Gotham Gazette https://www.gothamgazette.com/component/tags/tag/1141 Fri, 18 Oct 2019 04:07:50 +0000 Joomla! - Open Source Content Management en-gb webmaster@gothamgazette.com (Webmaster) ‘Breaking Car Culture’ in New York City Likely Dependent on Expanded Mass Transit https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8732-breaking-car-culture-in-new-york-city-likely-dependent-on-expanded-mass-transit https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8732-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?]

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by Noah Berman, Gotham Gazette

Read more by this writer.

Ben Max contributed to this article.

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‘Breaking Car Culture’ in New York City Likely Dependent on Expanded Mass Transit Sun, 11 Aug 2019 04:00:00 +0000
Max & Murphy Podcast: Should the City Run the Subways? https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8333-max-murphy-podcast-should-the-city-run-the-subways https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8333-max-murphy-podcast-should-the-city-run-the-subways mxm logo

Ben Max, left, of Gotham Gazette, and Jarrett Murphy, right, of City Limits


March 6, 2019 - Max & Murphy Podcast: Should the City Run the Subways?

citycouncil r bay200New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson has proposed a city takeover of the subways, part of a lengthy and ambitious new transit plan he announced at this first State of the City speech. The hosts discuss Johnson's proposals and some other recent New York political news, and get a surprise call-in from the Speaker himself.

Listen to the conversation and let us know what you think -- we're on Twitter @TweetBenMax and @JarrettMurphy. You can listen to the show through the embedded audio below or download the episode wherever you get your podcasts, under "Max & Murphy," and listen to Max & Murphy live on Wednesdays at 5 p.m. on WBAI radio, 99.5FM or wbai.org

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by Ben Max, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

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Max & Murphy Podcast: Should the City Run the Subways? Wed, 06 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
Johnson Calls for Municipal Control of Subways and Buses, Pledges Congestion Pricing and 'Master Plan for City Streets' https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8328-johnson-calls-for-municipal-control-of-subways-and-buses-pledges-congestion-pricing-and-master-plan-for-city-streets https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/8328-johnson-calls-for-municipal-control-of-subways-and-buses-pledges-congestion-pricing-and-master-plan-for-city-streets citycouncil r bay

Speaker Johnson (photo: William Alatriste/City Council)


New York City Council Speaker Corey Johnson unveiled an ambitious proposal for municipal control of the city’s mass transit system on Tuesday at his first State of the City speech at LaGuardia Community College in Queens.

“I am not here to be typical,” Johnson, who is considering a run for mayor in 2021, promised early on as he delivered a speech focused on nothing but transit, including a forceful push for replacing the Metropolitan Transportation Authority, the state entity that controls the city’s subways and buses, with a new entity called Big Apple Transit (BAT), under the control of the mayor. While the complex proposal would need approval from state lawmakers and likely faces a challenging path to passage, something Johnson acknowledged, he also outlined various plans and ideas for city transit and use of public space that are under the control of the city.

The speaker, who just began his second year leading the 51-member Council, also revealed that he intends to introduce legislation to require the city produce a “master plan for city streets” in order to improve surface transportation and street safety infrastructure, make the city more hospitable to bikers and pedestrians, and reduce the number of cars on city streets. He also made a number of suggestions to speed buses up that the city can execute, and Johnson also proposed a new deputy mayor position to oversee transportation policy and programs.  

Johnson’s speech was accompanied by the release of a 101-page report titled “Let’s Go” that dives deep into the issues plaguing the city’s mass transit system, the history of the current bureaucratic system that control it, and a soup-to-nuts vision for transforming it over the next few decades.

“This is a ticking time bomb,” Johnson said, bemoaning the decline in subway and bus ridership in the last few years. “If we can’t move people around, New York City can’t function.” In many ways, the city’s mass transit system is the engine of its economy. In October 2017, City Comptroller Scott Stringer found that subway delays cost the city about $389 million every year in lost productivity and wages. Johnson emphasized that point on Tuesday as he criticized recent efforts to improve the MTA as “Band-Aid solutions to mortal wounds.”

Johnson pitched his own bold vision in direct contrast to what he said was insufficient new plans from Governor Andrew Cuomo and Mayor Bill de Blasio, though he did not name them. The two recently released a ten-point plan to “transform and fund the MTA” that includes implementation of a congestion pricing scheme. Johnson said he was presenting his plan because no one was doing “anything real” to save the city’s lifeblood transit network.

Johnson said his proposed new transit agency would be funded through several dedicated streams including local congestion tolls if the state Legislature and governor fail to pass a comprehensive congestion pricing program this year. He indicated he had the votes in the City Council to make it happen. He also called on the state to give the city the authority to raise taxes on corporations that are fully deductible at the federal level.

The BAT would also not suffer from the issues that currently plague the bloated bureaucracy of the MTA, he said. “Right now, it’s a Frankenstein’s monster of transit subsidiaries with a 3,000 person headquarters layered on top,” he said of the state authority, run by a board with representatives of several officials, where the governor has a plurality of appointees and names the chair. The BAT, on the other hand, would be leaner, more efficient, and with clear lines of accountability with the mayor on top. “Under municipal control, we will do a full audit of every part of the MTA we take over,” he said.

Municipal control would also allow the city to better control the costs of subway construction, which are exponentially higher than other developed nations with similar transit needs, Johnson said. “Adding a single mile of subway track in New York City costs the same as sending a rover to Mars,” he quipped.

Though the city does not control the subways and buses, Johnson does plan to flex the Council’s authority to mandate improvements to streets and sidewalks through the proposed “master plan,” to be required every five years. Among its top-line mandates would be the creation of 50 miles of protected bike lanes every year with a "fully connected bike network covering the city by 2030"; installing transit signal priority at all of the city’s 325 bus routes by 2030, up from the 12 where it is currently in place; making all intersections with pedestrian signals accessible by 2030; and expanding accessibility for disabled New Yorkers to all 472 subway stations, of which only 118 are currently accessible.

He said the Council will develop a zoning proposal to facilitate those subway accessibility improvements at 300 stations located adjacent to underdeveloped land and offer a “density bonus” to developers for other station improvements.

“Let’s break the car culture. We have been living in Robert Moses’ New York for almost a century, and it is time to move on,” Johnson declared, taking aim at the infamous public official who was responsible for building a transit infrastructure network that favored wealthier car-owning residents and sidelined lower-income New Yorkers who relied on mass transit. Johnson also suggested that the city’s plan to rebuild a mile-and-a-half section of the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway (BQE), a Moses legacy item, at a cost of $4 billion was misguided. “That’s almost two Mars rovers,” he joked, going on to say that there has to be a better way that isn’t so car-focused.

Johnson’s speech repeatedly appeared as a rebuke to Cuomo and de Blasio, who have feuded over subway funding for years but recently came together to support a congestion pricing program with few details. Cuomo has repeatedly tried to distance himself from the subway crisis, claiming that he does not control the MTA even though he appoints a plurality of its board members and its senior leadership and the board has never gone against Cuomo’s wishes. Cuomo is also fond of invoking Robert Moses when talking of his own infrastructure record. The mayor, in turn, has tried to wash his hands of the MTA’s troubles by blaming the governor, though de Blasio appoints four MTA board members and the city has more control over the buses than the subways, by virtue of its powers over the streets. De Blasio has taken little interest in reducing congestion and speeding buses, though he announced during his own recent State of the City speech several plans to address the bus crisis facing the city. Johnson’s go further.

And though de Blasio’s Vision Zero plan to eliminate traffic fatalities through street redesigns and other projects has been successful, the mayor continues to face criticism for not going far enough and for being an avid proponent of car culture. Case in point, he rarely rides the subways unless it is to promote a transit-related announcement and he drives 12 miles to the gym.

Both de Blasio and Cuomo's offices were quick to throw cold water on Johnson's announcement. "A City takeover of the subways is a worthy discussion that in a best-case scenario would take years to achieve," de Blasio spokesperson Eric Phillips said in a statement. "While he appreciates the Speaker’s transit vision and contribution, the Mayor is focused on immediate actions to fix the broken subway system. Our subways are in the middle of a crisis that needs an immediate solution. The Mayor stands with millions of riders depending on action right now. We have four weeks to deliver sustainable revenue sources capable of turning this crisis around."

Dani Lever, a spokesperson for the governor, tweeted, "A few facts -- NYC owns the NYC transit system and can cancel the MTA lease with one year's notice; the City's civil service staffs the system; and the Mayor has total veto over the State and City funded NYCT capital plan." 

Johnson made clear in his speech on Tuesday that his focus on mass transit was more than just about reducing train delays or traffic deaths. “This is a progressive issue. It always has been,” he said, as he spoke of the low-income New Yorkers who are most affected by failing transit and the heavy cost on the environment of the city’s car culture. “We need to change the way we think about big problems,” he said.

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by Samar Khurshid, senior reporter, Gotham Gazette
     

Read more by this writer.

Note - This article has been updated with statements from spokespeople for Mayor de Blasio and Governor Cuomo.

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Johnson Calls for Municipal Control of Subways and Buses, Pledges Congestion Pricing and 'Master Plan for City Streets' Tue, 05 Mar 2019 05:00:00 +0000
7 Transit Commitments Advocates Want From Candidates This Year https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7052-seven-transit-commitments-advocates-want-from-candidates https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/7052-seven-transit-commitments-advocates-want-from-candidates img 7012

Transit advocates rally near City Hall (photo: Sam Raskin/Gotham Gazette)


Activists from eight transportation advocacy groups gathered near the City Hall R train subway station on Thursday calling on candidates running for elected office in the city to adopt a seven-point plan to improve New York’s crumbling transit infrastructure.

“We’ve put together the steps that New York City can take to make transportation work in New York,” said John Raskin, executive director of Riders Alliance, who led the news conference. The coalition released a four-page document titled, “Transportation and Equity: A 2017 Agenda for Candidates” which included seven proposed solutions -- increasing funding for public transportation, improving bus service, reducing the cost of mass-transit, increasing bicycle usage, reducing traffic fatalities under the Vision Zero campaign, improving how street space is divided, and providing alternatives for the L train riders who will soon see an expected disruption of service.

The advocates believe that the time is ripe to hold politicians’ feet to the fire on transit issues, ahead of the upcoming city elections. “Transportation is now a top-tier issue in our city,” said Paul Steely White, executive director of Transportation Alternatives. “There's never been a better time for our city to make progress on streets and transportation. So if you’re running for office, ignore our issues at your own peril. New Yorkers are hungry for solutions and we have them.”

The coalition of advocates did acknowledge that much of the city’s transportation management is the responsibility of the state. The subway system is managed by the state-run Metropolitan Transportation Authority, which is controlled by Governor Andrew Cuomo. The governor recently declared a state of emergency for the MTA to ease procurement rules and speed up improvements to the subway system but critics believe the measure was too little, too late. “We’re not here to let the governor in Albany off the hook,” insisted StreetsPac Executive Director Eric McClure, noting that city dwellers are “unfortunately trapped” in a situation in which city matters are determined by representatives from outside the city. But the activists believe the city can take certain matters into its own hands. “In a world where the governor controls the MTA, we are answering the question: what can the mayor do? What can the city council do? What can other city level elected officials do to help New Yorkers get around town, access jobs and build a fair and sustainable city for the future,” said Raskin.

The organizations coalesced around popular transit fixes such as increasing capital funding to the MTA, adding and improving bike lanes, funding the Fair Fares proposal to provide half-priced MetroCards to low-income New Yorkers, committing to improving safety on the street through the Vision Zero campaign, augmenting the express Select Bus Service and enhancing bus lane enforcement.

“We’re not here promote flying cars or monorails, or new tunneling for autonomous vehicles,” White said. “These are all proven solutions that simply need to be expanded.”

Mayor Bill de Blasio has repeatedly touted expansion of the Select Bus Service, Citi Bike additions, and ferry service expansions as transportation accomplishments under his tenure. These received tepid support from White. “The mayor deserves credit for trying a multitude of solutions that are under his control, ferries included,” White said. “If you look at the subsidies per ride, investments in bus service, improving bus service, investments in walking and biking provide much more bang for your investment buck if you’re the mayor of New York. Ferries are important, but there is more to be had with investments in bus service in particular.”

The coalition, notably, did not take a collective stance on the proposed Brooklyn-Queens Connector (BQX) streetcar, which would run between Sunset Park and Astoria. Certain activists have expressed doubts about investing in a costly new streetcar as opposed to improving existing transit options. The proposal has few strong supporters among transit advocates and there are doubts about whether it can be adequately funded. There are a variety of business and other organizations supporting BQX.

Along with policies with consensus among activists and electeds, the transit groups also pushed for more ambitious, imaginative proposals such as a Brooklyn-Manhattan Bus Rapid Transit route over the Williamsburg Bridge to deal with the planned 15-month shutdown of the L train beginning in 2019.

Additionally, the advocates called on the administration to further its current use of a portion of real estate value added by upzoning to fund transportation projects. “[T]he city is in a position to make sure that part of that value goes to build and rebuild the infrastructure that the real estate relies on,” Raskin said. “That’s something we’re asking the city to do in a widespread way.” The groups also expressed support for the Move NY Fair Plan, which would reform bridge toll prices to simultaneously raise revenue and reduce traffic congestion.

Confident in the achievability and efficacy of their suggestions, the advocates believe the next step is to spread awareness and apply pressure on current and potential New York lawmakers. “The agenda that this group has put together for New York City is doable,” said Marcia Bystyrn, executive director of New York League of Conservation Voters. “The real challenge for all of us is making it clear to every elected official in New York that we expect them to deliver.”

Note: this article has been adjusted to more carefully characterize support for the BQX.

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7 Transit Commitments Advocates Want From Candidates This Year Thu, 06 Jul 2017 04:00:00 +0000
To Meet Staten Island Needs, Borough President Focuses on Beating Bureaucracy https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6078-to-meet-staten-island-needs-borough-president-focuses-on-beating-bureaucracy https://www.gothamgazette.com/city/6078-to-meet-staten-island-needs-borough-president-focuses-on-beating-bureaucracy oddo torres springer meeting

SIBP Oddo, right, & Maria Torres-Springer of the de Blasio admin (photo from Oddo's Twitter) 


Staten Island has the highest rate of homeownership of any city borough, residents largely use cars to get around, since mass transit options are severely lacking, and despite being the city’s third largest borough in terms of square miles, Staten Island is home to just under 500,000 out of more than 8 million New Yorkers. There are a unique set of concerns on Staten Island, to say the least of the often strained relationship between the borough and City Hall.

Staten Island Borough President James Oddo and the borough’s other elected representatives often feel as though they have to scratch and claw to get their constituents due attention and resources. While Mayor Bill de Blasio has been paying more attention to Staten Island than some may have expected considering it was the only borough he lost in his 2013 election, there is still a sense among many Islanders that the administration does not pay enough mind to their concerns.

In sending out an end-of-year message and in a subsequent interview, Oddo indicated the special circumstances of his borough, described an ongoing battle with “the bureaucracy,” and outlined the needs of Staten Islanders, progress made in 2015, and what to expect in 2016.

“For far too much of the last two years my staff and I have engaged in a full-fledged steel cage match with the bureaucracy, attempting to get City government to bring long planned projects to fruition,” Oddo said in an end-of-year message. “We have fought so that Borough Hall’s new visions and initiatives might take root, and wrestled with city agencies to work in conjunction with us to efficiently and effectively resolve the daily quality of life issues facing Staten Islanders.”

That “steel cage match” does not involve the mayor, Oddo explained in an interview with Gotham Gazette, but rather “middle managers or bureaucrats - folks that hold onto the status quo like grim death…deputy commissioner-level folks who have been in those city agencies” long before Mayor de Blasio or Oddo were elected to their current positions (the two were City Council colleagues at one point).

“I’m very pleased with the level of communication I have with the mayor himself, and with the deputy mayors. I think the frustration I’ve felt in the last two years is referring to individual agencies,” Oddo clarified, adding that he finds it “curious that there have been many instances over the last two years where it's been borough hall and the mayor's office versus their own agencies.”

Oddo has been particularly consumed with Sandy recovery, health and wellness, transit options, and road repaving.

To the borough president and his constituents, Staten Island’s lack of mass transit options and related severe traffic congestion are pressing issues that have a big impact on residents’ day-to-day lives, adding hours to their daily commutes. Yet that sense of urgency is not shared by some officials within city agencies, Oddo says, and as a result, issues go unresolved for long periods of time.

“I get the sense that for some long-standing agency officials, whether the project is completed in fiscal year ’19 or fiscal year ’29, it really doesn’t matter to them,” Oddo said.

The biggest issue to tackle in 2016, Oddo explained, is getting the city to help figure out a way to improve the commute on Staten Island. Staten Islanders spend more time and money on their commutes than the average New Yorker: Staten Island to Manhattan via express bus costs commuters about $57 each week, and while ferry service (the only other mass transit option that connects Staten Island to Manhattan) is free, the boat ride takes almost half an hour, and getting to the ferry can take between ten minutes and an hour-and-a-half for those relying on mass transit.

There is only one train on Staten Island, and that train runs exclusively along the east side of the borough, leaving a majority of those who need to use mass transit to get around Staten Island stuck waiting for the notoriously unreliable buses.

The initial draft report of the MTA’s comprehensive study of all existing bus routes on Staten Island (some of which were designed 40 or 50 years ago) should be received in 2016, Oddo said, and while “no one has any delusions that the MTA is going to come in with this unending source of capital money, we believe we can restructure these routes and find a great deal of efficiency. I really expect some improvements. That’ll be big in 2016.”

Oddo said that he hopes to “improve to some degree the commutes that are worsening by the day. It’s literally robbing hours of your life - it’s two to four hours on top of your workday.”

Though 2015 has seen progress toward improving Staten Island’s current mass transit options, with movement on the MTA study and Mayor de Blasio investing nearly $5 million a year to ensure the ferry runs every half-hour 24-hours a day, progress toward providing Staten Islanders with more transit options has been less than ideal.

“I’m not so happy with the progress that has not been made with the fast ferry,” Oddo said, referring to a new ferry program he’s advocated for. “We still have lots of work to do to make it a reality.”

Ideally, a fast ferry service would run from transit-starved areas of the borough which are far from the island’s existing north shore ferry location to areas with docks for ferries in Manhattan or Brooklyn.

Mayor de Blasio did put forward a fast ferry plan last year, and funding from the city has been set, but the plan adds just one fast ferry location to the island, in Stapleton - a mere six minute drive away from the existing ferry terminal in Saint George.

In 2015, Oddo got a fast ferry service to conduct test runs from more remote locations on Staten Island, like Prince’s Bay, to lower Manhattan and midtown in an effort to prove the service would be a viable option for such locations.

The ferry from Prince’s Bay (which is at least a 45-minute bus/train ride away from the Staten Island ferry terminal) to lower Manhattan took 47 minutes during Oddo’s test runs.

Though the Stapleton fast ferry is arguably not what Staten Islanders looking to save time on their commutes need, given the city’s plans for economic development in the Bay Street Corridor/Stapleton area, the fast ferry could be helpful in the future, Oddo told the Staten Island Advance last year.

“There’s more to be done, and we’re going to keep working on expanding options,” Mayor de Blasio said when asked about the lack of mass transit options on Staten Island during a Jan. 4 press conference to promote the city’s new commuter benefits law.

While improving the commute for Staten Island residents is something Oddo says still “needs the city’s help in advancing,” the borough president says he is “happy with some of the progress that we’ve made with our health and wellness program, the tech hub [that will be created on Staten Island’s North Shore], and the “Too Good for Drugs” program that the mayor came out to announce.”

Oddo said out of all the initiatives that progressed in 2015, he is most proud of “Too Good for Drugs,” as Staten Island’s “epidemic in terms of opioid abuse” is a matter of “life and death.”

The educational anti-drug program for students, which started last year in fifth-grade classrooms in five Staten Island schools, “came out of Borough Hall, we’re very proud of it, and the feedback has been fantastic,” Oddo said.

“The folks at City Hall believe in it and it's one of several fronts that we need” to reduce substance abuse and drug overdose deaths, he added. Oddo said treatment programs are also needed, but preventing substance abuse by teaching “the notion of making smart decisions at as early as an age as possible” is seen as an important first step by Oddo.

Expanding “Too Good for Drugs” is one of the items on Oddo’s agenda for 2016, with the program set to expand to 47 schools after receiving $70,000 in the city budget.

Mayor de Blasio and his administration have made an effort to show City Hall remembers the “forgotten borough.” The mayor made several trips to Staten Island in 2015: he vowed to complete all repairs and construction still needed for Staten Island residents whose homes were ruined by Hurricane Sandy by 2016; he broke ground on Staten Island’s first Family Justice Center for domestic violence prevention and response; and announced his administration’s comprehensive effort to reduce opioid misuse and overdose deaths, among others.

“There will be a lot of town halls in 2016, including Staten Island,” de Blasio said during the Jan. 4 press conference when asked about doing a Q&A session on the island.

Besides continuing to fight that “steel cage match with the bureaucracy” to make the commute better for Staten Islanders and repaving the borough’s roads, 2016 will also “bring a new economic development campaign to entice businesses who are being priced out of other boroughs to think of Staten Island instead of New Jersey,” according to Oddo’s year-end message.

Oddo did not get into specifics in terms of his thinking about the ongoing development of the New York Wheel or the accompanying Empire Outlets expected to be constructed near the ferry terminal within the next few years as he spoke about different aspects of economic development, and had a clear focus on quality of life issues.

Other initiatives, he said, include “a new program to match Staten Island high school students with mentors in their areas of interest, and out-of-the-box ideas to help tackle North Shore traffic issues.”

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by Meg O’Connor, Gotham Gazette
@GothamGazette, @MegOConnor13

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To Meet Staten Island Needs, Borough President Focuses on Beating Bureaucracy Sun, 10 Jan 2016 20:45:56 +0000