Gotham Gazette http://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/578 Fri, 20 Oct 2017 12:22:52 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) At Oversight Hearing, Council Members Seek Answers on MTA Funding and Operations http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7116:at-oversight-hearing-questions-about-black-hole-of-mta-funding http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=7116:at-oversight-hearing-questions-about-black-hole-of-mta-funding 12756177594 f792aac7b9 z

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez (photo William Alatriste/New York City Council)


At a contentious hours-long hearing held on Tuesday by the the City Council’s Committee on Transportation, Council members grilled representatives of the Metropolitan Transportation Authority (MTA) on the problems facing the city’s transit infrastructure and the challenges of finding both short- and long-term funding streams to adequately maintain and upgrade the city’s subway system.

The hearing comes amid an increasingly testy fight between the city and state over the MTA’s recently announced $836 million rescue plan for the crisis affecting the city’s subways. MTA Chair Joe Lhota, recently appointed by Governor Andrew Cuomo, has insisted that the city provide $456 million for the emergency upgrade plan to stabilize the system over the next year. Mayor Bill de Blasio has refused to bear those costs, pointing to an equal amount of city-issued funds that have been diverted since 2011 by the state from their intended use in MTA operations. De Blasio on Monday proposed increasing taxes on the wealthy to fund the MTA, but the proposal was quickly dismissed by state Senate Republicans who would have to approve it.

Tuesday’s hearing kicked off with testimony from MTA Managing Director Veronique Hakim, Management and Budget Director Doug Johnson, and New York City Transit Authority Executive Vice President Tim Mulligan. The three fielded questions from members of the transportation committee, Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito and Public Advocate Letitia James. Council members largely focused on the costs of modernizing the subway system as well as accessibility issues, but were routinely frustrated by the inability of the MTA representatives to delineate specific figures such as the costs of tunnel construction per mile or of installing elevators at subway stations.

Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito emphasized that the city is already providing ample funds to the MTA and bristled at the suggestion that it was shirking its responsibility to fund the agency. “I understand the MTA is a creature of the state and therefore you respond to the governor, but to make it seem that the governor is being so magnanimous and that this city is rejecting its responsibility, I'm not going to sit here and accept that,” she said.

MTA budget director Johnson later attempted to clarify that the $456 million in MTA operating funds from the city, which Mayor de Blasio claims have been diverted elsewhere by the state, were in fact shifted to the MTA’s capital plan and were a form of “relief” for the operating budget.

Mark-Viverito also sought answers on how the MTA prioritized capital projects and controlled costs. “The cost of building subway tunnels in other cities is between $200 million and $1 billion per mile; when we were in phase one of the second avenue subway that cost was approximately $2.3 billion per mile,” Mark-Viverito said, asking MTA’s Hakim what led to the discrepancy.

Hakim pointed out that the city poses its own unique challenges, both physical and regulatory, for infrastructure upgrades. “In other parts of the globe, when subway systems are being built or expanded, they do not remotely come close to the challenges that we face here in New York City,” she said. “You see it when you go by a utility construction pit and you look and are amazed at the spaghetti of utilities you have to deal with underground.”

Mark-Viverito seemed dissatisfied with the response, and emphasized that she was “very disappointed that Chairman Lhota is not here himself, especially considering the significant amount of money he has asked the City to contribute to the MTA’s plan.” Later, when asked by reporters about Lhota’s absence, she said, “I do find it disrespectful.”

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, the chair of the committee, recounted his recent experiences on a listening tour on the subways, totalling 24 hours over two days, organized by him and State Assemblymember Jeffrey Dinowitz. Numerous elected officials participated in the tour to hear from subway riders, and the results of their survey were released at a news conference Tuesday morning. They found that about 75 percent of nearly two thousand riders they spoke to had been late to school, work or an appointment in the last two weeks. “While less a concern for us, this is part of the reality subway riders face every day,” said Rodriguez, before suggesting that the MTA should spend the “enormous amount of money it does have intelligently, quickly, and efficiently.”

Council members also pushed the agency on the issue of accessibility at subway stations, prompted by an early interruption from a member of the public who pointed out that the panel had not touched on accessibility for the disabled or elderly. “All these plans mean nothing to us if you can't get on the train,” the woman, who was on a mobility scooter, said. Later, Mark-Viverito noted that the Council “usually do not acknowledge and do not accept disruptions in this chamber,” but she thanked the woman and said the issue of disability ridership was legitimate and should be addressed by the MTA.

Asked whether the planned 15-month L train shutdown, scheduled for 2019 to fix damage caused by Hurricane Sandy, would be a good time to install elevators, Hakim said the cost would be prohibitive.

“At this rate we'll have every station accessible by 2450,” lamented Council Member Stephen Levin, who criticized the MTA for using what he called “small-bore” solutions as opposed to big-picture thinking. Referring to Governor Cuomo’s late-June declaration of a state of emergency for the MTA, he added, “We need the MTA to use that power of that state of emergency to truly make an impact.”

Like many of his colleagues, Levin also emphasized the need for long-term solutions. “Yes, we need something now, but to avoid there being summer of hell 2019, summer of hell 2020, summer of hell 2021, every summer of hell, there needs to be long-term investment.” Hakim did not commit to any specific long-term funding proposals at the hearing, saying only that multiple options were being discussed by the agency.

Several Council members were skeptical of the MTA’s ability to manage any funding that could be provided by the city. Council Member Chaim Deutsch criticized the agency for its lack of transparency and it’s inefficiency in spending. “You guys do not know how to spend a dime, how could you spend a billion dollars?” Deutsch asked, before calling the inaccessibility of the subways “unacceptable.”

Only Council Member Rory Lancman, a vocal critic of Mayor de Blasio and his administration, seemed somewhat sympathetic to the MTA’s position. “Is it fair to say that the state's contribution to the MTA capital, for not just this capital plan, but the last two capital plans as well, dwarfs the contribution that the city makes to the capital plan?” he asked, with the MTA representatives readily agreeing. He also suggested that the mayor’s appointees to the MTA board – the mayor chooses four voting members out of the total fourteen, while the governor selects six – had not put forth any plans to improve the city’s subways.

In large part, the Council members seemed to want to avoid an outcome predicted by Comptroller Scott Stringer, who said in his testimony, “I’m concerned that you give money to the MTA black hole and you never see it again.” He reiterated his support for a $3.5 billion bond act to relieve some pressure on the MTA issuing and repaying debt. “As we take the time to consider the menu of long-term funding options, we must ensure that those who are actually paying for transit improvements see an equitable, fair return on their investment,” he said.

Polly Trottenberg, Commissioner of the city’s Department of Transportation, and Dean Fuleihan, the director of the Office of Management and Budget, also testified, outlining a concern for permanent funding sources for new initiatives, such as the estimated $300 million that it would cost annually to fill the 2,700 new positions that the MTA’s emergency action plan intends to create.

“At present, the MTA has not identified a way to cover those recurring operating costs,” Trottenberg said.

***
by Felipe De La Hoz, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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At Oversight Hearing, Council Members Seek Answers on MTA Funding and Operations Wed, 09 Aug 2017 04:00:00 +0000
Calls for Small & Large Fixes to City Congestion, Transit Woes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6975:calls-for-small-large-fixes-to-city-congestion-transit-woes http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6975:calls-for-small-large-fixes-to-city-congestion-transit-woes trottenberg chan mccarten

Cmsr Trottenberg, right (photos: John McCarten/City Council)


The New York City Council Committee on Transportation held a hearing Monday to discuss sources of, and solutions to, traffic congestion in the city.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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  prolonged basis…I want to ticket people who block the box.”

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.

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.

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 reported by the Wall Street Journal Sunday, was brought to the forefront by Move NY, 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.”

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.”

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.

“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.“

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Calls for Small & Large Fixes to City Congestion, Transit Woes Mon, 05 Jun 2017 04:00:00 +0000
De Blasio’s 'Piecemeal' Transportation Agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6855:de-blasio-s-piecemeal-transportation-agenda http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6855:de-blasio-s-piecemeal-transportation-agenda de blasio subway

Mayor de Blasio on the subway (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor’s Office)


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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.

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.”

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.

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.

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.”

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.

“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.”

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.

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.

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.

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.

“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.

“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.

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.

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.”

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.”

“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.

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.”

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.”

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.

“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.

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.”

BQX
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.

“The BQX has the potential to change the lives of hundreds of thousands of New Yorkers,” he said at the time.

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.

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?’”

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.

“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.”

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.”

Steely-White was referring to a New York City Economic Development Corporation estimate 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.

“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.”

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 has not pushed to advance the Utica Avenue extension in Brooklyn that many want to see made a priority by the city and state.

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.

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.

Ferry Service
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 moved to run every 30 minutes 24-hours per day, as opposed to the hourly schedule it previously offered during off-peak hours.

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.

“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.

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.

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.   

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.”

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.”

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.”

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.”

Citi Bike
The Mayor’s Office reported that Citi Bike saw a 40% increase in ridership in 2016, with 4 million more trips taken than in 2015. As the program has expanded further into Manhattan, Brooklyn, and Queens, ridership has increased each year, with almost 14 million trips in 2016.

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.

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.  

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.”

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 at a recent hearing 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.

“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.

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.”

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.

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.

Vision Zero
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.

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.

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.

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?”

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.”

“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.

Reality
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.”

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.

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.”

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by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

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De Blasio’s 'Piecemeal' Transportation Agenda Wed, 05 Apr 2017 04:00:00 +0000
'Fair Fares' Proposal Dominates Transportation Hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6757:fair-fares-dominate-debate-at-transportation-hearing http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6757:fair-fares-dominate-debate-at-transportation-hearing CM Ydanis Rodriguez

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez (Photo: William Alatriste)


A campaign to provide discounted MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers took center stage at a City Council hearing on Monday, with council members and transit advocates calling for greater equity in the public transportation system.

The City Council’s Committee on Transportation conducted oversight of the Department of Transportation’s citywide initiatives to examine how they can better serve New York City residents. Central to the proceedings was the issue of transportation equity, the concept that transportation should be used as an equalizer and a conduit between low-income communities and the job-laden business centers of the city. Council members and transit advocacy groups expressed concern that Mayor Bill de Blasio’s administration has failed to prioritize fairness in the system, even as it moves forward on a number of transit projects including the citywide ferry service and the Brooklyn-Queens Connector.

The issue that dominated the debate was the 'Fair Fares' campaign to lower public transportation fares for low-income New Yorkers, launched last year by the Community Service Society, a nonprofit that fights poverty, and transit advocacy group Riders Alliance. The campaign is anchored in a 2016 report by CSS that found that 1-in-4 low-income city residents cannot afford the cost of MetroCards. As previously reported by Gotham Gazette, the mayor has been staunch in his refusal to put up the estimated $200 million to implement the cost reductions proposed by Fair Fares, which would provide half-price MetroCards for the roughly 800,000 New Yorkers living below the poverty line.

Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the committee, said in his opening remarks that MetroCard costs were “preventative” for many New Yorkers, forcing them to “forego job opportunities, education, cultural experiences, doctor appointments, and more.” Rodriguez found support in other council members, including David Greenfield, Antonio Reynoso, and Donovan Richards. Just prior to the hearing, many of the council members rallied with colleagues, transit advocates and union representatives on the steps of City Hall, calling on the mayor to fund the Fair Fares proposal.

At the hearing, the council members asked DOT representative Eric Beaton to explain the mayor’s refusal to provide the required funding in the city budget. Beaton fell back on the mayor’s argument that the city could not afford the proposal and that the state-run MTA should fund it instead. He also pointed out that the city recently committed to a historically-high $2.5 billion contribution to the MTA’s capital plan and that there was simply no room in the budget for an extra $200 million.

Councilmembers Reynoso and Greenfield weren’t satisfied with the response, and Greenfield cited the $13 billion increase in the city budget under de Blasio as proof that the administration has the ability to cover “everything under the sun.” Reynoso echoed his sentiment, telling Beaton that the budget “is not a legitimate excuse” for failing to provide low-income New Yorkers with affordable public transportation.

The committee also touched on issues of transit access for residents of Far Rockaway and Southeast Queens, two areas notorious for their status as “transportation deserts.” Council members Richards and I. Daneek Miller, who represent those two neighborhoods respectively, stressed that their constituents are burdened with commutes of up to two hours, arguing that bus services in areas lacking subway stops must be made a priority so that residents are able to make the commute to Manhattan. Though Beaton agreed that bus efficiency must be improved, he again deferred to the MTA, saying that bus routing was the MTA’s responsibility.

David Jones, president of the Community Service Society and a mayoral appointee to the MTA board, pressed his organization’s push for Fair Fares, noting that unaffordable transit fares also create ancillary problems such as an increase in fare evasion, placing an added burden on the transit police and criminal justice system. These arrests lead to more criminal records for young people, Jones contended, simply because subway and bus fares are too expensive. Jones and Veronica Vanterpool, another MTA board member, have both called on the mayor to fund Fair Fares.

Jones was joined on the panel by Bronx resident Norma Ridez, who testified on behalf of Riders Alliance. Ridez, an unemployed single mother of three, said that between the cost of getting her children to daycare and grocery shopping, she “can’t afford a metrocard to get to [job] interviews.”

Though DOT’s Beaton and the committee members were frequently at odds, the two sides were momentarily allied in admonishing the MTA for failing to send a representative to the hearing. Public Advocate Letitia James was particularly critical, in both her opening and closing statements, expressing her “deep disappointment” that MTA representatives were not present to discuss their “unreliable system.”

Monday’s hearing and the preceding rally demonstrate wide-ranging support for transit affordability reform, but the fate of Fair Fares remains uncertain since neither the city nor the MTA are willing to be held responsible for the bill. MTA communications director Beth DeFalco noted in an email that the MTA already spends significant amounts on low-income riders, including $625 million specifically for seniors, schoolchildren and people with disabilities in New York City. “The MTA always tries to keep fares as low as possible and still provide safe, reliable service,” DeFalco said.

With no end in sight to the Fair Fares gridlock, low-income New Yorkers are left holding their breath on lower transportation costs. Attempting to underscore the impact of this funding stalemate, Councilmember Greenfield reminded those at the hearing, “You can’t get out of poverty if you can’t get to your job.”

 

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by Luke Foley, Gotham Gazette

With reporting by Samar Khurshid

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'Fair Fares' Proposal Dominates Transportation Hearing Tue, 14 Feb 2017 00:00:00 +0000
Saying City ‘Can’t Afford’ ‘Fair Fares,’ De Blasio Points to State http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6731:de-blasio-says-city-can-t-afford-fair-fares-points-to-state http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6731:de-blasio-says-city-can-t-afford-fair-fares-points-to-state de blasio subway mccray

Mayor de Blasio & First Lady McCray in the subway (photo: Edwin J Torres/ Mayor's Office)


Mayor Bill de Blasio says he supports the “Fair Fares” campaign to reduce public transit fares for low-income New Yorkers, but insists that the city cannot afford it and that the funding must come from the state.

Both Tuesday during his preliminary budget presentation and Wednesday during an transportation-related press conference de Blasio was asked about the issue of providing subsidized MetroCards.

De Blasio told Gotham Gazette on Wednesday that reduced fares for New Yorkers in need “is a good meaningful proposal.” But, he insisted, “We just can’t afford it. It’s just not something we can get into this city budget. And also I think it’s a state responsibility. I think the state can’t have it both ways on the MTA. They control the MTA. They have to pay for the MTA. So if people believe this is the kind of thing we should do, the state should pick up that responsibility.”

The Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which manages and operates the city’s subways, buses and trains, is a state-run body whose board consists of appointees of both the Mayor and the Governor, though the Governor has more sway and appoints the Chair of the MTA. The MTA is funded jointly by the city and state, with the state paying the majority of the bill.

De Blasio and Governor Andrew Cuomo have battled over MTA funding levels. Last year, the two fought bitterly over their respective funding commitments to the MTA’s 5-year capital plan, but eventually came to a resolution. MTA Chair Tom Prendergast said Wednesday that enactment of the Fair Fares proposal, or anything similar, should be the responsibility of the city.

On Wednesday, the mayor told Gotham Gazette he has no plans to proactively take up the fight over reduced fares, which is being championed by advocates for poor and low-income New Yorkers as well as a number of elected officials. The mayor will head to Albany on Monday to testify before the state Legislature about the city’s budget priorities. Fair Fares isn’t on that list.

“It’s something I’ll certainly address if I’m asked but I would say our agenda in Albany is about the state budget itself and really focusing on that,” he said. De Blasio will be explaining to legislators what the city needs state funding for and will respond to key New York City-related elements of Cuomo’s recently-released Executive Budget proposal. A state budget is due by April 1.

Meanwhile, de Blasio on Tuesday outlined his own $84.7 billion Preliminary Budget proposal for the city’s next fiscal year -- a new city budget, which will be influenced by state and federal funding levels, is due by July 1. The Fair Fares plan calls for about $170 million to provide about 800,000 qualifying New Yorkers with reduced-price MetroCards.

The Fair Fares campaign may become a key touchpoint in de Blasio’s negotiations with the City Council. It was launched last year by the Community Service Society, a nonprofit focused on fighting poverty, and the Riders Alliance, a grassroots advocacy organization focused on transit and its New Yorkers in motion. The campaign is supported by an increasing number of elected officials, including Public Advocate Letitia James, Comptroller Scott Stringer, four of five borough presidents, and more than half the City Council. It has support from multiple unions and advocacy groups.

The Citizens Budget Commission, a nonprofit nonpartisan budget watchdog, also supports the idea of discounted fares for low-income commuters. "A discount targeted to the neediest New Yorkers would be a sensible way to help make transportation costs more affordable," wrote Carol Kellerman, CBC president, in a January 23 letter to outgoing MTA chair Tom Prendergast. But CBC does not believe the state should bear the cost. "Funding such a discount should be a City, not an MTA, responsibility. However, as the MTA installs its expected new system beginning in 2018, it should ensure the contractor and the agency have the capacity to implement an income-conditioned fare structure so that if such a policy is adopted by the Mayor and City Council, it can be implemented quickly."

At the Wednesday news conference, the mayor appeared with Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, chair of the Council’s transportation committee, an ardent proponent of the Fair Fares campaign, and a consistent de Blasio ally. The two are at odds, however, over Fair Fares, with Rodriguez hoping that funding for the proposal will make its way into the city budget eventually. “This is important for the city,” he said, just after the mayor addressed the issue in response to a question from Gotham Gazette aimed at both officials. “I also understand the mayor has to be very responsible when he puts...this budget for 2018. We will continue this conversation knowing that where the administration stands on that particular issue.”

After de Blasio released his preliminary budget Tuesday, Rodriguez’s office put out a statement from the Council member praising several of the mayor’s planned investments, but also noting that Rodriguez wants to see de Blasio take up both Fair Fares and public investment into Citi Bike expansion, which de Blasio also said he has no plans to do.

Advocates from the Fair Fares campaign aren’t satisfied with the mayor’s stand, particularly since they see little hope in funding coming from Albany.

“We’re really disappointed the mayor didn’t include [Fair Fares] in his preliminary budget,” said Rebecca Bailin, campaign manager for Riders Alliance, insisting that the city can and should step in to fill the gaps left by the state. The city provides discounted fares already for senior citizens and for those with disabilities. In the past, some students have received this benefit. Bailin said about 800,000 low-income New Yorkers would qualify for half-price MetroCards if the proposal were funded, and estimated that it would cost about 0.2 percent of the city budget, or $169 million.

Moreover, Bailin said it’s the kind of proposal that de Blasio’s campaign and mayoralty have been based on. “The mayor’s whole platform is to address the issue of economic inequality,” she said. “If folks can’t get on the subway or bus to get to a job interview or take their kids to school without skipping meals or jumping turnstiles, none of the mayor’s programs mean anything. This is an easy and simple solution.”

CSS estimated in a citywide survey last year that one in four low-income New Yorkers can’t afford MetroCards, forcing them to sacrifice basic necessities and restricting their ability to get jobs and affordable housing. These New Yorkers spend about 10 to 12 percent of their annual income on public transit, said Jeff Maclin, CSS public relations director, in an email. “The mayor can bring relief to these riders,” he added, “and ensure that our mass transit system is a pathway, not a barrier to economic opportunities.”

De Blasio’s Wednesday morning remarks came hours before the MTA voted on a new fare structure which doesn’t increase base transit fares for individual rides but will lead to costlier weekly and monthly MetroCards. The new fares take effect March 19. At Wednesday's MTA hearing, Chair Prendergast said of Fair Fares, "In the case of the reduced fare for low-income riders, social services are rightly the role of municipalities in caring for their residents. It should not be the MTA's role, nor can the MTA afford to provide what would be a very real benefit for the poor."

According to the MTA, it already provides significant reduced rates for low-income city riders, totaling $625 million annually to subsidize services for many city residents, including eligible elderly New Yorkers, qualifying school children, and others.

The Citizens Budget Commission letter from earlier this week included recommendations for the fare and toll increases that the MTA considered on Wednesday. Kellerman stressed that the MTA should continue to increase fares on a predictable schedule, moving towards funding half of mass transit expenses from fare revenue. She additionally called for increasing revenue from motor vehicle users, so the MTA can eventually fully fund bridge and tunnel expenses and create surplus revenue covering 25 percent of mass transit operating expenses.

During the MTA’s meeting, where they voted on the fare increases, board member Veronica Vanterpool stressed the need to make sure that the transit system is both fiscally sound and affordable for its customers. She echoed the sentiment of the Fair Fare campaign, saying, “That is an idea whose time is long overdue.”

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by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note: this story has been updated to include the Citizens Budget Commission's take on Fair Fares and comment from the MTA.

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Saying City ‘Can’t Afford’ ‘Fair Fares,’ De Blasio Points to State Wed, 25 Jan 2017 05:00:00 +0000
Don't Dismiss Community Concerns as 'NIMBYism' http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6576:don-t-dismiss-community-concerns-as-nimbyism http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6576:don-t-dismiss-community-concerns-as-nimbyism hand raised de blasio town hall

(photo: Michael Applebaum/Mayor's Office)


Inwood opponents of a luxury tower widely touted as bringing affordable housing to the community are exhibit A in “Bill de Blasio Versus NIMBYism,” a Gotham Gazette article published October 7.

But as one of several grassroots organizations who fought this project, we at Inwood Preservation are disappointed in the undeservedly negative and inaccurate picture of sincere citizen involvement the story painted, characterizing us as forces of inertia and citing newspaper editorial boards that repeat the mayor's spin on the "deal" that was reached on the 4650 Broadway project.

The thousands of residents who petitioned and won City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez’s vote against the spot upzoning welcome more housing at rents they can afford, and in buildings that fit the overall character of the area. The luxury tower offered neither.

The biggest myth of the Sherman Plaza project was that the developers agreed to reserve 50 percent of their units as affordable housing in exchange for upzoning that would have allowed up to three times the floors of neighboring buildings and a doubling of the number of luxury units. But as residents found out with the Rheingold development in Bushwick, such promises go out the window if the property is sold. Once the property is upzoned, though, the higher height, and the luxury units, remain.

Regardless of the promises, many Inwood residents would be priced out of the affordability ranges allowed under de Blasio’s Mandatory Inclusionary Housing (MIH) plan, and would not be guaranteed access to rent the new “affordable” units, which would be filled through a citywide lottery. The mayor’s plan calls for MIH developers to set aside 20 percent of their units as “permanently affordable” for families of three making about $32,600, which is roughly the median income for Inwood. However, if the zoning had been approved, the developer could exploit the program and switch to a more expensive option—30 percent of units reserved for families making about $65,200. Doing so would effectively price out the majority of Inwood residents. (This is not to mention the additional units bringing it up to the vaunted “50 percent affordable”—the developer offered testimony that the figure included 20 percent of units for families making approximately $90,000 to $110,000.)

The ripple effects of this proposed development, already being felt in some big anticipatory property sales nearby, would have been disastrous, leading to widespread tenant displacement. Inwood owes its existence as a working class enclave to its relatively large stock of rent-stabilized housing. This housing has been disappearing for many years. As one of our members testified to the City Council in July, his 145-unit building, just three blocks from the proposed tower, had lost over 80 percent of its stabilized units between 2007 and 2014. Three other buildings within five blocks of the site also had deregulated more than 50 percent of their units in the same period. That’s a loss of hundreds of stabilized units in an area of only a few blocks in a seven-year period.

Local activists have been working in conjunction with our Community Board to look for particular patterns of abuse, as landlords employ various legal and illegal forms of harassment to force out long-term tenants, convert to higher market rates and decimate the stock of affordable housing in the neighborhood. A massive tower with luxury apartments renting at sky-high rates just down the street would only increase the pressure to deregulate. And of course once one spot upzoning occurs, more developers would come in with similar proposals, leading to more destabilization for existing residents. Just where are these displaced tenants supposed to go? Not into luxury towers.

The problems with the mayor’s MIH plan are citywide and many communities join us in calling for revision to protect existing low-income tenants and housing stock. But other issues often dismissed as NIMBYism are simply part of good—and actually already called-for—planning. The Sherman Plaza developers, for instance, did not produce a proper Environmental Impact Statement and misrepresented or left off important facts in their environmental assessment.

A few examples: The first is obvious to anyone who tries to travel up Broadway, past the proposed site by Ft. Tryon Park and along the area’s one through street up to Marble Hill and the Bronx. Besides being already clogged with normal traffic trying to cross the bridge, there are multitudes of trucks and buses going to a large MTA bus depot and Sanitation Department 4-district depot at the island’s northern edge. Inwood’s underground infrastructure for water, sewers, and more is, on average, more than 100 years old and strained. Studies have shown toxic substances in the soils under the property. The sheer size and height of the building would have blocked views of the landmarked park and the Cloisters and cast shadows on it. The historic Packard car showroom building facade and interior, designed by Albert Kahn, would have been destroyed.

We wonder why Mayor de Blasio doesn’t hear what his constituents all over the city are telling him, in unison: that, yes, we need more affordable housing, but the first priority is to do a serious job of retaining all existing affordable units, and any new development should be environmentally sustainable and designed to fit in within the context of the existing community.

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Maggie Clarke is a co-founder and Suzy Parker is a member of Inwood Preservation, which organizes and shares key information through Facebook. On Twitter @InwoodPres.

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Have an op-ed idea or submission for Gotham Gazette? Email opinion@gothamgazette.com

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Don't Dismiss Community Concerns as 'NIMBYism' Sun, 16 Oct 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Council to Hear Bills on Providing Tampons at Shelters, Prisons & Schools http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6362:council-to-hear-bills-on-providing-tampons-at-shelters-prisons-schools http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6362:council-to-hear-bills-on-providing-tampons-at-shelters-prisons-schools Gibson Ferreras-Copeland Mark-Viverito hearing

Council Members Gibson, Ferreras-Copeland, Mark-Viverito (l-r) (photo: William Alatriste)


The City Council is about to take the next step toward making feminine hygiene products readily available, and free, in New York City public schools, shelters, and correctional facilities. On Thursday, June 2, the Council’s Committee on Women’s Issues will hold its first hearing on a package of bills to improve access to tampons and pads after the legislation was introduced in March.

The three bills are being spearheaded by City Council Member Julissa Ferreras-Copeland and Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, the lead sponsors, and the hearing will come as New York State is set to eliminate the so-called “tampon tax” - the sales tax on feminine hygiene products.

Representatives from the city agencies that would carry out the new mandates outlined in the bills and relevant advocacy groups have been asked to testify - leaders from the Department of Health and Mental Hygiene, the Department of Education, and the Department of Correction will attend the hearing, as will representatives from ZanaAfrica Foundation, UnTabooed, and PowerPlay NYC. Representatives from the Women’s Prison Association, Care for the Homeless, the YMCA, and other groups that participated in a roundtable discussion about access to menstrual products with Ferreras-Copeland last summer may be present as well.

Women who filed a class action lawsuit against the New York State Department of Taxation and Finance to end the tax on menstrual productsand Jennifer Weiss-Wolf, a leading national and international voice calling for better access to menstrual products, have also been invited to testify.

During the hearing, questions about the logistics and costs of implementing the mandates will be addressed. According to her office, Ferreras-Copeland looks forward to hearing from the de Blasio administration about its views on the bills and the current policies of the relevant agencies in terms of access to menstrual products. Ferreras-Copeland, who is likely to lead the hearing with Mark-Viverito and Council Member Laurie Cumbo, chair of the women’s issues committee, is also looking to hear what barriers there may be in implementation of the requirements in the bills.

It is not yet clear how tampons and pads will be provided to women and girls in city shelters, jails, and schools, though no-charge dispensers have already been installed in the girls’ bathrooms of 25 middle schools and high schools in the city through a pilot program, and Ferreras-Copeland has previously mentioned the possibility of installing dispensers in shelters.

The three bills in the package are accompanied by a resolution, sponsored by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, calling on the state to exempt feminine hygiene products from all state and local sales taxes, which the state is poised to do - on Wednesday, state lawmakers passed a bill to exempt feminine hygiene products from the tax on retail sales, prompting Governor Andrew Cuomo to release a statement saying, “I look forward to signing it into law.”

The Council bills and the elimination of New York’s “tampon tax” contribute to a growing movement to de-stigmatize menstruation and improve gender equity, as women end up paying hundreds of dollars in taxes buying tampons and pads throughout their lifetime, despite the fact that women cannot avoid buying the products. Fourteen states and three major cities have introduced legislation to eliminate the tax on feminine hygiene products since January, though few cities or states have taken action to make the products more freely available.

The city push to make feminine hygiene products freely available to the city’s most vulnerable women - students and those in prisons and shelters - is meant to correct the disparity that when men walk into a bathroom, they are provided with everything they need to take care of their normal bodily functions while women are not. While some have questioned the price tag involved, Ferreras-Copeland has said time and again, “I’ve never heard anybody complaining about how much it costs to buy toilet paper.”

One bill, introduced by Ferreras-Copeland, would require all schools to make feminine hygiene products readily available to students and would require DOHMH to provide schools with a supply of tampons and pads that is adequate to meet the needs of the student body.

In September 2015, Ferreras-Copeland and the High School for Arts and Business in Queens launched a pilot program of free tampons and pads by installing a free dispenser in the girls’ bathroom. In March, Ferreras-Copeland and the DOE expanded that program to 25 middle and high schools in Queens and the Bronx, providing access to free tampons and pads to the 11,600 girls attending the schools in the program.The principal at Arts and Business attributes a 2.4 percent increase in attendance rates in the months after the dispenser was installed to tampons and pads being freely available. Previously, when girls got their period and weren’t carrying tampons or pads, they often had to miss class time and go to the nurse’s office in order to get what they need.

Ferreras-Copeland says the DOE has been receptive and that conversations with schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña have been productive, although the cost of freely providing menstrual products was initially raised as a concern.

Another bill, introduced by Speaker Mark-Viverito, would require DOHMH to provide feminine hygiene products to all female residents in temporary shelters (here meaning Department of Homeless Services family shelters and single adult women shelters, Department of Youth and Community Development shelters, and Human Resources Administration domestic violence shelters).

Tampons and pads are often in short supply in the city’s shelters, where women are already often unable to purchase the products. SNAP, WIC, and flexible spending accounts cannot be used to buy tampons or pads. Congressional Rep. Grace Meng of Queens has introduced a bill that would reclassify feminine hygiene products so that they can be purchased with flexible spending accounts.

The third bill, also introduced by Mark-Viverito, would require the Department of Correction to provide inmates with feminine hygiene products immediately upon request, “unless so providing would be unsafe, in which case products would be required as soon as possible.” This would be a slight, but potentially significant change to the current DOC policy, as it would allow women a form of recourse if their requests are denied. Currently, additional supplies are available upon request, but inmates allege that their requests are sometimes denied by correction officers for no legitimate reason or because those products are understocked in jails, forcing women to ration pads.

Under DOC’s current policy, each housing unit of female inmates in Rikers’ Rose M. Singer Center is given a box of 144 sanitary napkins each week (housing units hold up to fifty women, meaning each woman may get two to three pads a week - pads that are small and thin), according to an August, 2015 letter from DOC Commissioner Joseph Ponte to Mark-Viverito and Ferreas-Copeland and shared with Gotham Gazette. Ponte said in the letter that he had “not heard of any issues or complaints regarding access to these items.”

Others say that’s not the case. During a roundtable discussion on access to feminine hygiene products last summer, Ferreras-Copeland said she heard from representatives of the Women’s Prison Association that “some women were reduced to using one pad for their whole cycle” and stories from women who have had “to show soiled pads before they get the new ones,” both of which are harmful to a woman’s menstrual health and dignity.

In an April interview, Ferreras-Copeland said her original idea was to have coin-free dispensers installed in women’s prisons as well, but “there was fear that the actual vending machine could be used as a weapon,” and so that option was scrapped.One county in Wisconsin approved a resolution last year authorizing Dane County to begin a pilot program to provide tampons and pads for free via coin-free dispensers in the restrooms of eight county buildings, including a correctional facility. Ferreras-Copeland added that she did not want to legislate the number of pads the DOC must provide to women because “who am I to say how many they need, I just want to make sure that they have enough.”

On Wednesday, Ferreras-Copeland expressed excitement about the upcoming hearing to Gotham Gazette, but was not available for a follow-up interview.

Weiss-Wolf said in a statement that she is looking forward to testifying next week. “The bills’ sponsors...and others,” she wrote, “have taken an important step by acknowledging that the ability to access and afford menstrual products is a necessity for half the population, and that it is impossible to be an engaged student or productive citizen without these products.”

***
by Meg O'Connor, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Council to Hear Bills on Providing Tampons at Shelters, Prisons & Schools Thu, 26 May 2016 04:00:00 +0000
Bill Requires More Vision Zero Data http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6213:bill-requires-more-vision-zero-data http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6213:bill-requires-more-vision-zero-data van bramer vision zero

Council Member Van Bramer at a Vision Zero event (DOT)


A bill set to be introduced before the City Council on Wednesday seeks to codify the Department of Transportation’s data tracking under Vision Zero, the city’s program aimed at eliminating traffic fatalities and injuries.

Two City Council members who have been integrally involved in the city’s rollout of Vision Zero, Jimmy Van Bramer and Ydanis Rodriguez, will introduce legislation to mandate DOT’s Vision Zero View portal, an online interactive map that displays data under the program. The Council members seek to ensure an expansion of public data on street safety and that it remains available well beyond the current administration.

One of Mayor Bill de Blasio’s top priorities, Vision Zero legislation was signed into law beginning in June 2014 and has been successful in reducing traffic crashes across the city through increased investment in infrastructure, changes to and stricter enforcement of traffic laws, and outreach and education. With traffic fatalities down by 22 percent since before the plan’s implementation, city officials declared 2015 the safest traffic year in the city’s history. 2014 and 2015 marked the first time that traffic fatalities declined for two consecutive years. In January, the Mayor released the Vision Zero Year Two report and announced a $115 million in capital investment to boost the program.

“We are serious about saving lives,” the mayor said at the announcement. “Vision Zero is working. Today there are children and grandparents who we might have lost, but who are instead coming home, safe and sound, because of these efforts. This progress is just the beginning, and Vision Zero is going to move ahead with even more intensity in the coming year.”

While the DOT already tracks detailed data, including fatalities and crashes over time and by district, information on street design, and locations of outreach efforts, displaying this data through the online portal is voluntary. “If times change, and administrations change, something that is created willfully can just as easily be taken away,” said Van Bramer, a Queens Democrat and longtime Vision Zero advocate who has stood with Mayor de Blasio at the bill signing two years ago and other related announcements. Rodriguez has also been an active proponent of Vision Zero. He chairs the transportation committee of the Council, which will hear the bill.

Vision Zero View

This new bill is an effort, Van Bramer said, to “speed Vision Zero along to achieve it even faster.” The idea is that with more data, especially publicly available and mapped, policy-makers and others can continue to target problems and further reduce crashes, fatalities, and injuries.

Not only would the proposed legislation mandate that data be published each month, it also expands the types of data made available. This would include the date, time, and location of accidents; the age and category (motorist, passenger, pedestrian) of the persons involved in each incident; the type(s) of vehicles and the type of collision (rear-end, front-end, etc.); the contributing factors leading to the crash (drugs, alcohol, bad weather, distracted driver; right of way); speed limits of all streets; and expanded reports on outreach efforts.

Most of this additional data is collected by the NYPD as well as DOT. “Our bill requires it to be reported publicly,” said Van Bramer. “People armed with that information,” he added, “can make changes that can keep their communities safe.”

Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives, said the current Vision Zero View portal is “completely inadequate.” Without sufficient details, he said, it “doesn’t perform its purported objective.” White hopes that Van Bramer and Rodriguez’s bill will start a trend followed by future mayors, City Councils, and commissioners.

“I hope it’s a first step in enshrining Vision Zero as a bedrock policy to guide the design, management and enforcement of New York City streets,” he said.

***
by Samar Khurshid, City government reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Bill Requires More Vision Zero Data Tue, 08 Mar 2016 21:09:30 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 23 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6002:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-november-23 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=6002:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-november-23 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

Thanksgiving week will see just a few days of political activity, but the beginning of the week is looking busy. Highlights include closing arguments in Sheldon Silver's corruption trial; the continuation of Dean Skelos' corruption trial; the release of the Public Advocate's "worst landlord list"; several City Council hearings and a full-body "Stated Meeting"; two public meetings of the city's commission on elected official compensation; and more. See our day-by-day rundown below.

First, in case you haven't seen some of our most recent reporting, a few highlights:

[To read more of the latest from Gotham Gazette, click here; to subscribe to our newsletters, click here]

Mayor Bill de Blasio had no public schedule Saturday. On Sunday, the mayor, NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton, FDNY Commissioner Daniel Nigro, and U.S. Secretary of Homeland Security Jeh Johnson observed "an active shooter drill in Lower Manhattan." After that, the mayor was delivered remarks at Church of God of Prophecy in the Bronx, where he was hosted by City Council Member Vanessa Gibson, among others.

On Monday, de Blasio "will deliver remarks at the groundbreaking ceremony for Hunter's Point South Phase II" at noon; "host a press conference to make an announcement related to mental health" with First Lady Chirlane McCray at 2 p.m. at CUNY Hunter College - Silberman School of Social Work; and hold a media availability at about 3 p.m. nearby the school.

 

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At the City Council on Monday, November 23:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Public Safety and the Committee on Transportation will meet to hear the introduction of several bills regarding unmanned aviation vehicles (drones). They will focus on regulation, registration requirements and authorization of use.
  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Youth Services will meet to discuss several new bills that would require training for certain employees in treating runaway, homeless, and sexually exploited youths, and amend the requirement date for the annual report on sexually exploited children.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Education will meet for oversight on Department of Education’s efforts to help struggling schools. Schools chancellor Carmen Fariña will testify.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Civil Service and Labor will meet to hear a series of new bills that would require successive employers of buildings to retain workers for a transitional time period and extend protections for displaced building service workers to food service workers.
  • At 1 p.m. the Committee on Environmental Protection will meet to hear a new bill that would require the identification of geothermal systems and buildings eligible for them, as well as registration for the people allowed to install such systems.

On Monday at 8 a.m., The Food Bank for New York will release a new report on the state of hunger and food networks in New York City. The “legislative breakfast” and report will examine the effects of federal cuts to SNAP cuts. Margarette Purvis, President and CEO, Food Bank For New York City; Steven Banks, Commissioner, New York City Human Resources Administration; Triada Stampas, Vice President For Research & Public Affairs, Food Bank For New York City, and “elected officials from throughout New York City” are expected.

At 8:30 a.m. The Manhattan Chamber of Commerce and Business Forward will host a business leader forum to discuss the effects of severe climate change on the restaurant industry.

At 9 a.m. Monday in Long Island City, City Council "Majority Leader Jimmy Van Bramer will be joined by several New Yorkers who have applied and have not been selected for a variety of the City's affordable housing development lotteries throughout the five boroughs. Together, Council Member Van Bramer and these New Yorkers in need will express why they believe Airbnb needs to be held accountable for allowing tax-subsidized affordable housing units to be posted as illegal hotels on their website."

Later, Van Bramer will join the mayor for the aforementioned Hunter's Point groundbreaking.

At 11 a.m. in Foley Square, Public Advocate Letitia James "will hold a tenant rally and release the 2015 Worst Landlord Watchlist. Following the rally, Public Advocate James will visit Brooklyn Housing Court to ensure tenants are aware of their rights and then tour one of the buildings on the Worst Landlord Watchlist.".

At 11:15 a.m. Monday, State Senator Liz Krueger, together with community leaders and elected officials, will gather at the City Hall for a press conference which will urge Governor Andrew Cuomo to transition New York off of coal power by 2020. Senator Liz Krueger will be joined by State Senator Brad Hoylman; Assembly Members Brian Kavanagh, Rebecca Seawright and Jo Anne Simon; and City Council Members Donovan Richards and Dan Garodnick.
[Read Sen. Krueger's new op-ed on the subject: Time for New York to Cut the Coal]

At 12:45 p.m. Monday, City Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, joined with Unite Here 100, will rally for food service worker retention, supporting a bill that expands upon the 2002 Displaced Building Service Worker Protection Act to include food service workers from being fired from work after a new owner takes over a business. A Council hearing will take place at 1 p.m.

On Monday at 2 p.m., Gov. Cuomo will be at the Jacob Javits Center to participate "in New York State's Annual Thanksgiving Food Donation Drive with volunteers and members of the New York National Guard."

At 5 p.m. the city’s Quadrennial Advisory Committee on elected officials’ compensation will hold its first of two community hearings to gather public feedback about its work. There is a state pay commission set to convene soon as well, we'll have details on that upcoming. [Read our recent look at the work ahead for the commission and the question of whether New York elected officials deserve a raise]

At 6 p.m. Monday, New York City Comptroller Scott Stringer’s Red Tape Commission will hold a Staten Island hearing for business owners and entrepreneurs, part of the ongoing initiative to remake the government into a partner to businesses instead of being an “obstacle to growth”.

Also at 6 p.m. the Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams will hold a public hearing on East New York community planning.

Tuesday
At the State Legislature on Tuesday: at noon, the Assembly Standing Committee on Agriculture will convene for “Oversight of the SFY 2015-2016 State Budget for the New York State Department of Agriculture and Markets.”

At the City Council on Tuesday, November 24th:

  • At 10 a.m. the Committee on Finance will meet on a variety of topics.
  • At 1 p.m. the City Council Stated Meeting will be held - and as usual, it will be prefaced by the Speaker’s pre-stated press conference, at 12:30 p.m.

On Tuesday, "Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will appear live on CNN's New Day to discuss ThriveNYC: The Mental Health Roadmap for All," at about 6:50 a.m. Later in the morning, "the Mayor will create and deliver food packages with Joel Berg of NYC Coalition Against Hunger." At about 11:45 a.m., "the Mayor will deliver remarks on hunger and food insecurity in New York City." At about 4 p.m., "the Mayor will join bi-partisan local elected officials – including Westchester County Executive Robert Astorino, Congressman Jerrold Nadler, Congressman Dan Donovan and Congresswoman Nydia Velázquez – to host a press conference to highlight the need for increased federal transportation funding as New Yorkers prepare for holiday weekend travel."

On Tuesday, November 24th, Council Member Andy King will offer Free Healthcare Enrollment and Legal Services to Bronx Residents. In cooperation with MetroPlus and New York Legal Assistance Group the event will help residents sign up for health care and legal services.

At 10:30 a.m. Tuesday, Comptroller Scott Stringer will deliver remarks at "NYC Coalition Against Hunger Annual Flagship Event."

At 5 p.m. Tuesday the NYC Quadrennial Advisory Board will hold another community hearing on compensation for elected officials. [Read our recent look at the work ahead for the commission and the question of whether New York elected officials deserve a raise]

On Tuesday at 7 p.m. Public Advocate Tish James will host an African Immigrant "Talk to Tish" Town Hall in the Bronx; and at 8:30 p.m. James will attend the Bayside Hills Civic Association General Meeting in Oakland Gardens.

On Tuesday evening in Brooklyn, school district 15, which includes parts of Sunset Park, Kensington, Park Slope, Carroll Gardens, and Red Hook, schools Chancellor Carmen Fariña will hold a town hall "from 6:30 to 7:30 p.m. at P.S. 516...Local elected officials including City Councilman Carlos Menchaca, Assemblyman Felix Ortiz and State Sen. Jesse Hamilton are expected to attend and answer questions from the public from 7:30 to 8:30 p.m.," according to DNAinfo.

Happy Thanksgiving if you’re celebrating. Watch for our latest articles this week and we'll publish a 'Week Ahead' on Sunday, Nov. 29. 

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, November 23 Sun, 22 Nov 2015 05:00:00 +0000
The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 5 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5920:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-october-5 http://www.gothamgazette.com/?id=5920:the-week-ahead-in-new-york-politics-october-5 New York City Hall

New York City Hall


What to watch for this week in New York politics:

This week will include a focus on what the city can do to stop gas-related explosions after another such explosion occurred this weekend, this time in Borough Park; education politics and policy, as the pro-charter, anti-de Blasio group Families for Excellent Schools will hold a large rally; a continuation of negotiation and criticism between city and state entities over MTA funding; and more.

Oh, and it's the Major League Baseball playoffs, with both the Mets and Yankees in the post-season for the first time in a long time, with many hoping for a "subway series" World Series between the two, a la 2000, when the Yankees defeated the Mets.

TRACKING DE BLASIO: With the threat from Hurricane Joaquin abated, Mayor de Blasio decided to go through with his trip to Washington, D.C. and Baltimore on Friday and Saturday. The mayor delivered remarks at a reception for the State Innovation Exchange Conference on Friday, then attended the United States Conference of Mayors Fall Leadership Meeting on Saturday. The mayor then headed back to Borough Park, Brooklyn, where he attended to the emergency gas explosion that tore apart a building, killing at least one and injuring several.

The incident is another in a string of gas explosions, including East Harlem and the East Village, that has many worried and talking about a need for new measures to combat the deadly incidents. Gov. Cuomo announced he was deploying representatives to investigate and city officials are calling for action. This explosion appears to have been caused by mistakes made during the removal of an oven.

On Monday, Mayor de Blasio and First Lady Chirlane McCray will be on Staten Island for the groundbreaking of The Staten Island Family Justice Center, at which the mayor will speak around 10 a.m. Read more from the Staten Island Advance, including that Staten Island will join the other boroughs, each of which already has such a center, which "provide comprehensive criminal justice, civil legal and social services free of charge to victims of domestic violence, elderly abuse and sex trafficking in the other boroughs."

As always, there's a great deal happening all over the city, with many events to be aware of - read our day-by-day rundown below.

***Do you have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics?
E-mail Gotham Gazette editor Ben Max: bmax@gothamgazette.com***

The run of the week in detail:

Monday
At 10:30 a.m. Monday at the Bronx County Courthouse, Attorney General Eric Schneiderman "will announce a major crackdown on distributors of synthetic marijuana and other designer drugs."

On Monday morning, "State Senate Majority Leader John Flanagan joins state Sen. Martin Golden on a walking tour and media availability in Gerritsen Beach, starting in front of 3078 Gerritsen Ave., Brooklyn," according to City & State NY.

At 12:30 p.m. Monday, City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito will announce the "launch of MonumentArt, an International Mural Festival hosted in East Harlem and the South Bronx," from La Marqueta.

On Monday, Public Advocate Letitia James "will travel to Washington, D.C. to participate in the Funders' Committee for Civic Participation conference."

Monday evening, First Lady McCray will be among the honorees of a Feminist Power Award from the Feminist Press.

At 8 p.m. Monday, Comptroller Scott Stringer "Receives the Pacesetter Award at The National Association of Investment Companies 45th Annual Meeting & Convention Welcome Reception."

Monday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 6 pm
  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan) 6:30 pm
  • CM Julissa Ferreras (District 21, Queens) 7 pm

Tuesday
Tuesday, at 10 a.m., a press conference in PACE University's downtown campus will mark the beginning of Poverty Awareness Week, which is co-sponsored by Pace University and The Mayor's Office. The week will include a series of events. Bronx Borough President Rubén Díaz Jr. will be one keynote speaker; Shola Olatoye, Chair and CEO of NYCHA will participate in a discussion on "Local Initiatives to Eradicate Poverty."

On Tuesday, Mayor de Blasio "will deliver remarks at the ribbon-cutting for the Brooklyn College Barry R. Feirstein Graduate School for Cinema at Steiner Studios."

At 5 p.m., the Mayor will appear on WCBS Newsradio 880.

In the evening, Mayor de Blasio, Governor Cuomo, and many others will attend a birthday celebration for Assembly Speaker Carl Heastie.

At 6 p.m. Tuesday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will host "Why New York? Our Broken Bail System." The event will be moderated by New York Times journalist Shaila Dewan, with panelists: Judge George Grasso, public defender Josh Saunders, criminal justice reform advocate Glenn E. Martin, and an individual who couldn't afford bail.

At 7 p.m. Tuesday, NY Tech Meetup will be held at NYU, with a number of New York companies presenting demos of technologies that they are developing.

Tuesday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 4 pm
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 6 pm
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 pm
  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Corey Johnson (District 3, Manhattan) 6:30 pm
  • CM Brad Lander (District 39, Brooklyn) 6:30 pm
  • CM Eric Ulrich (District 32, Queens) 8 pm

Wednesday
JCOPE is set to meet Wednesday morning in Albany.

Wednesday morning at 8 a.m., City & State NY holds its fifth annual "On Energy" event, inviting leaders in government, advocacy and business to speak on a number of topics related to the future of energy. Among the topics of discussion will be Governor Andrew Cuomo's regulatory overhaul in New York, Mayor de Blasio's 80 by 50 plan, and more. The event includes a panel with Jonathan Bowles, Executive Director of Center for an Urban Future; Nilda Mesa, Director at NYC Mayor's Office of Sustainability; Kathryn Garcia, Commissioner, NYC Department of Sanitation. Other notable speakers to appear include: Richard Kauffman, NYS Chair of Energy & Finance; Arthur "Jerry" Kremer, Chairman of New York AREA; Ambassador Ron Kirk, Chairman of CASEnergy; Kevin Parker, a New York state Senator and ranking member of the Energy & Telecommunications Committee.

On Wednesday, The Families for Excellent Schools rally, postponed from last week because of weather and "to demand equal opportunity in our schools," will take place, starting mid-morning at Cadman Plaza in Brooklyn, followed by a march across the Brooklyn Bridge, and a 12:30 p.m. press conference at City Hall. The rally is, in essence, to promote more more charter schools and criticize Mayor de Blasio's education agenda, which does not include more charters. Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz Jr. is expected to headline the rally, along with several high-profile performers, including Jennifer Hudson.

At the City Council on Wednesday:

  • 10 a.m., The Committee on Transportation will meet to discuss a bill that would require the Department of Transportation (DOT) to conduct a study on the safety of pedestrians and bicyclists along bus routes. DOT would then institute new safety measures based on the data. The Committee will also discuss a bill that would require the identification of dangerous intersections based on incidents involving pedestrians, and implement curb extensions in such areas. The Committee will also make a decision on resolutions that would require the MTA to instal rear guards on bus wheels and to study ways to eliminate blind spots for buses.
  • Also 10 a.m., The Committee on Aging will hold an oversight hearing on older adult employment.

At 10 a.m. The East 50s Alliance will hold a community rally to protest the planned construction of a 900-foot tower in the 58th street residential area. The residents are "deeply concerned that the tower will diminish the safety, accessibility and livability of a narrow side street during a lengthy construction process and forever after." City Council Member Ben Kallos will speak.

At 5:30 p.m. Wednesday City Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Vivertio, along with Council Members Paul Vallone and Vincent Gentile and others, will hold a Celebration of Italian Heritage at the Council Chambers in City Hall. The event will also celebrate Frank Sinatra's 100th birthday.

From 6 to 8 p.m. at Fordham Law School, The Safety Net Project at the Urban Justice Center and the Women's City Club of New York will host "This Bridge Called My Back: Women of Color and the Fight for Economic Security", on "how gender intersects with economic and racial inequality in New York City." Dr. Christina Greer, professor of political science at Fordham University, will moderate the panel, with Linda Sarsour, Executive Director of the Arab American Association of New York; Luna Ranjit, Co-Founder and Executive Director of Adhikaar; Joanne N. Smith Founder and Executive Director of Girls for Gender Equality; and Margarita Rosa, Executive Director of National Center for Law and Economic Justice participating in the discussion.

Wednesday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Elizabeth Crowley (District 30, Queens) 6 pm
  • CM Helen Rosenthal (District 6, Manhattan) 6 pm
  • Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito (District 8, Manhattan/Bronx) 6 pm
  • CM Mathieu Eugene (District 40, Brooklyn) 6:30 pm
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Karen Koslowitz (District 29, Queens) 7 pm

Thursday
On Thursday at the City Council:

  • 9:30 a.m., Subcommittee on Zoning and Franchises will meet to discuss three land use applications in Manhattan.
  • 10 a.m., Committee on Finance will meet regarding the Department of Finance's Office of the Taxpayer Advocate.
  • 11 a.m., Subcommittee on Landmarks, Public Siting and Maritime Uses will meet to discuss a land use application in Brooklyn
  • 1 p.m., Subcommittee on Planning, Dispositions and Concessions will meet to discuss another land use application in Brooklyn

Thursday at the New York State Legislature: the Assembly Standing Committee on Health, Assembly Standing Committee on Mental Health, and Assembly Task Force on People with Disabilities will hold a joint public hearing regarding Traumatic Brain Injury Treatment and Services. "The Committees are seeking oral and written testimony from patients and their families, clinicians, service providers, and the Department on topics including the incidence, severity and consequences of TBI; treatment and service appropriateness and availability, including the rights of patients sent out-of-state; and issues relating to the transition of the TBI Waiver program to managed care."

At 9 a.m. Thursday New York State Assembly Members Latoya Joyner and Marcos Crespo will kick off "Let's Put Our Cities on the Map," sponsored and hosted by Google at the Bronx Museum of Arts, which will offer free counseling for small businesses on how to reach local customer bases, specifically by using "SmartLogic" online tools.

"The next public meeting of the New York City Campaign Finance Board will be held on Thursday, October 8 at 10:00 AM."

At 5 p.m. Thursday, EmblemHealth and LaborPress will honor 12 labor union members, from eight different labor unions, for their remarkable contributions to the labor communities at the fourth annual "Heroes of Labor Awards". EmblemHealth has invited many city elected officials to speak, several are expected.

At 6 p.m. Thursday in Washington, D.C., the Brennan Center for Justice and Vox will hold "The Politics of Participation: Building an Engaged Citizenry for Millennials and Beyond," including City Council Member Eric Ulrich. It is billed as "a candid conversation about what the shifting demographic landscape means for grassroots movements, political action, and civic engagement; how can we shape our democracy into one that is truly representative of the people being governed?"

At 6:30 p.m. Thursday, the Brooklyn Historical Society will hold "The Changing Face of Activism," which will explore the historical progression of activism from the 1960s desegregation movement to the present day Black Lives Matter movement. Moderated by Alethia Jones, a leader of 1199 SEIU, the panel will feature activist Barbara Smith; Joo-Hyun Kang of Communities United for Police Reform; and Jose Lopez, Lead Organizer at Make the Road NY and member of the President's Task Force on 21st Century Policing.

At 8:15 p.m. Thursday, Dan Abrams of ABC News will talk with Ray Kelly, the longest-serving NYPD Commissioner, at the 92nd Street Y. Kelly will hold a book signing for his new memoir Vigilance: My Life Serving America and Protecting Its Empire City, after his talk with Mr. Abrams.

Thursday's City Council Participatory Budgeting events:

  • CM Steve Levin (District 33, Brooklyn) 5 pm
  • CM Jimmy Van Bramer (District 26, Queens) 6 pm
  • CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 6:30 pm
  • CM Karen Koslowitz (District 29, Queens) 7 pm
  • CM Ydanis Rodriguez (District 10, Manhattan) 8 pm

Friday and the weekend
Friday at 8:15 a.m., NYPD Commissioner Bill Bratton will speak at New York Law School, as part of the CityLaw breakfast series.

Weekend participatory budgeting:

  • Friday, CM Antonio Reynoso (District 34, Brooklyn/Queens) 1 pm.
  • Saturday, CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn), time TBA.
  • Sunday, CM Carlos Menchaca (District 38, Brooklyn), time TBA.

*Note: we'll publish our next 'Week Ahead' on Monday, October 13 given the Columbus Day holiday

***
Have events or topics for us to include in an upcoming Week Ahead in New York Politics? E-mail Gotham Gazette executive editor Ben Max any time: bmax@gothamgazette.com (please use "For Week Ahead" as email subject).

***
by Colin O'Connor, Konstantine Beridze, and Ben Max
@GothamGazette

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The Week Ahead in New York Politics, October 5 Sun, 04 Oct 2015 05:00:00 +0000