in Red Hook, suddenly takes in some of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn with lower income.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio echoed this notion at a recent press conference about the service and the jobs it is both creating and helping New Yorkers get to: “We’re here at the Navy Yard because we really want to focus on the impact and the connection to jobs with citywide ferry service…We really wanted all of the jobs associated with citywide ferry service to be here, if that was possible to do, that was our goal. And we found with the Brooklyn Navy Yard an extraordinary partner.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Citi Bike</strong><br />The Mayor’s Office <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/980-16/mayor-de-blasio-that-citi-bike-rides-surged-40-percent-2016----nearly-14-million-trips" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> that Citi Bike saw a 40% increase in ridership in 2016, with 4 million more trips taken than in 2015. As the program has <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/469-16/mayor-de-blasio-motivate-citi-continued-expansion-the-citi-bike-program-further">expanded</a> further into Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, ridership has increased each year, with almost 14 million trips in 2016.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are growing calls, though, for Citi Bike to expand into more neighborhoods, especially low-income neighborhoods, even if it means a public subsidy, which Mayor de Blasio has said he has no intention to pursue.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Citi Bike has already been touted by transit equity advocates as a positive development. “The biking and walking improvements that have been made are absolutely benefiting lower-income New Yorkers who are more reliant on transit and therefore more reliant on walking,” said Steely-White. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Commissioner Trottenberg agreed, saying she supports more investment in walking and biking options and that she “would love to see a bridge across the East River for bicycles and pedestrians.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Given its success, both advocates and elected officials are now calling for Citi Bike to expand to less-accessible outerborough communities and the upper reaches of Manhattan. In November, the City Council put forth a proposal to expand the program to every neighborhood across the five boroughs by 2020. Trottenberg testified <a href="http://www.amny.com/transit/citi-bike-expansion-council-majority-supports-public-funding-option-1.12978524" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at a recent hearing</a> that a citywide program would require as many as 80,000 bikes. The current fleet is up to 10,000 and is on pace to grow by 2,000 every year, meaning a hefty funding increase would be needed to expand citywide by 2020.</p> <p dir="ltr">“When Citi Bike was created, it was created mostly thinking about the financial center,” Council Member Rodriguez, the transportation committee chair, told Gotham Gazette at a January press conference. “Now there’s a lot of transportation deserts that we have in the South Bronx, that we have in Brooklyn, that we have in Queens, that [Citi Bike] can be benefitting to,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it is unclear where the capital for such an expansion would come from, a City Council majority, led by Rodriguez, has called on de Blasio to incorporate the necessary funds into the 2018 budget. Rejecting this possibility, de Blasio told Gotham Gazette in January, “we have no plans for public financing of Citi Bike.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In its April response to the mayor’s preliminary budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, the Council stood fast on its position, officially proposing that de Blasio add $12 million of baseline funding to the DOT’s allotment for Citi Bike expansion.</p> <p dir="ltr">Whether it is Citi Bike reach or other options, the de Blasio administration believes his transportation efforts are addressing equity. “The Mayor…has made strides in creating a more equitable transportation system by offering multiple solutions that are tailored to the needs of specific communities,” wrote Raul Contreras, a deputy press secretary for de Blasio, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “[T]he development of brand new transportation options, such as Citibike, ferries and the BQX, impacts the lives of all New Yorkers, no matter what their socioeconomic status may be,” Contreras argued.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Vision Zero</strong><br />Connected to transportation is de Blasio’s street safety program, Vision Zero, which ambitiously aims to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024. The de Blasio administration, along with the City Council, took aggressive measures to begin implementation of Vision Zero in 2014 and quickly saw impressive results in reducing pedestrian, bicyclist, and motorist deaths.</p> <p dir="ltr">There were 223 total traffic deaths in New York City in 2016; down from 233 in 2015; and 258 in 2014, which was the mayor’s first year in office. Though there was strong initial progress, the rate of decline must advance quickly to meet the goals set forth -- advocates and local officials are calling for additional street redesigns, changes to traffic signals, more protected bike lanes, and other adjustments.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has succeeded in lowering the city’s default speed limit to 25 mph, installing more speed cameras around schools, instituting the “Dusk and Darkness” initiative, and redesigning Queens Boulevard, aka “the Boulevard of Death,” among other advancements under Vision Zero.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, Steely-White said he saw a lack of full investment from de Blasio. “We're really looking for a much greater contribution in the city budget to the DOT, to undertake specifically those street safety fixes,” Steely-White said, “signal timing, street design, that don't really entail massive digging up of the street and all of that very involved capital work…so really now the ball is in the mayor's court. Will he fully fund Vision Zero or not?”</p> <p dir="ltr">At the Vision Zero press conference this January, de Blasio did announce an additional $370 million in funding for a variety of street redesigns. Admitting that “there’s a lot more to do,” de Blasio stressed that “a lot of the impact of Vision Zero has not been felt fully yet because it keeps building each year.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are celebrating the good news today that with $370 million in additional capital funding over the next five years, more intersections will see the fully constructed upgrades that they need to keep the number of deaths and injuries on our streets falling,” Council Member Rodriguez said in a January statement.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Reality</strong><br />Many want the city to have more control of the subway and bus systems. “If you look at what New York contributes as a whole in terms of all the taxes that fund the MTA, it's really largely New York City resources that are funding the system, and yet we still have very little control,” Steely-White said, before suggesting to start “thinking more holistically about our transportation system and maybe even starting to make a case for the city taking over some functions that the MTA currently performs.”</p> <p dir="ltr">On the city-state dynamic, de Blasio indicated some progress. “In terms of Select Bus Service, which again in ridership terms is hugely important, that is a partnership between the city and the MTA that is functioning very well and is based on systematically determining where there are gaps we need to fill,” the mayor said.</p> <p>Commissioner Trottenberg, who sits on the MTA board, discussed the imperfect system. “Look, it's a challenge in New York...the transportation system here is broken up among several agencies -- you have city DOT, you have the MTA, you have the Port Authority, you have state DOT -- but I think all of us who run those agencies recognize that it's part of our responsibility to work together to create a seamless transportation system,” Trottenberg said. “If you're the customer, if you're a New Yorker trying to travel around the city, you don't care what agency it is, you just want to get where you're going.”</p> <p>

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by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

</p>
<p dir="ltr"><img src="http://www.gothamgazette.com/images/graphics/2017/26512250791_ab13b3e79e_z.jpg" alt="de blasio subway" width="600" height="400" /></p> <p dir="ltr">Mayor de Blasio on the subway (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)</p> <hr /> <p dir="ltr">Announcing the next steps of his citywide ferry service initiative at a recent press conference, Mayor Bill de Blasio said he is pleased with what his administration has done to improve transit options for New Yorkers, but admitted that he hasn’t put forth a coherent, comprehensive transportation agenda.</p> <p dir="ltr">Though transit experts have praised some of de Blasio’s moves to expand the city’s transportation network, many have also criticized what they call a piecemeal approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about that assessment by Gotham Gazette, as well as restrictions he faces in enacting a transportation agenda given that the city is reliant on the MTA, a state authority, de Blasio said that a lot is moving in the right direction. Pointing to a few examples, he claimed “pretty impressive growth in a city that already has a lot of mass transit.” But, de Blasio acknowledged, “What I don’t think we’ve done is sort of put it together in a single statement for people to see how all the pieces connect, and I think that is a commendable idea.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio appeared to think for the first time about having and presenting an overall transportation agenda, perhaps indicative of the fact that he has not approached transportation like he has education or affordable housing.</p> <p dir="ltr">Like virtually all policy areas, transportation is complex, expensive, and challenging in New York City. For many driving New Yorkers, the top concerns are traffic congestion and smoothly paved roads. For others, the focus, and often the ire, are the city’s subway and bus networks, which are largely controlled by the MTA, which includes several board members appointed by the mayor, and is funded through city and state monies. The majority of the power at the MTA resides with the state, which also allocates a larger portion of the MTA budget.</p> <p dir="ltr">An age-old problem for New York City mayors, though, is that New Yorkers don’t always realize that the MTA is a state authority, and therefore blame the mayor for travel woes. Mayor de Blasio has taken to a common refrain when the MTA comes up during interviews or press conferences: “The MTA subways, buses are run by the State of New York. That is their process to work through. We contribute money to the MTA, but the ultimate decisions are made by the State of New York,” de Blasio said during an interview Tuesday morning on Hot 97 radio.</p> <p dir="ltr">The city can propose its own funding for subway extensions, as Mayor Michael Bloomberg did with the 7 train to the far west side of Manhattan, and influence Select Bus Service routes, which are essentially express buses. The city, through its mayor and MTA board members and state legislators, also has influence over many other MTA decisions.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it is important that any mayoral administration work with the MTA -- additionally challenging these days given the ongoing feud between de Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo -- the mayor and his Department of Transportation must find other ways to leave a meaningful impact on city transit, especially in terms of expanding options as the city population, tourism to the city, and subway ridership all swell.</p> <p dir="ltr">On Tuesday morning, de Blasio said that the city must move on transit projects no matter what is happening at the MTA. “[I]t takes a long time for the MTA to do anything that’s big and new,” the mayor said. “We’re able to do these things a lot quicker,” he said, referring to his administration’s efforts on ferries, bike-sharing, and a streetcar project coming to the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront. “We’re starting them up now, and we’re doing a lot of the Select Bus Service in parts of the outer boroughs that were underserved, so those are, you know, faster buses that are very appealing to people because they can cut their commute a lot.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Additionally, for de Blasio the issue of “transit equity” is part of the discussion in ways it was not for his predecessors, given that the mayor was elected on an equity platform. Where his transportation initiatives reach and what they cost riders are of utmost importance as de Blasio attempts to increase economic mobility and shrink opportunity gaps.</p> <p dir="ltr">Three-plus years in, the de Blasio administration has basically established that three-pronged approach to expanding mass transportation options in the city: ferries, Citi Bike, and the Brooklyn-Queens Connector (or BQX) streetcar. Most of this agenda has not come online yet, though. Each reaches or is projected to reach some key, underserved communities and offers attractive alternatives or supplements to the subway and bus map. But, as de Blasio himself appeared to acknowledge, the pieces have not necessarily made for a comprehensive city approach.</p> <p dir="ltr">These proposals are “piecemeal at best,” said Ben Kabak, who writes the popular Second Avenue Sagas blog, which has focused on the Second Avenue Subway extension but deals with city transit more broadly. “It's hard to say that his administration even actually has a comprehensive plan for transit.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The new ferry service, which will launch this summer, will build out over multiple years; the streetcar is in the planning stages and a few years off; and the ongoing expansion of Citi Bike continues. These marquee measures each fit into the de Blasio equity frame in different ways, though they each also have limitations in that regard.</p> <p dir="ltr">“We’re creating alternatives for people,” de Blasio told Hot 97. “We’re going to have citywide ferry service starting this year, and including some communities that have really been left out of the equation like Soundview in the Bronx and the Rockaways…We’re [also] talking about a light rail system from Astoria, Queens down to Sunset Park, Brooklyn.”</p> <p dir="ltr">The mayor is faced with major funding and program decisions: how much to contribute to the MTA; how the BQX will be paid for; where to install ferry landings and when; whether to invest public dollars to speed Citi Bike’s move into new neighborhoods; and whether to fund the “fair fares” proposal that would provide subsidized Metrocards to poor New Yorkers.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio is also facing questions about costs related to the ferry system and BQX: fares for each will be pegged to the price of a subway ride, according to the mayor, but there will not necessarily be fare integration, which would allow a free transfer from, say, the BQX to a subway near the route.</p> <p dir="ltr">On “fair fares,” de Blasio has thus far argued the city cannot afford its estimated $212 million annual price tag and said it should be the state’s responsibility anyway. For some, this has detracted from de Blasio’s equity mantel, and a broad coalition of groups and individuals are calling on him to reconsider. Meanwhile, the MTA chair has said it is a city responsibility, calling it a “social program,” not under the MTA’s purview.</p> <p dir="ltr">In its April 3 response to de Blasio’s fiscal year 2018 preliminary budget, the City Council offered the mayor a $50 million compromise for a pilot fair fares program. Nancy Rankin, vice president of policy, research and advocacy for the Community Service Society and City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the transportation committee, discussed the specifics of that proposal outside a City Hall subway station on Wednesday. They explained a three-year ramp-up proposal to fully fund fair fares: first for the 380,000 New Yorkers living in “deep poverty” (families of three making less than $10,00 per year, or families of four making less than $12,000) and eventually for all 800,000 living in poverty.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Look, it’s a world of choices,” de Blasio said at a March press conference centered around his Vision Zero street safety program, when asked why he was subsidizing the ferry service but wouldn’t back the fair fares plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">“Your choices matter” happens to be a slogan de Blasio has used, alongside the NYPD, when promoting Vision Zero. De Blasio has encouraged New Yorkers, especially drivers, to be more careful, and has put largely successful efforts in motion to reduce pedestrian, cyclist, and motorist fatalities. While it is not exactly about transit options or equity, per se, Vision Zero has a transportation focus and implicit in its safety goals is the use of bikes and expansion of bike lanes.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio’s transportation choices have received mixed reviews -- some wonder if the BQX will actually get built, while some question if it should, for example -- and the mayor has promised an imminent plan to battle congestion on city streets, especially in Manhattan.</p> <p dir="ltr">Paul Steely-White, executive director of advocacy group Transportation Alternatives, told Gotham Gazette in an interview last year that he believes “the city should get more intentional and more systematic in terms of how it's addressing these different options, and how they are going to be greater than the sum of their parts.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Though he did admit he has not shown that overall vision, the mayor thinks that things are going well. “What the city is doing on its own and what the MTA is doing, I think they’re complementary,” de Blasio told Gotham Gazette at a March press conference. “You look at the routes and how they function, I’m very comfortable with the fact that everything is supporting everything else.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“I think there is a vision in that we’re grabbing every opportunity to fill gaps and reach places that don’t have enough service and it’s moving very steadily by any measure,” the mayor said. “You look at just over the last few years, the growth of Select Bus Service, the ferry system coming online after 100 years, the light rail...I feel good.” The mayor did not acknowledge that much of what he was citing is not yet functional.</p> <p dir="ltr">While de Blasio might characterize his approach as “filling gaps” left by the subway system, others see it as disjointed. “It’s not a comprehensive plan,” Nicole Gelinas of the Manhattan Institute told Gotham Gazette in a 2016 interview. “It makes for part of a plan, but it shouldn’t be a whole plan.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked what would constitute a comprehensive plan, Gelinas offered the following: “a goal of something like, you can get anywhere in the five boroughs within 45 minutes…and saying, what do we need to do to make that happen.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Others prefer to point a finger at Gov. Cuomo, arguing that de Blasio is handicapped by the MTA governing structure, the same structure that has Cuomo eyeing a $65 million cut in MTA operations funding, a move being met with significant opposition as state budget talks wind down.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The mayor does not control the MTA, he does not control the subways, and that's really a problem...so what the mayor's doing with the BQX, with Select Bus Service, the ferries, and Citi Bike, is really focusing on what he can control...that I think is a very smart direction to go in, because we can't count on the state, we can't count on the governor,” said Steely-White.</p> <p dir="ltr">Kabak, of Second Avenue Sagas, said last year that he believes for de Blasio, “some of it is perspective...I think he just doesn't have a good grasp of what transit means to so many people in New York.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>BQX</strong><br />The Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) is a 16-mile streetcar system that, if approved, will stretch from Astoria to Sunset Park. De Blasio announced his vision for the project as a centerpiece of his 2016 State of the City address, explaining that it would be an essential piece of his fight for more equity.</p> <p dir="ltr">“The BQX has the potential to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” he said at the time.</p> <p dir="ltr">While the espoused intention behind the BQX is to connect residents of Brooklyn and Queens, especially those in several public housing projects, to job-laden areas along the East River or other transportation into Manhattan, the proposal has been met with considerable skepticism from those who argue that it will only raise real estate prices and advance gentrification.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an interview with Gotham Gazette last year, DOT Commissioner Polly Trottenberg dismissed such claims. “Equity was a huge part of it…I’m not sure we would have been able to convince the mayor if it was only luxury housing, or some of the hipsters moving in. I think what really turned a corner is that there are 44,000 people that live in public housing [along the proposed route]...So I see everything that comes out of the administration through the glasses of, ‘is this good for lower income people?’”</p> <p dir="ltr">Critics wary of too much government-developer collusion have pointed to the involvement of developers such as Jed Walentas, CEO of Two Trees Management, who sits on the executive committee of Friends of the BQX, a non-profit set up to rally public support for the project. While this partnership might make sense considering increased property values are essential to the financing plan for the BQX, which the city says will largely pay for itself, it nevertheless does not sit well with some.</p> <p dir="ltr">“This seems to be very driven by Two Trees, who own a lot of property in DUMBO, and are looking at ways to make that area more accessible,” said Kabak. “So it's a transportation proposal that's put forward by a private entity that stands to gain and may not really solve the problem that the city has regarding mobility.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Some experts, however, are more optimistic. “If anything,” Steely-White of Transportation Alternatives said, “we're recommending that the mayor go even further in this direction, looking at more innovating financing mechanisms for city-led transit expansions…if you look at the innovative, value-capture approach they're taking to the BQX, you know, there's no reason that or other similar approaches could not be used to do more.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Steely-White was referring to a New York City Economic Development Corporation <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/176-16/mayor-de-blasio-details-latest-plans-the-brooklyn-queens-connector--new-21st-century-transit#/0" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">estimate</a> that the $2.5 billion for the BQX will be recaptured by the city as it takes a percentage of increased property values and development each year.</p> <p dir="ltr">“It very well might pay for itself,” said Gelinas, when asked about the BQX, “but that doesn't make it our top transit priority…improving capacity along a very crowded [subway] line may not pay for itself directly, but it affects more people.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has not voiced any intentions to pursue subway expansion, though he did celebrate the opening of phase one of the Second Avenue Subway extension. He <a href="http://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6767-little-progress-made-on-utica-avenue-subway-expansion-study" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">has not pushed to advance the Utica Avenue extension in Brooklyn</a> that many want to see made a priority by the city and state.</p> <p dir="ltr">Transit equity advocates have one major concern about the BQX: whether it will allow for free transfers between the streetcar and MTA-operated buses and subways it is projected to connect with. Such a one-swipe ride would take negotiation between the city and the MTA, and some kind of financial plan.</p> <p dir="ltr">If construction adheres to schedule, work on the BQX will begin in 2019-2020, with the first streetcar expected to be running by 2024, long after de Blasio is out of office, even if he serves two terms.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Ferry Service</strong><br />In addition to the BQX, the de Blasio administration has also been moving forward on bolstering the city’s ferry service. The only public ferry route currently operating is the Staten Island Ferry, which the administration <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/662-15/mayor-bill-de-blasio-dot-commissioner-trottenberg-full-implementation-30-minute" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">moved</a> to run every 30 minutes 24-hours per day, as opposed to the hourly schedule it previously offered during off-peak hours.</p> <p dir="ltr">In an effort to address overcrowding on the subway and provide waterfront commuters with increased transportation access, the city has teamed up with Hornblower, a San Francisco-based boat provider, to build a fleet of city-owned ferries that will eventually provide regular service to all five boroughs.</p> <p dir="ltr">“If you talk to people in the Rockaways, if you talk to people in South Brooklyn, if you talk to people in Soundview in the Bronx, they will tell you that they didn’t feel like this City’s transportation system was built for them,” de Blasio told reporters at a recent press conference.</p> <p dir="ltr">The project will receive an initial $55 million capital investment, with an additional $30 million expected to be infused each year over six years. The citywide service is expected to serve 4.5 million passengers annually with stops in Astoria, Far Rockaway, and along the Brooklyn coastline that are projected to be operational by the summer of 2017. Additional stops are scheduled to be added to Manhattan’s Lower East Side and the Bronx in 2018, with further expansion likely to include Staten Island and other stops.</p> <p dir="ltr">When asked about additional stops, especially to include spots further south on Staten Island, de Blasio was receptive, but non-committal. “I am very open to making additions after we see how the initial runs go…if they continue to be productive, we’ll be open to expansion,” the mayor said. &nbsp;&nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">However, as with the BQX, there is significant concern among experts that the ferries constitute an ill-advised investment. Arguing that de Blasio is wasting his time with the ferries, Gelinas told Gotham Gazette that “we’re still dealing with the margins…the ferries won’t do in a year what the subway system does in a day.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Kabak agreed, describing the ferry proposal as “very limited in its scope, in that it really only has an impact on people who live very close to the waterfront.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Asked about these concerns, Trottenberg argued that the waterfront was actually targeted specifically because “we have a good number of low-income areas along the waterfront,” adding that “the catchment area for the Brooklyn Navy Yard has lots of jobs, meaning the city suddenly takes in Red Hook, suddenly takes in some of the neighborhoods in Brooklyn with lower income.”</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio echoed this notion at a recent press conference about the service and the jobs it is both creating and helping New Yorkers get to: “We’re here at the Navy Yard because we really want to focus on the impact and the connection to jobs with citywide ferry service…We really wanted all of the jobs associated with citywide ferry service to be here, if that was possible to do, that was our goal. And we found with the Brooklyn Navy Yard an extraordinary partner.”</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Citi Bike</strong><br />The Mayor’s Office <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/980-16/mayor-de-blasio-that-citi-bike-rides-surged-40-percent-2016----nearly-14-million-trips" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">reported</a> that Citi Bike saw a 40% increase in ridership in 2016, with 4 million more trips taken than in 2015. As the program has <a href="http://www1.nyc.gov/office-of-the-mayor/news/469-16/mayor-de-blasio-motivate-citi-continued-expansion-the-citi-bike-program-further">expanded</a> further into Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, ridership has increased each year, with almost 14 million trips in 2016.</p> <p dir="ltr">There are growing calls, though, for Citi Bike to expand into more neighborhoods, especially low-income neighborhoods, even if it means a public subsidy, which Mayor de Blasio has said he has no intention to pursue.</p> <p dir="ltr">Still, Citi Bike has already been touted by transit equity advocates as a positive development. “The biking and walking improvements that have been made are absolutely benefiting lower-income New Yorkers who are more reliant on transit and therefore more reliant on walking,” said Steely-White. &nbsp;</p> <p dir="ltr">Commissioner Trottenberg agreed, saying she supports more investment in walking and biking options and that she “would love to see a bridge across the East River for bicycles and pedestrians.”</p> <p dir="ltr">Given its success, both advocates and elected officials are now calling for Citi Bike to expand to less-accessible outerborough communities and the upper reaches of Manhattan. In November, the City Council put forth a proposal to expand the program to every neighborhood across the five boroughs by 2020. Trottenberg testified <a href="http://www.amny.com/transit/citi-bike-expansion-council-majority-supports-public-funding-option-1.12978524" target="_blank" rel="noopener noreferrer">at a recent hearing</a> that a citywide program would require as many as 80,000 bikes. The current fleet is up to 10,000 and is on pace to grow by 2,000 every year, meaning a hefty funding increase would be needed to expand citywide by 2020.</p> <p dir="ltr">“When Citi Bike was created, it was created mostly thinking about the financial center,” Council Member Rodriguez, the transportation committee chair, told Gotham Gazette at a January press conference. “Now there’s a lot of transportation deserts that we have in the South Bronx, that we have in Brooklyn, that we have in Queens, that [Citi Bike] can be benefitting to,” he said.</p> <p dir="ltr">While it is unclear where the capital for such an expansion would come from, a City Council majority, led by Rodriguez, has called on de Blasio to incorporate the necessary funds into the 2018 budget. Rejecting this possibility, de Blasio told Gotham Gazette in January, “we have no plans for public financing of Citi Bike.”</p> <p dir="ltr">In its April response to the mayor’s preliminary budget proposal for fiscal year 2018, the Council stood fast on its position, officially proposing that de Blasio add $12 million of baseline funding to the DOT’s allotment for Citi Bike expansion.</p> <p dir="ltr">Whether it is Citi Bike reach or other options, the de Blasio administration believes his transportation efforts are addressing equity. “The Mayor…has made strides in creating a more equitable transportation system by offering multiple solutions that are tailored to the needs of specific communities,” wrote Raul Contreras, a deputy press secretary for de Blasio, in an email to Gotham Gazette. “[T]he development of brand new transportation options, such as Citibike, ferries and the BQX, impacts the lives of all New Yorkers, no matter what their socioeconomic status may be,” Contreras argued.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Vision Zero</strong><br />Connected to transportation is de Blasio’s street safety program, Vision Zero, which ambitiously aims to eliminate traffic fatalities by 2024. The de Blasio administration, along with the City Council, took aggressive measures to begin implementation of Vision Zero in 2014 and quickly saw impressive results in reducing pedestrian, bicyclist, and motorist deaths.</p> <p dir="ltr">There were 223 total traffic deaths in New York City in 2016; down from 233 in 2015; and 258 in 2014, which was the mayor’s first year in office. Though there was strong initial progress, the rate of decline must advance quickly to meet the goals set forth -- advocates and local officials are calling for additional street redesigns, changes to traffic signals, more protected bike lanes, and other adjustments.</p> <p dir="ltr">De Blasio has succeeded in lowering the city’s default speed limit to 25 mph, installing more speed cameras around schools, instituting the “Dusk and Darkness” initiative, and redesigning Queens Boulevard, aka “the Boulevard of Death,” among other advancements under Vision Zero.</p> <p dir="ltr">Last year, Steely-White said he saw a lack of full investment from de Blasio. “We're really looking for a much greater contribution in the city budget to the DOT, to undertake specifically those street safety fixes,” Steely-White said, “signal timing, street design, that don't really entail massive digging up of the street and all of that very involved capital work…so really now the ball is in the mayor's court. Will he fully fund Vision Zero or not?”</p> <p dir="ltr">At the Vision Zero press conference this January, de Blasio did announce an additional $370 million in funding for a variety of street redesigns. Admitting that “there’s a lot more to do,” de Blasio stressed that “a lot of the impact of Vision Zero has not been felt fully yet because it keeps building each year.”</p> <p dir="ltr">“We are celebrating the good news today that with $370 million in additional capital funding over the next five years, more intersections will see the fully constructed upgrades that they need to keep the number of deaths and injuries on our streets falling,” Council Member Rodriguez said in a January statement.</p> <p dir="ltr"><strong>Reality</strong><br />Many want the city to have more control of the subway and bus systems. “If you look at what New York contributes as a whole in terms of all the taxes that fund the MTA, it's really largely New York City resources that are funding the system, and yet we still have very little control,” Steely-White said, before suggesting to start “thinking more holistically about our transportation system and maybe even starting to make a case for the city taking over some functions that the MTA currently performs.”</p> <p dir="ltr">On the city-state dynamic, de Blasio indicated some progress. “In terms of Select Bus Service, which again in ridership terms is hugely important, that is a partnership between the city and the MTA that is functioning very well and is based on systematically determining where there are gaps we need to fill,” the mayor said.</p> <p>Commissioner Trottenberg, who sits on the MTA board, discussed the imperfect system. “Look, it's a challenge in New York...the transportation system here is broken up among several agencies -- you have city DOT, you have the MTA, you have the Port Authority, you have state DOT -- but I think all of us who run those agencies recognize that it's part of our responsibility to work together to create a seamless transportation system,” Trottenberg said. “If you're the customer, if you're a New Yorker trying to travel around the city, you don't care what agency it is, you just want to get where you're going.”</p> <p>

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by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

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