In January, 21 new members were sworn into the 51-seat City Council – New York City’s most powerful governing body. Some defeated long-standing incumbents. Many were elected on the strength of their transportation platforms, with promises of more safe, convenient and affordable transportation ushering them into office. In a Transportation Alternatives survey before the election, candidates pledged to improve bus service, expand the bike network and make New York City’s streets and sidewalks safer for everyone. Now, halfway through the first year of their terms, Transportation Alternatives looks back at what City Council members pledged, and how they have lived up to their promises on crucial transportation issues.
In the first six months of 2014, the new class of the City Council, under the leadership of Council Speaker Melissa Mark-Viverito, tackled an impressive array of transportation issues, with a focus on Vision Zero – Mayor de Blasio’s plan to eliminate traffic fatalities and serious injuries on New York City streets. Notably, the Council made an important connection between public safety and traffic safety. Recognizing that Vision Zero cannot be achieved in silos, the Committee on Public Safety, led by Council Member Vanessa Gibson, and the Committee on Transportation, led by Council Member Ydanis Rodriguez, held a joint hearing on Vision Zero. In the first six months of 2014, the Committee on Transportation held 10 hearings covering dozens of transportation-focused bills. From these hearings, 15 bills and resolutions addressing transportation concerns have been passed and signed into law. Council Member Jimmy Van Bramer and Council Member Stephen Levin each co-sponsored 14 of the bills, more than any other members of the Council.
In their local districts, many council members led the charge for calming dangerous traffic on the wide, arterial streets that account for only 15 percent of New York City’s roads but are the location of more than half of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Council Member Karen Koslowitz convened her colleagues to ask the Department of Transportation to study the redesign of Queens Boulevard. Council Member Laurie Cumbo made a similar request for Atlantic Avenue in Brooklyn, while Council Member Corey Johnson tackled 5th and 6th avenues in Manhattan. These are just a few of the New York City Council members who are working toward Vision Zero, not only in City Hall, but in their local districts across the city.
In spring 2013, Transportation Alternatives released a transportation policy platform to serve as a blueprint for candidates to make New York City streets safer. Six Month Report Card: New Class at the City Council tracks Council members’ work in the categories outlined in that policy platform:
Safe Neighborhood Streets
To ensure that neighborhood streets offer safe space everyone, the City must meet local demand for Play Streets, 20 mph Slow Zones, Safe Routes to School and Safe Routes for Seniors.
To guarantee New Yorkers have safe and convenient access to local businesses, the City needs to provide protected bike lanes, Select Bus Service, bike share and pedestrian refuges on major streets.
Prioritize Safety in Traffic Enforcement
To make our streets as safe as they can be, the New York Police Department needs to set a multi-year goal of Vision Zero – eliminating traffic deaths and serious injuries – by cracking down on the deadliest traffic violations like speeding and failure to yield.
The work accomplished by members of the New York City Council during the first six months of 2014 is laudable, but much work is left to be done. Street design, transportation choices and better enforcement are critical to reaching Mayor de Blasio’s goal of Vision Zero. Council members must ensure that city agencies carry out the new laws, receive adequate funding and continue to make progress toward a New York where no one is killed or seriously injured in traffic.
In particular, Transportation Alternatives urges the City Council to:
Safe Neighborhood Streets
- Continue Requesting Street Improvements
Communities across the city are eager for safety improvements on neighborhood streets, like speed humps, stop signs, crosswalks, bike lanes and wholesale street redesigns. Council members should continue to help community members submit requests for street safety improvements to Department of Transportation Commissioner Polly Trottenberg.
- Fix Arterial Streets
Arterial streets like Atlantic Avenue and Queens Boulevard are home to New York City’s small businesses, entertainment centers and transportation hubs. They are essential for people traveling to school, work and recreation. Yet these streets are New York’s most dangerous; they make up only 15 percent of city roads, but account for more than half of pedestrian and cyclist fatalities. Fixing these streets by slowing speeds, adding pedestrian and bike infrastructure, and expanding transportation options will boost New York City’s economy and improve public safety. Council members should push for these improvements to arterial streets in their districts.
- Support Bus Rapid Transit
The City Council should actively support Mayor de Blasio’s goal to bring 20 Bus Rapid Transit (BRT) routes to New York City. BRT is a transit solution that combines the permanence, speed and reliability of trains with the flexibility of buses, at a fraction of the cost of a new subway line. Council members can support BRT by educating their communities and building support for BRT in their districts with roadway and parking changes, as well as ensuring BRT is properly funded.
Traffic Enforcement and Vision Zero
- Oversee Implementation of the New 25 mph Speed Limit
City Council members demanded the New York State Legislature allow the City to lower the 30 mph speed limit to a safer 25 mph, a change expected to be implemented in the fall 2014. Council members should continue to educate New Yorkers about why this lower speed limit will save lives, and aid the Department of Transportation in initiating this lifesaving change.
- Hold the New York Police Department Accountable for Traffic Enforcement
Many transportation-focused bills enacted in 2014 hinge on strategic enforcement by the New York Police Department and a demonstration from police officers that reckless driving will not be tolerated. Council members should hold oversight hearings to understand how officers are educated on summonsing and to ensure that data is guiding all enforcement decisions.
- Hold the Taxi and Limousine Commission Accountable
Several transportation-related bills enacted in 2014 require the Taxi and Limousine Commission to ensure their drivers perform safely. Council members should hold oversight hearings to review crash data on taxi drivers and to track the progress of their effort to suspend the licenses of dangerous taxi drivers.
About Transportation Alternatives
Transportation Alternatives’ mission is to reclaim New York City’s streets from the automobile and to promote bicycling, walking, public transit. With 100,000 active supporters and a committee of activists working locally in every borough, T.A. fights for the installation of infrastructure improvements that reduce speeding and traffic crashes, save lives and improve everyday transportation for all New Yorkers.