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‘Breaking Car Culture’ in New York City Likely Dependent on Expanded Mass Transit


subway construction

(photo: City Council)


If City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, like-minded lawmakers, and a chorus of transit advocates get their way, New York City will become far less dominated by cars over the next few years.

Talk of “breaking car culture” by increasing options and protections for bikes, buses, and pedestrians while reducing how use of public space and rules of the road favor cars has increased, spurred largely by well-organized activists and Johnson. The speaker has championed the phrase, credited to Council Member Antonio Reynoso, that now symbolizes a growing movement, and introduced legislation to create a “master plan for city streets” with many more bike lanes, bus lanes, and pedestrian plazas required.

But as Johnson has pushed a public transit agenda and breaking the car culture that he and others say unfairly and dangerously dominates New York City, they’ve been met with a few refrains, one of which is that you can only push so many New Yorkers out of their cars without significantly expanding public transit options across the five boroughs, especially in areas currently unserved by the subway. (That thinking also extends to areas without good bike lane networking and access to Citi Bike bike-sharing or to speedy and reliable bus service.) More than one-third of New York City's 8.5 million residents live more than one-third of a mile from a subway stop, according to the Regional Plan Association. 

People will not leave their cars, or abandon the use of for-hire vehicles like Uber and Lyft, without a more robust public transit ecosystem. That challenge is on top of that of making sure that the subways and buses perform well where they already provide extensive options, and installing more bike lanes and pedestrian options in those areas, not to mention the coming influx of electric scooters, recently legalized in New York State.

Despite ongoing, launched, or expected improvements to the subways and buses, many of which are included in the up-in-the-air MTA "Fast Forward" plan to modernize public transit over 10 years, many of the city’s neighborhoods will still be inaccessible by public transportation.

The notion of adding to the city’s current mass transit system has been around a long time, of course, with recent manifestations in the opening of the first phase of the Upper East Side's Second Avenue Subway, the extension of the 7 line to the far west side of Manhattan, and Mayor Bill de Blasio’s Ferry NYC system and planned Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar along the two boroughs’ waterfront.

There have also been a variety of ideas put on the table for additional subway stops, new rail lines, and other enhancements to the grid -- including light-rail reinvigorating abandoned train tracks in Brooklyn and Queens, a train shuttle from a central point in Manhattan to each of the city’s airports, a revamped tristate commuter rail, and more.

“We know our transportation infrastructure is woefully inadequate for our current needs, let alone for future population growth and the challenges that will come with climate change,” Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette, when asked about the relationship between breaking the car culture and building out the transit network.

Defending the large subsidies involved in his signature ferry system, de Blasio in March said that the prospering and growing city needs more mass transit.

“8.6 million people today,” he said on WNYC’s The Brian Lehrer Show. “We’ve added half a million people over the last 15-20 years. We’re going to add another half million people over the next 15 to 20 years ahead. Anyone who thinks our existing transit system can handle all of that is someone who thinks marijuana is already been legalized in New York State and is smoking some. The fact is it is impossible to do what we have to do with the city if we don’t expand mass transit options.”

He continued: “So we have had a four-pronged attack. More bike options; more select bus service, which is those faster dedicated bus routes; more light rail, that’s going to be the BQX, Brooklyn and Queens; and for the first time ever, a citywide ferry system.”

“We’re investing in the future,” de Blasio said. It is worth noting that the ferry system is projected to carry about 9 million annual riders, according to the mayor in May, which is less than two days of typical weekday subway ridership.

For her part, de Blasio’s Department of Transportation Commissioner, Polly Trottenberg, also spoke earlier this year about the need to improve transit options to account for the city’s success and growth.

“Given the growth and economic dynamism of New York City, we should be opening three subway stops every year...if not faster,” she said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. “The biggest transportation challenge the city faces right now is we have stopped building out our subway network. That gets into a bigger discussion of the MTA, of the governance, of the funding challenges there.”

“Nothing carries people like subways,” Trottenberg said.

The MTA doesn’t “have the funds right now to be in the subway line-building game -- and we should get them back in that game” like big cities in other countries, she said.

Proposals and Plans to Expand Public Transit
In its enormous “Fourth Regional Plan” for the tri-state region released in 2017, the Regional Plan association calls for a massive extension of the subway and rail system in and around New York City. This includes bridging unconnected or underconnected areas of the city to each other, adding new subway stops in "high density and low income neighborhoods," and expanding rail options into areas of the city that are "transit deserts."

"Building new subway lines or line extensions in the South Bronx, southeast Brooklyn. and eastern Queens would reduce travel times and fully connect these communities to the city’s transit system—and thereby job opportunities," the RPA plan reads. Too many New Yorkers simply don't have access to the subway system, the association says, particularly "in Queens, where fewer than four in 10 residents can walk to the subway," meaning a distance of one-third of a mile or less from home.

Hiding behind trees and below street level are 24 miles of abandoned railway tracks stretching from Sunset Park in Brooklyn to Co-op City in the Bronx. A proposal by the RPA would see the conversion of those tracks to a functioning commuter rail, covering 80 square miles and intersecting with 17 subway lines.

RPA estimates the line would serve upwards of 100,000 people a day, and cost under $2 billion to make usable. (Phase one of the Second Avenue subway extension, completed in January 2017, was estimated to cost nearly $4.5 billion.)

The so-called “triboro line” that would include Brooklyn, Queens, and the Bronx could be implemented at a lower cost because the right of way and tracks are already in place, RPA Senior Vice President for State Programs & Advocacy Kate Slevin said in an interview with Gotham Gazette. The line would bring benefits to the outer boroughs, where 50 percent of the city’s job growth has occurred in the last 15 years, according to the RPA proposal. Transit advocates, business owners and employees, elected officials and others regularly point out that the city’s recent economic and residential patterns do not match well with its Manhattan-centric public transit network.

Along with new rail options where they don't exist, the RPA also calls for things like extending the 7 line from the new far west side 34th Street stop down the west side into "underserved areas of Chelsea and Meatpacking."

The RPA plan notes that nearly 60 percent of residents of the Bronx and Brooklyn, and 36 percent of residents of Queens, do not own a car.

“I don’t think cars will be going away anytime soon but if you’re a growing city you only have a certain amount of street space to work with,” Slevin said. “New York needs to be moving at a faster clip to prioritize high efficiency transportation options.”

RPA also envisions a re-worked commuter rail system, with a united NJ Transit, Metro North, and LIRR, entitled Trans-Regional Express (T-REX). Rather than having each entity individually operate to and from Manhattan, T-REX would see the introduction of new freight-rail corridors directly connecting each of the regions currently serviced by commuter rail, Slevin said. The plan aims to increase ridership by 1 million by 2040.

“This is not just a system to bring people from the suburbs to Manhattan,” Slevin said. The plan would bring “paramount benefits in the city and smaller cities outside the five boroughs that have not benefited the same way Manhattan has,” she said.

A revamped commuter rail system has the potential to influence “car culture” not only in the city, but also in the suburbs, said Sarah Kaufman, Associate Director of NYU’s Rudin Center for Transportation.

“Additional tracks that would provide more frequent service and that would include allowing people in the farther reaches of the city to use commuter rail as an alternative to the subway” would have an impact, Kaufman said.

“A well-functioning public transportation system is key to reducing reliance on cars,” said Julie Tighe, President of the New York League of Conservation Voters, at a recent Riders Alliance rally to call on the MTA to ensure that its next five-year capital plan focuses on fixing the subways.

Perhaps as a harbinger of RPA’s vision, in 2023 the MTA will begin construction on East Side Access, an eight track terminal and concourse for LIRR trains at Grand Central Station. Penn Station is currently the only Manhattan stop on the LIRR. Another plan, entitled Penn Station Access, would bring Metro North trains to Penn Station in addition to Grand Central, where they currently stop.

“I’m hopeful that East Side Access and Metro North access to Penn Station will help influence people who may otherwise feel like they don’t have a choice but to drive,” Kaufman said.

Many of these plans are just and only that - without support from elected officials.

Another factor in upcoming decisions is the imminent implementation of congestion pricing, which will charge drivers a fee for entering Manhattan below 61st Street. Like with calls to “break the car culture,” congestion pricing led to pushback from some saying that better mass transit is needed in conjunction.

De Blasio announced a plan for the BQX streetcar during his 2016 State of the City speech, but the proposal has been criticized from the start for mostly replicating the G subway line and existing bus routes, especially given de Blasio’s minimal attention to the subways and buses for most of his time as mayor (he’s recently paid more mind to the buses, which he has more control over based on city control of the streets).

It has also been seen as more of a boon to real estate interests than the riding public, though some potential riders have expressed excitement about a new way to move between certain neighborhoods, especially as residential and commercial growth in Queens and Brooklyn have grown.

Unlike when it was first announced, the BQX plan is now said to require significant federal funding in order to move toward completion, though interim steps are being taken by the city. Its fate is unclear.

“Speaker Johnson is open to creative ideas on how to improve our transportation network,” said Jennifer Fermino, Speaker Johnson’s communications director, in a statement to Gotham Gazette following a Council hearing on the proposed BQX earlier this year. Sentiment among Council members appears mixed, and Johnson appears to be holding out on giving an opinion.

MTA Efforts
This fall the MTA will put out its new five-year capital plan, which will set the organization’s construction and major upgrade project agenda for 2020 through 2024. It is unlikely to include any new expansion plans for the subway system, but is expected to focus heavily on upgrading the existing tracks, signals, cars, and stations -- including by increasingly accessibility for those living with disabilities -- all of which should help to encourage more people to take public mass transit over cars.

The MTA did announce in April a new phase of the stalled study of transportation along the Utica Avenue corridor in Brooklyn. While the study, performed jointly by the MTA and city DOT, will examine a variety of transit aspects, including bus service, it will also look at “extending the existing subway on Eastern Parkway or Fulton Street south along Utica Avenue. The extension could be either underground or as an elevated rail line.”

It’s unclear where the second phase of the Second Avenue Subway will factor into the new MTA capital plan.

Advocates are encouraging the MTA to adopt accessibility as a key issue, which could reduce some reliance on cars. According to the Elevator Action Group at Rise and Resist, the MTA counts 118 of its 472, or 25 percent, of its subway stations as accessible, while the MTA counts 118 of its 472 stations as accessible. “The lack of elevator accessibility continues to deny access to disabled New Yorkers and elderly,” Assemblymember Deborah Glick said at the Riders Alliance rally.

The MTA already has a bus route redesign process underway, having completed Staten Island and working on the Bronx, to be followed by other boroughs. Modernizing bus routes, along with other efforts like installing more dedicated bus lanes (which is more under the purview of New York City government), is aimed at improving the city’s terribly slow bus speeds and reversing the trend of dipping bus ridership.

When earlier this year he announced a crackdown on illegal parking in bus lanes in order to get the city’s buses moving more quickly, de Blasio got at the heart of the matter with regard to the current system that does exist, but needs to perform better.

“So for drivers – help your fellow New Yorkers by not parking in the bus lanes, and with this effort to speed up the buses, more and more New Yorkers will be able to choose mass transit and they can get out of their cars and that's going to take cars off the road and reduce congestion also,” the mayor said in January. “So we could have a virtuous circle here if we get it right. That's what we intend to do.”

Some city officials want to figure out ways to work with the MTA to expand the subway system to add new stops and lines. The MTA recently adopted a “transformation plan” with goals including to improve service across the different branches of the authority and to bring construction costs down. For now, de Blasio has announced several new bus-related plans, a large Citi Bike expansion, and additional planned stops for the ferry program, though he does not seem particularly interested in a major cultural shift or pursuing an expansion of railway possibilities; and he has done little about parking placard abuse by public employees despite multiple announcements saying the city is cracking down on the practice. Parking in general has become a key issue within the street-use reform converation, and whether the city devotes too much public space allowing people to store their cars, and to do so free of charge in many places throughout the five boroughs. Johnson and Trottenberg are among those who've said there are too many parking spots in New York City.

Speaker Johnson is looking to move ahead with his "master plan" legislation that would attempt to shift the balance of power on city streets by devoting more space to bus riders, bicyclists, and pedestrians.

Johnson and others have pushed for municipal control of the MTA, in part as a way to get those astronomical construction costs under control. Until then, no major additions will be possible, Johnson said in a statement to Gotham Gazette.

“Adding a single mile of subway track in New York City costs the same as sending a rover to Mars,” Johnson said in the statement. “Meaningful mass transit expansion is not happening until we get in line with rest of the world and bring down costs. That won’t happen without real accountability and it’s clear it certainly won’t happen with the subway until we have municipal control.”

[Read: Corey Johnson Wants to 'Break the Car Culture' in New York City. What Does That Mean?]

***
by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

Eric Adams Plans to Put Public Health on the Menu in the Next Race for Mayor


eric adams healthy food

Eric Adams with healthy food people (photo: @BPEricAdams)


Eric Adams, Brooklyn’s borough president since 2014, can always count on one place for good reviews: vegan magazines and websites.

Forks Over Knives, an organization dedicated to plant-based diets, collaborated with Adams for a 2018 mini-documentary about his lifestyle. Plant-Based News has written several stories concerning the measures Adams has championed as borough president. Vegan blog The Plantiful declared in 2018 that “we are lucky to have an inspirational Borough President” like Eric Adams.

After a 2016 diagnosis of Type 2 diabetes, Adams, a Democrat, transformed his lifestyle, switching to veganism and developing a rigorous exercise regimen. He dropped 30 pounds and became a crusader for health initiatives -- everything from yoga to biking to eating less meat -- in Brooklyn and beyond. His public health focus has earned him attention in more mainstream local media and among advocates, and he’s spearheaded several public policy changes, including getting New York City schools to adopt “Meatless Mondays.”

“At every event, I talk about how health is the cornerstone to our prosperity,” Adams said in a 2017 New York Times profile about his response to his diabetes diagnosis and published shortly after he went vegan.

While Adams will not be running as a single-issue candidate, he appears likely to put public health front and center in making his upcoming New York City mayoral campaign pitch.

The public health programs he’s backed, and the personal story behind them, have made him a popular figure in media devoted to healthy eating and a fairly unique political profile, especially relative to most other politicians, including his likely mayoral race competitors.

Now, as he gears up for a mayoral run toward the all-important June 2021 Democratic primary, Adams will have to see whether he can go citywide with his message of healthy living and gain traction among voters who will also want to hear about education, housing, transit, public safety, and other typical big-ticket issues, among others that may be more niche.

And while the former 22-year veteran of the NYPD and seven-year veteran of the state Senate will surely have plans and talking points on a wide variety of issues as the mayoral race unfolds, his focus on public health may help set him apart.

In a wide-ranging, hour-long interview with Gotham Gazette about his career and the upcoming campaign, Adams made it clear that health will indeed be a major component of his 2021 platform. “Health! Health is crucial!,” he said. “It’s not sustainable,” he added, of the city’s overburdened health care system. He went on to describe tele-medicine, one of many policies he has committed to focus on in order to address the city’s purported health crisis, which includes higher than average obesity rates.

Under Adams’ idea of expanded tele-medicine, patients would have increased options to talk to a doctor online rather than travel to the doctor’s office, potentially a great help to seniors and others who may have difficulty leaving their houses. “There’s no reason people should sit in the emergency room,” Adams said, “when they can use tele-medicine and look right on the screen and speak to a doctor right away.” 

Adams also professed support for improving lunches in New York City’s schools and hospitals, though he did not provide details. He’s also making a push for adding yoga and meditation to school curriculum.

Along with specific healthfulness policies, Adams believes that the best way to reduce the healthcare system’s woes is to reduce the need for so much institutional healthcare to begin with. “While other people are talking about making sure children have access to emergency rooms,” he told Gotham Gazette, “I'm having a conversation about preventing families from going to emergency rooms…I’m going to wean people off being reactionary, and create a proactive form of dealing with health.” 

It’s a philosophy born of Adams’ approach to his own illness. He wrote retrospectively in 2018 that he “wanted to try lifestyle changes before signing up for insulin injections,” and his goal is for everyone else to have the same choice he did. Calling on Mayor Bill de Blasio to increase plant-based medicine at New York City hospitals, Adams had a simple plea: “Give the patient the option.”

Looking at his likely 2021 opponents -- including at least fellow Democrats Comptroller Scott Stringer, City Council Speaker Corey Johnson, and Bronx Borough President Ruben Diaz, Jr. -- Adams said that “what I am offering is different from everyone else that is running because no one else is looking outside the box the way I’m looking outside the box.” 

One key question Adams will face is how much voters want to hear about public health policy, and whether he can make them care enough about healthy living to base their mayoral vote on it, at least in part.

A poll conducted by Quinnipiac in October 2017, just ahead of de Blasio’s re-election that November, asked likely voters in New York City what the most important issue would be for them in deciding who to vote for in that year’s mayoral election; health was not considered notable enough by the pollster to include in its list of options. Only 1% of respondents volunteered an answer other than those provided: the economy, education, crime, housing, homelessness, and public transportation. 

Similarly, an article on NY1’s and Baruch College’s The City Poll from May 2017 listed affordable housing, crime, jobs and the economy, and homelessness as the top four issues for New Yorkers, with no mention of health. Public health issues were little discussed in the 2013 and 2017 mayoral races.

Health care is, of course, a crucial aspect of many peoples’ lives and often a central piece of the national discussion, whether it’s Medicare for All, “Obamacare,” or reproductive rights. The conversation also does come up locally -- there’s been much discussion in New York state government about a state-level single-payer healthcare system, and de Blasio has made recent announcements around expanded city health care for uninsured New Yorkers, especially those who are undocumented. Issues related to health care access, including hospital closures, have been part of the local political discussion in recent years.

In a national poll conducted by Pew Research Center in 2019, health care costs were the second-most important policy priority for voters. This would indicate that voters pay more attention to health-related issues on the federal level, though perhaps more city residents need to be asked about it. 

One challenge for Adams may be to convince voters that the mayor’s office should play a greater role in lowering health care costs and making the city a healthier place. The issue certainly was central at times during the mayoralty of Michael Bloomberg, who instituted a ban on smoking in bars and restaurants and calorie counts on menus at chain restaurants. He also sought to limit the sizes of sodas that could be purchased at some establishments due to high sugar concentrations.

And de Blasio has made mental health a major focus through the at times controversial ThriveNYC program led by First Lady Chirlane McCray, which Adams has mostly expressed support of.

As a pair of studies from 2014 show, Bloomberg, Adams and others are not wrong to focus on health as a major concern. Between 2004 and 2014, obesity among New York City adults increased from 27.5% to 32.4%, while diabetes rates rose from 13.4% to 16.0%. The study’s authors note in the abstract that they “observed increases in eating out and screen time over time and no improvements in physical activity.”

A different study found a 2014 obesity rate of 27.0% in the whole of New York state; if the city had been its own separate state, it would have been the ninth-most obese state in the nation. 

It is against this backdrop that Adams has waged his fight for a healthier Brooklyn, and New York. His first foray into health-related legislation was in 2011, when he was the sole sponsor of a quixotic bill in the State Senate to entirely ban the use of salt in New York restaurants; the bill was introduced twice, and died in committee both times. 

Following his ascension to borough president, and his subsequent diabetes diagnosis, he has increased his efforts exponentially, oftentimes with much greater success. His Meatless Mondays initiative, which requires vegetarian school lunches every Monday, began as a pilot program in 15 schools across Brooklyn less than two years. This coming September, it will be rolled out across the entire city public school system.

“I stood beside Mayor de Blasio and then-Chancellor Fariña in 2017 to announce that fifteen schools in Brooklyn were undertaking Meatless Mondays,” Adams said in March about the rollout. “In less than eighteen months, we can announce that Meatless Mondays has spread to more than one million children at every school across the city, putting us on the path to make our kids, communities, and planet healthier.”

Adams was also successful shepherding a bill through the City Council in 2017 that created a city urban agriculture website, which informs residents about local community gardens and farms. And his general push to make Brooklyn Borough Hall a mecca for healthy lifestyles is evident, with bike-to-work events or vegan meetups happening nearly every month. As a former NYPD officer and now elected official, Adams has also taken a leading role in addressing gun violence as a public health issue, allocating and pushing for more resources to community-based solutions and proactive efforts to reduce vulnerable young people's propensity toward illegally carrying or using a gun.

Some initiatives that Adams has championed remain in limbo. A 2018 bill introduced at his request in the City Council to eliminate processed meats in public schools has not made it out of committee, though some of its provisions are present in de Blasio’s “New York City’s Green New Deal.”

A more recent push this past April to ban junk food advertisements from city property has also made no apparent headway thus far.

With the 2021 primary now under two years away, Adams will soon intensify his citywide healthfulness pitch. He says his Brooklyn constituents have already felt the effects of his initiatives. “It may not be on everyone's radar,” he said, “but it has taken flight.”

***
by Joey Fox, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

School Diversity Group’s Second Set of Recommendations Expected Soon; Will Take on Admissions Policies


district 15 div plan announce

(photo: Michael Appleton/Mayoral Photography Office)


Following the city’s adoption of 62 recommendations targeting diversity and desegregation in public schools, a new report expected this month from the same advisory group will aim to tackle the tough topics of screened admissions and gifted and talented programs.

The two reports come from the Department of Education’s School Diversity Advisory Group, which Mayor Bill de Blasio formed in 2017 amid increasing demands that he take significant steps toward desegregating the city’s highly racially-segregated schools. The group released its first report with 67 recommendations in February, and the city accepted 62 of them in June, including adding diversity targets in middle school admissions, encouraging more districts to come up with diversity plans, and adding diversity metrics to an annual report, among other potential changes. The first set of recommendations largely dealt with elementary and middle schools at the district-level, with more specific admissions proposals coming in the second wave.

Members of the advisory group said in June that the second report was expected in just a few weeks, but have since said the report should be public by the end of August.

While some said the adopted recommendations are a positive step after years of the mayor and the DOE balking at the issue of school segregation, critics noted that as it stands the plan lacks timelines for implementation and more aggressive citywide solutions, including taking on high school admissions. The city did not accept recommendations to create a Chief Integration Officer or to consider moving the supervision of School Resource Officers from the NYPD to the Department of Education.

The first recommendations focused on pushing individual school districts to develop their own diversity plans -- de Blasio has expressed support for the few districts that have taken this on in the past and said he believes integration should be pursued by local communities not pushed by the administration. The city also adopted a framework created by the student-led advocacy group Integrate NYC called the five R’s (race and enrollment, resource equity, relationships across group identities, representation of staff, and restorative justice), which will be a foundation for creating school integration policy.

“Our schools are stronger when they reflect the diversity of our city, and we’ve taken real steps to integrate our schools, including adopting the student-developed ‘5 R’s’ framework for real integration,” DOE spokesperson Will Mantell said in a statement to Gotham Gazette. “We thank the students, educators, and families who have made their voices heard, and we’ll continue to act.”

Matt Gonzales, a member of the School Diversity Advisory Group and school diversity director at the nonprofit New York Appleseed, said the second report will lay out ways the city can change admissions policies as well as more detail on goals and timelines for implementation. He said the group wants to see some of their recommendations in the second report start to be put into effect in the fall.

Gonzales said he could not detail the specifics of the report, but that the group focused on areas where enrollment policies create “concentrations of privilege and vulnerability.” He added that the SDAG found that gifted and talented and screened admissions are tools that enable segregation.

The group’s intention, Gonzales said, was to originally write only one report, but the members later decided that the first report would lay out the framework for the conversation around desegregation. The next report will be more specific.

“The second report is really about following through on trying to address some of the primary mechanisms that facilitate segregation,” Gonzales said. “We could write a hundred reports, probably, on what needs to be done. There will be more to say and do after this report comes out.”

The SDAG overall aims to reshape citywide policies to desegregate public schools, which a UCLA report in 2014 said are the most segregated in the nation. Though some progress has begun, the gifted programs are a stark example of the segregated school system and remain a point of tension as the city wrestles with when and how to pursue racial and economic integration.

The city’s school system is nearly 70 percent black and Hispanic with white and Asian students making up around 15 percent each. But black and Hispanic students make up only around 27 percent of students in gifted and talented programs, according to Chalkbeat.

Students in kindergarten through third grade can take an exam to get into the gifted programs at the five gifted and talented schools that take students citywide or individual district programs.

David Bloomfield, an education professor at Brooklyn College and CUNY Graduate Center, said he expects the second report to be stronger than the first, but added that the real question is whether it will have any impact or if it is part of de Blasio’s strategy to appear concerned about segregation “without really doing anything.”

“Simply calling for the change does little to meet the change,” Bloomfield said. “This go-slow approach seems to be ineffective in making the school system more equitable.”

Bloomfield said the new report could go deeper into the “hundreds” of schools that use academic screens — test scores, grades, interviews, admissions visits, or geographic location — to admit students. About 25 percent of middle schools and 33 percent of high schools use screened admission processes, and the eight specialized high schools only admit students based on their SHSAT scores.

Schools Chancellor Richard Carranza has been critical of the use of academic screens, and the mayor this year unsuccessfully attempted to eliminate the SHSAT via state legislation. Though, Bloomfield said de Blasio could do more by focusing on the ways he could make the system more equitable without having to change state law: eliminating academic screens or changing the selection mechanism. Some have also called on de Blasio to create new specialized high schools, which the city has the power to do, while it could also change the admissions criteria at five of the existing eight schools (the other three are indeed governed by state law).

On the Max & Murphy podcast, City Council Member Brad Lander -- a Brooklyn Democrat who has been one of the leaders in pushing school desegregation efforts in the city, including in his own district, which has its own school desegregation plan already showing progress -- said the city has not made “any meaningful progress” for integration at the high school level yet.

Lander said the city could move to a process that requires integration in high schools where students travel to schools across the city, relieving the burden of residential segregation.

“High schools are a big opportunity,” Lander said. “Most of the focus has been on the specialized high schools, but we have about 400 high schools. And other than those eight, the city sets admission guidelines.”

Lander said that the first set of recommendations were a good development and he is optimistic for more progress, but that integration efforts are just getting started.

“We’ve got a long, long, long way to go,” Lander said. “We’re finally starting.”

***
by Samantha Handler, Gotham Gazette
     

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