John Liu on Bicycle Access Bill: Why Is DOT Involved in Bike Commuting?

john_liu.jpgWill the real John Liu please stand up? The councilman plays to the crowd at last year’s Tour de Queens. Photo: qmaparks/Flickr.

Never one to pass up a moment in the spotlight, City Council transportation committee chair John Liu delivered some choice theatrics at this morning’s hearing on the Bicycle Access Bill (Intro 871). At a committee meeting ostensibly devoted to easing the way for New Yorkers to commute by bike and bring their rides to work, Liu seemed more intent on confronting DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. There was no vote, leaving some to question whether the bill, which enjoys the support of 29 co-sponsors and Mayor Bloomberg, would become law before the City Council’s summer recess.

Before I get to that, a little explanation is in order about the current status of the bill. This is the second committee hearing on Intro 871. It’s been reworked substantially in the seven months since the first hearing, with both transportation advocates and the real estate industry weighing in. The bill has also been tweaked since Streetsblog posted the revised text earlier this month. I don’t have the most up-to-date version available, but based on today’s testimony, there are two notable changes:

  • The bill now clearly states that building owners can claim an exemption if "secure" bike parking is available nearby. This should close a potential loophole in previous language, which granted exemptions for buildings near "sheltered" bike parking. That’s the good news.
  • The bad news: The bill no longer requires buildings that have a passenger elevator but no freight elevator to provide bicycle access. Previously, any building with a passenger elevator big enough to accommodate a bike had to comply.

The current legislation is still strong enough to merit the support of transportation advocates, but the loss of passenger elevator access is significant. Said bill sponsor David Yassky, "My hope is that at some point in the future, the bill will be amended to include passenger elevators." We have a request in with the Department of Buildings to determine how many buildings this exemption would affect.

Most of the questioning and testimony this morning centered around enforcement. Intro 871 relies on a "tenant-driven" process: Building owners have to provide bike access if a tenant requests it, and they may deny the request if their freight elevator can’t accommodate bikes. Council Member Daniel Garodnick suggested that the final bill should spell out exactly how the city will determine whether building owners have legitimate reasons for denying access. Sadik-Khan agreed.

This addressed one of the major shortcomings Liu found in the bill, but the committee chair wasn’t satisfied. In a long, combative exchange with Sadik-Khan, he questioned why DOT "is involved in this bill in the first place." Sadik-Khan and Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri had already explained that DOT and DOB would jointly monitor compliance with the bill. Undeterred, Liu launched into a digressive speech about the city’s lack of enforcement of "stoop-side stand" regulations. Claiming that sidewalk vending stands present a pedestrian safety hazard, he accused DOT of "inconsistency" for proposing to inspect bicycle access to buildings while leaving stoop-side stands unmonitored. Liu, it should be noted, has vocally opposed the pedestrian safety improvements underway in Times Square.

While the committee chair was dragging out the proceedings, two bike commuters sitting next to me left the council chamber before they had a chance to testify in favor of the bill. They had to get back to work.