Gotham Gazette

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Ensuring Transportation Equity in New York City

Council Member Brooks-Powers, the author (left), with MTA CEO Lieber (photo: William Alatriste/NYC Council)

For too long, New York City’s transportation conversations have focused largely on communities – both geographic and otherwise – that are best able to navigate our city’s streets, sidewalks, waterways, and subways. New York City is now at a pivotal moment where we are seeing historic funding from Washington, D.C. and the first female majority City Council. It is time to reshape the transportation and infrastructure conversation that for too long has left out the outer-boroughs and transportation desert communities.

Transportation equity is a major issue in our city that must be confronted, and I have begun working on it as the new chair of the City Council's Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. It requires addressing the needs of neighborhoods that have suffered from divestment, long commutes, often in two-fare zones, and a lack of transit access. It also calls for us to make our streets and public transportation ADA-accessible, ensure our children are safe traveling to and from school, promote the use of minority- and women-owned businesses (MWBEs) when we allocate our transportation dollars, and focus on improvement – not just enforcement – when we tackle dangerous driving.

Fundamentally, transportation equity can only be achieved by listening to the needs of all communities, and prioritizing people and places that need our efforts and resources most. To engage in thoughtful dialogue regarding transportation equity citywide, the Council’s Transportation and Infrastructure Committee is taking a comprehensive approach. We held our first oversight hearing on the topic this week, allowing transportation stakeholders to provide their insights. As, Chair, I have also embarked on a transportation and infrastructure listening tour of all 51 Council Districts. I want to talk not only to my Council colleagues and transportation advocates, but also to residents in different neighborhoods about how the City Council can help address their transportation needs.

Many of the challenges my district faces are experienced by neighborhoods across the city, and I’m excited to tackle these issues. It’s also important that we remember how these “citywide” issues disproportionately affect some New Yorkers, and question why that is and what we can do to change it.

One example of this is street safety. All New Yorkers suffer when our streets are unsafe, and no neighborhood is immune to the impacts of traffic deaths and injuries. Yet, a lack of focus and investment, historically from the city government, has left districts like mine – District 31 in Southeast Queens – to experience more traffic deaths than anywhere else in the city, based on data from last year. Much is the same in other districts like mine, from the Bronx to Staten Island. This means more of our friends and families are being hurt and killed on our streets. We need solutions that include addressing historic underinvestment that has left streets in some neighborhoods far less safe.

These disproportionate negative effects are also not limited to issues of street safety. As the data confirms, this also applies to traffic pollution, lack of accessible infrastructure, and other challenges.

As the Chair of the Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure in the New York City Council, I want to make sure that we address these important issues holistically, and our city agencies are responsive to the individual needs of communities. That means taking community input seriously and understanding that one solution may not work for every block in the city.

I am committed to making sure all of our communities’ voices are heard to achieve transportation equity across our city.

City Council Member Selvena Brooks-Powers is the Majority Whip of the City Council and represents the 31st Council District, which includes the neighborhoods of Arverne, Brookville, Edgemere, Laurelton, Springfield Gardens, Rosedale, and Far Rockaway. She is chair of the Council’s Committee on Transportation and Infrastructure. On Twitter @CMBrooksPowers.

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