Gotham Gazette Sun, 16 May 2021 02:45:35 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb (Webmaster) Democratic Mayoral Candidates Discuss the Future of City Parks and Open Space parks nyc

Betsy Head Park in Brownsville (photo: Michael Appleton/Mayor's Office)

Four candidates vying for the Democratic nomination to become New York City’s next mayor appeared at a virtual forum Monday night to share their visions for the future of the city’s parks and open spaces. The coronavirus pandemic has both added attention to the importance of the city’s parks and had a negative impact on its green spaces, which have a history of under-investment, neglect, and inequitable distribution across the five boroughs. New Yorkers’ increased demand for open space during covid highlighted those disparities, exacerbated by Mayor Bill de Blasio’s decision to slash the Parks Department budget by $84 million last June, the second-largest cut of any other city agency.

The next mayor, due to take office in January, will play a critical role in shaping the future of the city’s parks and open spaces. Most leading Democratic mayoral hopefuls, including Scott Stringer and Maya Wiley, have outlined detailed parks platforms, but others including Eric Adams and Andrew Yang have yet to release policy on the future of the city’s parks. Neither Stringer nor Adams nor Yang were in attendance Monday night.

The mayoral forum, “A New Vision for Parks & Open Space,” was co-hosted by New Yorkers for Parks and the Play Fair Coalition, a group that includes more than 300 parks advocates across the city. NY1 political anchor and reporter Juan Manuel Benítez moderated the discussion, presented by New York Law School. Much of the forum’s discussion centered around New Yorkers for Parks’ Five Point Plan for Park Equity, which was released a month ahead of the forum and outlines what the parks system needs from the city’s next mayor, according to the group. The plan broadly calls for increased funding for the city’s parks, green space equity in historically underserved communities, cross-agency coordination and comprehensive planning, capital process reform, and meaningful support for not-for-profit partners and volunteer groups.

Participating candidates included Art Chang, a former managing director at JPMorgan Chase who has had a wide variety of civic roles, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, and former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire.

“Our next mayor must treat parks as critical infrastructure. It was encouraging to hear the candidates who participated in our forum come out strongly in support of a more robust and equitable parks and open space system in New York,” said Adam Ganser, the executive director of New Yorkers for Parks, in a post-forum statement to Gotham Gazette. “We heard unanimous agreement for significantly increasing parks funding to at least 1 percent of the City budget; improving park access and creating new parks in underserved communities; and instituting a Director of the Public Realm to oversee a comprehensive, citywide strategy. As we near the June primary, we hope to see all the candidates go on record with a similar commitment to reverse NYC’s decades of underinvestment in its parks and open spaces.”

In his opening remarks, the dean and president of New York Law School, Anthony Crowell, emphasized the critical role the city’s parks system played in people’s lives during this year of isolation and shutdowns brought on by COVID-19. “Last year has shown parks have been both a place for relief as well as a crucial part of our city's public health, environmental, and economic infrastructure.” Crowell said. “Investing in our parks as infrastructure must be a part of this city's recovery and the future. We must do so in a way that addresses the systemic inequities in park access that have been decades in the making.”

Asked what they would do within their first 100 days as mayor to help the city achieve a more robust and equitable park system, candidates broadly agreed to expand greenspace in the city.

Chang honed in on the unequal access to open greenery in the city, saying, “The first thing I would do during my first 100 days is to start a comprehensive open space planning project that encompasses all five boroughs,” which would examine the distribution of park space across the city and be conducted “bottom up — engaging with communities and non-profits, like New Yorkers for Parks and Fair Play Coalition.”

Donovan spotlighted his signature “15-minute neighborhood” plan, which would remake New York such that all residents live within walking distance of greenspace, in addition to transportation, health care, good schools, and more. “In fact, I would go to 10 minutes as the standard within your front door on parks because they're so important,” said Donovan. He went to on say, “I would create an Office of the public Realm at City Hall to coordinate all of the work. We know the capital process is broken. We know that it is far too hard to get parks built.” Donovan concluded by saying that he would expand the Parks Department budget from half of 1% to at least 1%, before saying he would leverage his connections with the Biden-Harris administration to secure “the capital that we need.”

Garcia emphasized how the coronavirus pandemic highlighted the need for additional green space in the city. “It was essential before; it is more essential now,” she said. “I have committed to 150 million square feet of green infrastructure,” said Garcia, who pledged to replace 100 blacktop schoolyards with brand-new green spaces, green all school roofs, and expressed support for Green New Deal for NYCHA, as well as Renewable Rikers, which would convert Rikers into a renewable energy zone.

Garcia cited her extensive experience in city government, adding, “I understand capital budgeting. I've done $8 billion worth of capital budget work in my time in city government,” before saying she would ensure “that we have Open Streets, that we are using those to create active areas in the city,” at least while her proposed green policies are going into effect.

Candidates cited their professional backgrounds and experience when asked what set them apart from other mayoral hopefuls in the race.

“I'm trained as an architect and planner,” said Donovan, who went on to stress, “I've been a leader in innovative ways to create green space.” Donovan cited Via Verde, an eco-friendly affordable housing development in the Bronx he helped create while working as the city’s housing commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and where he launched his mayoral campaign, as well as Partnership for Sustainable Communities, which he spearheaded during his tenure in the Obama administration, and his work with Rebuild By Design “to make our waterfront not just more accessible and to create more parks, but to do it in a way that really accounted for climate change.”

Garcia called for expanding the Parks Department budget to 1% of the city’s $90-plus billion budget, which she said would ensure that parks are fully staffed with workers, as well as outfitted with park rangers and patrol officers, and that GreenThumb gardens are supported. “You can't just build it, you also have to manage it,” said Garcia, citing her 14 years of experience in city government at the Department of Environmental Protection and Sanitation Department, and in other roles.

Citing his architectural and design background, Chang said, “I'm the only one who's actually built waterfront parks, who's built community parks, and who's actually thought about coastal resiliency, to adapt to climate change and the relationship that has the softening the waterfront, and allowing for waterfront parks to exist, which I think should be expanded greatly throughout the city.”

McGuire then joined the forum and cited his “leadership role” with the Hudson River Parkway, where he said he helped implement artist David Hammons’ public art installation piece “Day’s End,” for which construction is well underway.

McGuire half-joked about not having an architecture degree, and made the argument that he doesn’t need one in order to solve the city’s equity problems when it comes to green space. “We don't need to create new [parks],” he said. “We need to fix the ones that we have, especially in communities that don't have parks, that don't have open spaces.”

Benítez prompted candidates to formally pledge to commit 1% of the city’s budget to parks, and all four agreed.

“I want to invite all the viewers tonight to join me when I announce that I will support New York City parks with 1% tomorrow at the basketball courts at Owl’s Head Park because that is an area that actually also desperately needs a new park,” said Garcia, referring to Bay Ridge, where Owl’s Head is located and where Garcia has pledged to build a new park, among other underserved communities, particularly parts of the Bronx, Queens, and Staten Island. “I believe that if you build it, you've got to take care of it. I understand what it means to take care of capital infrastructure over the long haul,” said Garcia.

Chang promised to go further, saying, “Absolutely. I'm not sure that 1% is enough, though, because, as we know, the range in the world for park budget is 1% to 2%, and so 1% is just at the very bottom of that range.” Chang went on to decry the city’s “very poorly coordinated capital process.” To maximize the Parks Department budget, Chang said, “We need to be able to bring cross-coordination between the different agencies who are responsible for parks.” He added that he’d like to see “1% of this capital budget for the parks also being spent on arts in the parks.”

At this point, Garcia jumped in to clarify that the budget to which she had been referring to in her response was specifically regarding the city’s expense budget. “There already is a percent for arts in all of the capital budget that is already required by the City Charter,” she said.

Donovan made the argument that he is the best candidate to acquire and utilize all available federal resources and other means citing federal conservation climate funds as examples.

“We should make sure that we're doing everything, not just directly through the budget, but through other ways to harness the power of parks in people's lives, to bring the private sector to the table to do this in an equitable way, where we're sharing the resources we can raise through value capture, and through friends and conservancies across the city and building partnerships that will provide technical assistance to many communities that don't currently have those groups and need to build them,” Donovan concluded.

“In the firm in which I've transitioned, we manage $4 trillion a day,” said McGuire, referring to Citi. “I’ve been held accountable for 13 years, which is the longest any person in that job in the history of the corporate world,” he said of his position leading the company’s global investment portfolio.

Candidates unanimously agreed to expand the number of park rangers and parks enforcement patrol officers in the city’s parks, though they specified different number targets, while pointing out other parks-related issues, as well.

“We need to at least double the number of parks rangers that we have,” said Chang, who pointed out that parks rules and regulations can’t be properly enforced without adequate staffing. He also suggested making better use of the city’s 311 system. “The park rangers — even doubling that is not going to be sufficient. So providing people with the real way to actually complain, to talk about things, and offer suggestions in a real customer service type of response is going to be critical to actually making this work,” Chang said.

Donovan also agreed that the number of positions should be doubled, at least. He used his response time to spotlight his Youth Horticulture Corps plan, a smaller component of his larger jobs plan, which guarantees the city will connect every high school student to at least one paid job or internship opportunity by 2026. “We have to be training and developing the next generation of leaders on parks, those who will work in our parks, those who will value our parks,” he said.

McGuire emphasized utilizing the city’s parks to cultivate the arts. “Let's commission five artists by borough to create different outdoor spaces and experiences for the parks. Let's make sure that we can create art fairs for our children in each one of the parks during the course of the weekend and during the course of the summer.” He also called for using parks to host summer camps for children.

Garcia stressed infrastructure upkeep in her response. “We also do need to ensure that we are investing in the capital infrastructure for parks and increasing. I think it's a little bit shy of $5 billion over the next four years in city parks. That needs to go up by a significant amount,” she said. She also pointed out that it was important parks projects are completed “in a timely fashion,” citing their track record of delayed delivery, “which costs time and costs money.”

Asked how they would allocate appropriate funding for community gardens and how that funding would be assessed through the lens of structural racism, Donovan reiterated his involvement on Via Verde, which grew community gardens on the roofs. He also flexed his connections to the Biden-Harris administration again, saying, “I’m the only one, really, in a position to be able to work closely with them to find new models like that.” He restated his earlier suggestion to utilize different federal funds and city partnerships “to build a more equitable financing system outside government funding directly.” Lastly, he highlighted his “15-minute neighborhood” proposal, which he argued would deliver funding and resources equitably across the city, especially for historically marginalized communities.

McGuire and Garcia didn’t directly say how they would allocate funding, but they both emphasized equity in their responses.

“We need to make certain that as we distribute the funds that it’s done equitably, and so that it has a conscious design in mind,” McGuire said vaguely. Benítez pressed him to address the issue of community gardens in his response, to which he said, “I would especially invest in community gardens in the lower-income neighborhoods where we have not invested.”

“I have a long relationship with the community gardens and they have been my partners on many fronts, particularly as master composter sites,” said Garcia, who went on to discuss the soil quality of the gardens. “We need to ensure that in every neighborhood, people have open space. And when I'm mayor, I'll ensure that we are looking at that lens of where's the money going, so that we can support and protect our community gardens.”

“The budget has grown by $18 billion,” said Chang, referring to the city’s roughly $92 billion budget and its growth under Mayor de Blasio, adding that “there is at least $10 billion of wasted overhead and administrative costs and duplicate services that can be cut down. Some of that money can be transitioned to support the neighborhood gardens.” Chang also suggested using the city’s first lien position to take over properties with property tax delinquencies and then convert them into community gardens.

Candidates were asked how they would utilize NYCHA’s available inventory of green space not suitable to build additional housing and create sustainable parks, gardens, and flood protections.

Garcia, McGuire, and Chang generally agreed that the fenced-in nature of much of NYCHA’s green space was a detriment to the housing authority’s residents, as well as the community at large.

“I would integrate NYCHA into its community and use its green space,” said Garcia. “There are opportunities to use that green space like they are doing at Red Hook; they're creating lily pads, which is actually to protect the structures from flooding using landscaping.” Garcia also pointed out that seniors residents at NYCHA are “aging in place” and “the structures that we have there are not conducive for our seniors to be able to gather in a park-like setting.”

McGuire also emphasized the importance of green space access for seniors, saying, “I would create parks and make sure that the seniors are able to plant in those parks.” He added, “ I've gone to a number of the NYCHA homes where they take so much pride in the garden that they've created. We need to do more of that. And we need to get the NYCHA residents involved.”

“The fact that there are fences indicates that there is a very poor relationship between the tenants and their feeling of ownership over the space,” said Chang, who suggested “converting NYCHA into some form of social housing.”

Donovan said he would “organize a worldwide design competition with billions of dollars available to our public housing resident organizations” to come up with “bold new solutions to reimagine what the landscapes in public housing cna be.” President Obama’s Hurricane Sandy Rebuilding Task Force, which Donovan spearheaded, launched a similar initiative. (Donovan said he had to leave for another appointment at the end of that answer.)

Asked how they would reform the capital construction process, which is known for delays and high costs, McGuire and Garcia cited their budgetary experience, while Chang pointed to the 2014 Survey of Capital Projects Management document assembled by New Yorkers for Parks and Public Works Partners.

“I am uniquely positioned because this is what I've had to do for a living,” said McGuire, who cited his experience managing over 50 budgets. “You have to have discipline and a budget process, you have to eliminate the waste, and you have to make it more efficient. And so I have a track record of having done that.”

“There are too many oversights on the capital process,” said Garica, who noted, “because we are that bureaucratic, it costs us more money.” She continued, “I understand how to hold these agencies accountable and cut down on where they are spending time and money.” Garcia also pointed out, “We also need to have more innovative delivery processes,” citing the Department of Design and Construction for delivering projects more quickly during covid “because they were skirting all the rules,” which they were allowed to do because of emergency declarations suspending procurement laws. She suggested partnering with different non-profits for delivery, but did not go into further detail.

Chang summarized the survey’s main recommendations as ones he would follow as mayor: “A new project management capability within the Parks Department,” “the need for technology to support project management, to support integrated design and construction, to support planning,” “the need to bring in in-house design, so the city has control over its own fate,” as well as revising the City Charter so that funding for the city’s parks is less reliant on discretionary allocations from City Council members and Borough Presidents.

For the final question of the forum, candidates were asked how the city’s parks featured in their respective plans for the city’s recovery from the devastation wrought by covid.

“Parks are at the core of my climate agenda in terms of ensuring that we are protecting New York from what is possibly going to happen around the corner,” said Garcia, citing recent severe weather in California and Texas. “One of the best metrics I've heard recently is when they did open spaces in the Meatpacking District, the revenue at all those businesses went up 30%. These two things go hand in hand, a more livable city is a more prosperous city.”

“I would have a director or deputy mayor for the public realm, who would be responsible for the intersection between streets and our urban spaces,” said Chang. “It is so clear that for future resiliency of our city, we need to think about those spaces as something that can adapt and flex as unanticipated things come up.” Chang also called for “bringing the arts in a much more robust way back into the parks.”

McGuire spotlighted his plan to foster 500,000 jobs in the city, which would include bringing back 50,000 small business jobs through wage subsidies that would cover “50% of their wages for one year.” As part of his larger recovery plan, McGuire reiterated his intention “to hold a comeback festival in June of 2022, where we include all of the artists, we include the outdoor spaces.” McGuire also said he would award grants to 1,000 artists to create projects in vacant commercial spaces and outdoor venues, including the city’s parks.

by Allison Smith for Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Democratic Mayoral Candidates Discuss the Future of City Parks and Open Space Tue, 20 Apr 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk 'Future of Transportation' in New York City bus rider nyc

Bus riding in NYC (photo: Edwin J Torres/Mayor's Office)

Leading Democratic candidates for mayor discussed their ideas and beliefs on the future of transportation in New York City at a forum this past Thursday.

“Safe, Equitable, and Accessible Streets: A Mayoral Forum on the Future of Transportation” was co-hosted by transit advocacy groups Riders Alliance, Transportation Alternatives, Regional Plan Association, Straphangers Campaign, Families for Safe Streets, New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, Tri-State Transportation Campaign, and StreetsPAC. The forum was moderated by Dana Rubinstein, a New York Times reporter who has covered transportation and politics for years.

The event was divided into two hour-long panels with different groups of candidates. The first panel featured Maya Wiley, Dianne Morales, Shaun Donovan, and Andrew Yang. The second panel included Eric Adams, Scott Stringer, Kathryn Garcia, Art Chang, and Joycelyn Taylor. Some candidates, such as Garcia, Stringer, and Donovan, have already released robust transportation plans, while others have released sketches or minimal policy platforms on the subject. A few of the candidates either came late or left early due to another forum happening somewhat concurrently.

Questions spanned the future of the Vision Zero road safety program, transportation access for people with disabilities, control of the MTA, and more.

Vision Zero
David Shephard of Families for Safe Streets, whose fiancée Sonya Powell was killed in 2009 by a speeding driver in a crosswalk in the Bronx, asked the candidates what they would do to further implement Vision Zero and “make the streets safer for all New Yorkers.” Mayor Bill de Blasio launched Vision Zero in 2014 to stop all traffic fatalities and serious injuries by 2024. While traffic deaths have dropped since 2014, crashes and injuries have risen, and there have been jumps in recent years in certain categories of fatalities, such as bike-riders and pedestrians. Rubinstein followed up on Shephard’s question by asking the candidates whether they would “commit to fulfilling” de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan by 2024 and whether they see it as a reasonable goal.

Donovan said that as mayor he would “focus on infrastructure to calm and slow traffic” rather than policing to make walking and bike-riding safer. Touting his federal experience, the former Obama housing secretary and budget director added that there is “potential” with the Biden-Harris administration to “accelerate that work and re-envision our streets” by securing federal funding. He committed to meeting the 2024 deadline.

Morales said she would target reducing car reliance in the city, which she called “the majority of the cause” of traffic accidents. She would accomplish this by improving the subway and bus systems, adding bus and bike lanes, expanding the Freedom Ticket program and the use of greenways, and focusing on reducing car reliance in “areas more subject to transportation apartheid than others.”

“We need to do everything we can to reduce and disincentivize the use of cars,” said Morales, who added that she would implement the 2024 Vision Zero deadline.

Wiley said that “enforcement shouldn't be held by the New York City police department” and Vision Zero implementation should be in partnership with local communities to “make them safer and in the ways communities need.” She also said expanding public transportation and solving transportation deserts were key, adding that solutions “need to be localized.”

“That's the mayor I will be,” Wiley said, about securing the input of local communities in street redesigns and Vision Zero projects. She also committed to the 2024 Vision Zero goal, adding, “if we lose a life we can't get it back. It's not a question, it's an imperative.”

“We need to see each accident as a tragedy and an opportunity,” Yang said, calling for reducing speed limits, greater traffic camera enforcement, and eliminating incentives from vehicle companies for delivery drivers to rush. He also said of the NYPD and traffic enforcement, “they don’t understand the issues,” and that their role in investigating traffic crash sites should be moved to the Department of Transportation (a move that appears to be happening through City Council legislation).

Unlike Donovan, Morales, and Wiley, however, Yang demurred from supporting a 2024 Vision Zero timeline, saying, “I want to say something that's going to be difficult to hear. Come 2024 we are almost certain to have someone die in a vehicle accident that year in New York City.” Rather than committing to the elimination of all traffic fatalities and serious casualties by 2024, which he said is in essence impossible to achieve that year or ever, Yang would focus on “avoidable and preventable” deaths, because “The goal is reducing injuries and fatalities and then say we did do everything in our power.”

Adams said that he would use “redesign and reinforcement” to target streets identified by data as dangerous for traffic crashes. He sees the 2024 deadline as “feasible and real,” based on “proper allocation of enforcement, redesign, and making our streets safer for pedestrians.”

Chang responded to Shephard’s prompt by noting that of many problems in the city “we know about them in advance but do nothing to prevent them,” and that he would solve the problem of traffic casualties in an “integrative fashion.” Looking at “street issues, an intersection between the NYPD, the DOT, the designs of the streets” he would also use data to begin driving traffic fatalities down. Chang agreed that the completion of Vision Zero in 2024 was doable, but that “it will take huge effort and a different approach from government.”

Stringer would “look at how we design streets through the lens of 8-year-olds.” Saying that “New York City is about sidewalks and streets but we give all this space to cars,” he would add bus and bike lanes and “make the vision of Vision Zero work and invest the capital, engineer design, and the will to change the streetscape.”

Stringer also said he believes the 25x25 plan, put forth by advocacy group Transportation Alternatives to take 25% of New York City’s streets from automobile uses and give it to bus, bike, and other non-car transportation methods by 2025.

Stringer would “try to get to de Blasio's deadline but not in this incrementalist approach.” Citing the pandemic, Stringer said that this is the “one chance to rebuild our city into what we want it to be,” and that he would work with transit advocates to “truly do something big at this moment in history.”

Taylor said she would “implement and expand Vision Zero” with an emphasis on increasing communication between communities and officials and on being “proactive and not be reactive.”

“It's not enough to be punitive but we need the proper communication to keep these accidents from happening,” she said. She went on to say that “2024 from my perspective is too far along. We need to look at established best practices and use it as a means to get it done quicker.  Don't wait to 2024. Let's implement what we know and get it done.”

Role of Community Boards
Moving from Vision Zero to community boards, Rubinstein asked candidates about their views of the role of community boards in road infrastructure, whether it should be advisory or come with veto power. Community boards, which often disproportionately represent car-owners, have at times held up bike and bus projects through their opposition and influence on local elected officials like City Council members.

Donovan didn’t answer directly, but referenced his recently-released Plan for the City of New York and its section on how to “restructure our community boards and make them more representative.” But the plan only says he would “work with the City Council and borough presidents to reform the appointment process and ensure that community board meetings represent an accurate reflection of the opinions of the community.”

Morales was somewhat more explicit in her view of community boards, saying, “while very useful in gathering information and representing a community, they are not the be all, end all.” Instead, she would “cast a wider net” to get input from local communities, through “education and outreach,” she said, though she did not provide details.

“These questions include community boards, but it's not about veto power,” Wiley said. “It can't be about saying no to something that will deliver.” She also said she would focus on community outreach and involvement to help inform decisions.

Yang said he would attempt to strike a balance between community feedback and actually accomplishing projects. “Two things are true. People know best what they need in their community,” he said. “The second thing is it's difficult to do a lot of things in New York City because there are different groups who can say no.”

Transportation and Accessibility
Eman Rimawi, an Access-a-Ride campaign coordinator at New York Lawyers for the Public Interest, joined the discussion to ask candidates about what they would to do “to ensure cities, streets, and sidewalks are more accessible for people with a disability,” citing poor Access-a-Ride conditions, inaccessible city sidewalks and snow blocking her home as obstacles she has faced as an amputee with lupus.

Donovan said that making transportation accessible to people with disabilities is “a central part” of his plan to change New York City’s streetscape. Touting his experience working on street accessibility as a part of a Sustainable Communities Partnership he led as federal housing secretary, Donovan said that the city must prioritize “reimagining our streets, building the infrastructure for everyone to move,” although he did not provide detail on what this would look like outside of shortening Access-a-Ride wait times.

Morales gave a detailed response, committing to keeping public pathways clear of obstructions, making all subway and bus stations wheelchair-accessible, redesigning crosswalks to be safer for those who are blind, and integrating the taxi fleet into the Access-a-Ride program for on-demand service rather than the current 24-hour request window.

Wiley again provided limited specifics, instead arguing for the elevation of the voices of people with disabilities about what changes they would like to make, saying “unless we have the voice of people with a disability at the table telling us what needs to be done, we won't get it right.” As mayor, she would “elevate the power” of the Mayor’s Office for People with Disabilities. As a candidate, Wiley cited the fact that she held meetings with disability activists about what direction her campaign platform should take.

Yang concurred with Morales that accessible taxis should be integrated into the Access-a-Ride program, and that streets and sidewalks should be cleaned more quickly to increase access for those with disabilities, implying that cuts in the Sanitation Department budget were to blame and that the department’s budget should be restored. Yang then moved into his argument for a city takeover of the MTA, saying of being mayor, “You can't control how people get to work and school and you're managing the recovery?” He didn’t fully connect the points but seemed to be implying that mayoral control of the MTA would make it easier to make accessibility upgrades.

Taylor echoed the earlier comments of Morales and Yang about decreasing the long wait times for Access-a-Ride, saying that “If Uber can be at my door in five minutes, no one should wait for Access-a-Ride for an hour.”

Stringer said he agreed that Access-a-Ride should be on-demand and touted his experience auditing the Access-a-Ride program. He called its failures “unbelievable” in the 21st century and said he would work with the MTA on broken elevators and that as mayor, he would “manage the hell out of transportation and make sure everyone can obtain it.”

Noting that “things that benefit people with disabilities benefit everybody,” Chang said that he would look at the example of London’s “flexible bus that operates as a taxi.” It was unclear to what program Chang was referring to, but Citymapper’s experiment with a bus-taxi hybrid, Smart Ride, in London shuttered in 2019 after failing to find enough riders.

Adams would also reform the Access-a-Ride program, saying that “You should be able to get a ride when and where you need it.”

Control of the MTA
Candidates were asked about increasing the city’s influence over the MTA, which is a state-run agency under the ultimate control of the governor but with mayoral and other appointees to its Board.

Referencing Yang’s call for a city takeover of the regional MTA, which includes subways and buses in the city but also commuter rails, as unrealistic “soundbites,” Donovan said “it is completely unrealistic to say that the mayor should take over the MTA.” Donovan said instead of a city takeover, he would “put more skin in the game” by pushing for more funding of MTA projects through revenue from congestion pricing and marijuana legalization, and “would look at value capture and other innovative mechanisms” to add city funding in exchange for more power and control at the MTA.

While Morales would want city control of the subways as a long-term goal, she believes that the city would need an expanded taxing authority to do so in order to have “the revenue and the responsibility.” Morales would bring funding for the MTA to fix the subway system through the planned but stalled implementation of congestion pricing, and she would add more metered parking, and a wealth tax to also fund upgrades to the system.

Wiley talked about the need for more city “home rule” overall, and for the subways at “the end of the day,” but said “the MTA is something that Sean is right about,” and that she would focus on securing infrastructure money from the federal government as “the state can’t do it alone.”

Yang returned to his argument for a city takeover of the MTA, though he did not provide details on how it would work, how he would convince the state to give up control, or how he would fund it. But he did say “I’m the sole mayoral candidate saying that the city must control our own destiny,” and that he would ask Albany to let him “have the responsibility...have the headaches” of transit in New York City.

Ferry Subsidies
Rubinstein moved on to de Blasio’s ferry program, one of the mayor’s signature accomplishments, though controversial based on its limited ridership compared to other forms of mass transit and how much attention and city funding the mayor has put into it. Candidates were asked if they would keep it as is or modify it, especially with regard to the high per-ride city subsidies involved. According to a 2019 report by the Citizens Budget Commission, a nonpartisan think tank, per-ride subsides for ferry rides were $10.73 for the 2018 fiscal year, ten times higher per rider than the subsidies for riders on subways and buses, and for the ferry ridership population that is whiter and wealthier than New York City’s overall population.

Yang said he loves the ferry but that he would cut routes that go underused while supporting the routes that are in demand.

Wiley would expand the ferry system, focusing both on “where we need it to make sure we have that service because of usage...but also increase the rates like we do for express bus service.” Without commenting explicitly on ferry subsidies, Wiley said that she would consider ferries in her analysis of transit equity in the city. Morales “would not expand the ferry system,” and would “prioritize funding the systems that people use,” starting with buses and the subway system.

Donovan said he likes the ferry and thinks it’s important no matter the high subsidy, mentioning that the city also subsidizes car use and mass transit systems. He said he would focus more on other modes of transportation.

Adams said he would maintain the ferry program services, but made a vague commitment to making it more cost-effective and connecting it to transportation hubs.

Chang would be open to eliminating inefficient ferry lines, and would want to see the data about supply and demand for various ferry routes, and whether there’d be ways to increase ferry demand.

Stringer criticized the ferry subsidies saying that he’d “rip up the mayor’s contract with the ferry operator,” which includes boat purchases, and that the program was a “boondoggle like no other.” He would keep the existing service areas, but would want to completely renegotiate the contract, which he sees as bleeding money from the city unnecessarily, and would prioritize buses and other forms of non-car transportation more broadly.

Taylor quickly moved beyond the ferry subsidy conversation to transportation deserts and whether buses are more effective means of transportation than ferries.

The Fate of the BQE
Rubinstein asked candidates their thoughts on renovating the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), a Robert Moses-era project in need of renovation and perched on cantilevers below the Brooklyn Heights Promenade. Its rebuild has been delayed due to significant tensions over what direction those renovations should take and its potential impact on the promenade.

Calling the original BQE renovation plan “a terrible idea,” Adams would want to take a regional approach and would “look at using the space for a park space.” Saying that he “completely agreed with Eric,” Chang sees the BQE as key for trucks to have access to the industrial waterfront and would want to incorporate more parkland and community input into the final BQE design.

Stringer, without giving details, said that he has a plan he likes for the renovation but will need federal dollars. The city “doesn’t understand that we can’t replace the BQE with another super highway,” he said, but he did not describe his vision.

Taylor believes that replacing the cantilevers as “nice to have” but that the city doesn’t “do anything for communities that are disproportionately affected” by transportation access issues in the neighborhood.

Bus Access and Bike Lanes
On the question of how to prioritize buses, candidates took varying approaches.

Yang would want to build on the successes of programs such as Select Bus Service and Bus Rapid Transit corridors. Wiley would expand bus lanes, expand rapid transit, and to “focus on where the commute times are the longest and to connect folks to where they have to get to and where they have to get home.”

Morales joined Wiley and Yang in calling for expanding busways, express lanes, and Bus Rapid Transit corridors, but would want to do so in a way that “prioritizes low-income and transit apartheid communities and neighborhoods specifically.” She would also expand the Fair Fares program to ensure economic as well as physical access to transit routes. Donovan, calling himself the only “transportation wonk” in the group, agreed with the other candidates on Bus Rapid Transit and bus lanes, but would want to “solve these issues more broadly” by working with the MTA to add more priority signaling for buses and implementing bus route redesigns.

Taylor would speed bus service by providing bus-only space during peak transit hours. Stringer cited his “19-point plan to massively expand buses and make them faster” without giving many specifics, though he did say he is in favor of dedicated bus lanes, and changing bus routes due to the diverse places and times for which people use the bus system.

Garcia, who was late coming from another panel, joined in time to answer this question. She said that she would expand Select Bus Service, add protected bus lanes, and give priority signaling for buses. Chang said he would use cell-phone data to determine how New Yorkers use the bus system to commute, and then modify the bus system to help them get there.

Using most of his time to discuss his bus usage growing up in South Jamaica, Queens, Adams said he would expand bus lanes and rapid bus service. 

On bike lanes, Garcia touted her explicit commitment to build 250 miles of protected bike lanes. “We can’t depend on driver behavior to keep people safe,” she said, and argued that paint on the ground is not protected, that bike-riders need to be separated from cars by barriers.

Stringer promised 350 miles of bike lanes, and to give Citi Bike access to all high schoolers.

Taylor, on the other hand, argued for more community involvement in locating bike lanes so that they go to the places with the most need.

Commuting Plans, Cops in Subways, BQX - The Lightning Round
During a lightning round of brief questions with brief answers, Rubinstein asked if the candidates would if elected mayor commute to City Hall by one of bus, bike, or train; whether they would reduce the city speed limit to 20 miles per hour from 25; if they would change the number of NYPD officers in the subways; if they would support eliminating minimum parking requirements at new housing developments; and whether they would attempt to salvage de Blasio’s stunted BQX light-rail proposition for the Brooklyn-Queens waterfront.

The first panel saw departures by Donovan and Wiley just before the lightning round, leaving only Morales and Yang. Morales would take the subway, while Yang would ride his bike. Yang and Morales would support lowering the speed limit, kill the BQX project, and eliminate parking minimums. Morales and Yang split on the NYPD question, with Morales saying reduce NYPD in the subways and Yang saying that the NYPD should not be ticketing turnstile jumpers but that at times like now more police presence is needed in the system.

Adams was the only candidate to leave before the second lightning round. All candidates in the second panel committed to not using a car to commute. Taylor and Garcia would not lower the speed limit to 20 MPH while Stringer and Chang would. Garcia was the only candidate in the second panel to advocate for more police in the subway — all other candidates argued to decrease the number of NYPD officers, with Stringer saying it is important to send more mental health professionals into the system. Chang, Stringer, and Taylor but not Garcia would eliminate the parking requirements. The second panel candidates all agreed to “cut bait” on the de Blasio light-rail proposition.

by Grace Getman for Gotham Gazette

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Democratic Mayoral Candidates Talk 'Future of Transportation' in New York City Sun, 28 Mar 2021 04:00:00 +0000
Decision NYC: Art Chang Discusses His Campaign for Mayor art chang mayor

Art Chang (photo: Art Chang campaign)

Art Chang, a Democrat running for Mayor in the 2021 election, joined MNN's "Decision NYC with Ben Max" for an in-depth discussion of his candidacy for the city's top job. This interview is part of a series produced by Manhattan Neighborhood Network. Watch:

Decision NYC: Art Chang Discusses His Campaign for Mayor Wed, 10 Feb 2021 05:00:00 +0000
The Money Race in the Mayoral Primary: January Filing Sets the Stage for 2021 Gotham Gazette:

l-r: (top) Eric Adams, Shaun Donovan, Kathryn Garcia, Carlos Menchaca, Zach Iscol (bottom) Dianne Morales, Scott Stringer, Loree Sutton, Maya Wiley, Ray McGuire

With under six months until the 2021 primary elections, candidates running for mayor filed their January campaign finance disclosures. The disclosures were due on Friday, covering the last six months of fundraising and spending activity. For a number of candidates, it was their first filing.

There are well over a dozen candidates running in the Democratic primary, the winner of which will likely be the next mayor because of the overwhelming number of registered Democratic voters in the city. The January deadline was crucial, as candidates attempt to show the support they’ve garnered among voters and campaign donors, and particularly because it will help determine the next round of public matching funds payments made to candidates by the city’s Campaign Finance Board on February 16. Only two candidates -- Comptroller Scott Stringer and Brooklyn Borough President Eric Adams -- have qualified for matching funds prior to this upcoming assessment by the Board based on the new filing.

The Democratic candidates include Stringer, Adams, City Council Member Carlos Menchaca, former Citigroup executive Ray McGuire, former counsel to the mayor Maya Wiley, former city veterans services commissioner Loree Sutton, former city sanitation commissioner Kathryn Garcia, former nonprofit executive Dianne Morales, former federal housing secretary Shaun Donovan, veteran-turned-entrepreneur Zach Iscol, entrepreneur Joycelyn Taylor, former Campaign Finance Board member Art Chang, attorney Isaac Wright, Jr., and several others.

Former presidential candidate and entrepreneur Andrew Yang also jumped into the race last week, just one day before the campaign finance deadline, and has just begun raising funds, though he is expected to be able to raise them quickly given his base of support and the fundraising he showed in his run for the Democratic presidential nomination.

Stringer and Adams received public matching funds in December through the city’s program, putting both candidates well ahead of most others and nearing the money to hit the original spending threshold for the primary, though that ceiling is set to be lifted based on the fundraising by McGuire, who is not participating in the matching system and can therefore accept larger individual contributions. 

The matching funds program’s rules have been amended in recent years, setting a maximum individual contribution limit of $2,000 and matching the first $250 of every donation from city residents with public funds at an 8-to-1 ratio. Candidates must meet a dual threshold of raising a minimum of $250,000 from at least 1,000 donors who are New York City residents. Before any adjustments based on the fundraising of non-participating candidates, mayoral candidates who participate in the program can spend up to $7.3 million in the primary, as well as another $7.3 million in the general election. They can receive a maximum public funds payment of about $6.47 million for each leg of the race.

To even the playing field with participating candidates, CFB rules mandate that if a non-participant (here, McGuire) raises or spends more than $3.6 million in the primary, 50% of the $7.3 million spending limit for participating candidates, then that limit will increase by 50% to just under $11 million. If a non-participant raises or spends three times the limit, almost $22 million, then the limit will be eliminated entirely for all candidates.

Wiley is the only other candidate besides Adams and Stringer who has apparently qualified for public matching funds and expects a major windfall when payments are made in February.

Adams has raised more than $3 million in total and has spent about $746,000 as of the filing. He received nearly $4.4 million in public funds last month, giving him a hefty campaign balance of more than $6.6 million. In the last six months, he raised more than $426,000, and spent about $334,000. His latest disclosure also includes more than $122,000 in matching claims, which could mean roughly another $980,000 in public funds. Those claims are estimates from the campaign and are likely to change after they are audited by the Campaign Finance Board.

In total, $1.9 million of Adams’ fundraising came from New York City residents and about $750,000 from outside the city. He has 6,261 contributors, with an average donation size of $424.

Stringer is in second place in campaign funds. He has raised more than $3.25 million and spent about $820,000 overall. He got $3.37 million in public funds in December and another $38,000 payment on Friday. He has about $5.8 million in cash on hand as of the filing. In the last six months, he raised about $458,000, and spent a little more than $400,000. His campaign estimates that about $194,000 of that fundraising qualifies for matching funds, which could bring in almost $1.6 million for Stringer next month.

In total, Stringer raised about $1.4 million from city residents and $445,000 from outside. He has 5,517 contributors for an average contribution size of $329.

McGuire is the only major Democratic candidate not participating in the public funds program, which means he faces no limits on his spending and can raise $5,100 from individual contributors. He has already raised nearly $4.9 million and has spent about $1.1 million, all in the last six months, leaving him with about $3.75 million in cash on hand.

McGuire has raised most of his funds, $3.3 million, from city residents and about $1.5 million from outside sources. He has 3,709 donors and an average contribution size of $1,317.

Donovan, a former housing commissioner under Mayor Michael Bloomberg and a top official in the Obama administration as housing secretary and budget director, has raised more than $1.6 million for his campaign and has spent about $690,000, for a remaining balance of about $913,000 as of the filing. He has $152,000 in matching claims, which falls well below the $250,000 threshold for public funds.

Donovan raised $938,000 from city residents and $664,000 from outside the city. He has 2,044 donors for an average contribution size of $784.

Iscol is a relatively unknown first-time candidate but he has connections that have apparently helped him out-raise a number of other Democrats. His mother, Jill Iscol, is a major Democratic Party donor with ties to Hillary Clinton, and his father is a mobile technology entrepreneur. He has raised more than $746,000 and has spent just over $261,000, leaving him with about $485,000 in cash on hand as of the filing. His campaign estimates it has more than $229,000 in matching claims, just short of qualifying for public funds.

City residents donated $409,000 to Iscol’s campaign while $336,000 came from people outside the city. He has 1,943 contributors and an average donation size of $384.

Wiley has some name recognition from her time as a contributor on MSNBC, her previous role in the de Blasio administration, and her work as a civil rights attorney. She has raised more than $720,000, spent about $404,000, and has $316,000 in cash on hand as of the filing. Her campaign has made more than $287,000 in matching claims, which crossed the public funds threshold and will likely net her a major windfall of $2.3 million in mid-February, a major achievement.

Wiley raised $451,000 from city residents and $269,000 from noncity sources. She also has 6,976 contributors, the most of any candidate so far, with an average donation size of $103.

Morales has raised more than $336,000, spent more than $208,000, and has $127,000 in cash on hand as of the filing. Her campaign’s matching claims of nearly $180,000 are about $70,000 short of the public funds threshold. Morales raised $235,000 from city residents and about $100,000 from outside sources. Her campaign has 4,423 donors and an average contribution size of $76.

Garcia, who is running on management and having been Mayor de Blasio’s go-to fixer for several crises while also heading the sanitation department, has raised about $304,000 and spent only $27,000, leaving her with more than $277,000 in campaign cash as of the filing. Her campaign claims only $151,000 in qualifying contributions, which means she will not receive public funds next month

Garcia raised $224,000 from city residents and about $80,000 from outside. She has 1,572 donors with contributions averaging $194. 

Sutton is the only candidate who opted into the public funds program but chose to follow its older rules, which are still an option till the end of this election cycle. That means she can raise a maximum of $5,100 from individual contributors but will only receive a 6-to-1 match on the first $175 of every contribution. She has raised about $192,000 overall and has spent nearly all of it. She only has about $398 in cash on hand as of the filing. She has just $14,228 in matching claims. She raised $117,000 from city residents and $73,000 from outside sources. She has 448 donors and an average donation size of $425. 

Menchaca has raised about $62,000, spent $48,000, and has about $14,500 left as of the filing. Taylor has raised $60,000, spent $51,000, and has about $8,400 left. Chang has raised $57,000, spent $39,000, and has $18,011 left. Wright has raised $50,000, spent about $8,800, and has roughly $41,000 left. None of the other Democrats have raised $50,000.

There are few Republican candidates in the race and none have shown any significant fundraising.

by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette

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The Money Race in the Mayoral Primary: January Filing Sets the Stage for 2021 Sun, 17 Jan 2021 05:00:00 +0000