City Council District 4 Candidates on Streets and Transportation Issues

Candidates for City Council District 4 at last week's TransAlt-hosted L train forum. From left: Barry Shapiro, Keith Power, Bessie Schacter, Jeff Mailman, Rachel Honig, Maria Castro, and Vanessa Aronson. Photo: David Meyer
Candidates for City Council District 4 at last week's TransAlt-hosted L train forum. From left: Barry Shapiro, Keith Power, Bessie Schacter, Jeff Mailman, Rachel Honig, Maria Castro, and Vanessa Aronson. Photo: David Meyer

Tomorrow is a rare event for New York City residents: an election where your vote actually matters (at least if you’re a registered Democrat).

In most races, Tuesday’s primary will be the decisive event, with the winners nearly guaranteed victory in November. While the mayoral race isn’t expected to be that close, and many City Council incumbents are not facing challengers, a number of council races are expected to be competitive. These elections can have major consequences for streets and transit in the neighborhood — a great recent example is the revival of DOT’s bus lane plan for 125th Street after Mark Levine won election to the City Council campaigning on the issue.

Two weeks ago, Streetsblog sent four open-ended questions to the candidates in eight contested City Council races. We’ll be publishing the responses we received, as well as supplementary material from StreetsPAC questionnaires, in a series of posts this afternoon.

Below are the responses for the 4th District, which extends from Stuy-Town through Midtown East to the Upper East Side. Streetsblog received responses from Vanessa Aronson, Keith Powers, and Marti Speranza. In addition, seven other Democrats are running to succeed term-limited Council Member Dan Garodnick. Six of those candidates attended last week’s Transportation Alternatives-hosted candidate forum on the L train and other transportation issues.

New York City bus service keeps getting worse. Average speeds are the slowest in the nation, and ridership continues to drop. New York City government can improve service by prioritizing buses on city streets. What policies do you support to make bus service faster and more reliable? Where would you like to see bus improvements in your district?

Vanessa Aronson: I would like to see dedicated bus lanes with transit signal priority. I would like to see the expansion of off-board fare payment. I would like to see the City fulfill it’s commitment of expanding Select Bus Service to 20 lines by the end of 2017. The City needs to improve the accessibility of its buses for people with disabilities. Level boarding should be a priority for the City as it further develops its bus lanes. When the L train shuts down, I advocate for free shuttle service across 14th Street, which would move commuters to their next transit destination more efficiently than Select Bus Service. This service should be at least partially funded through the unused federal recovery funds designated for New York City after Hurricane Sandy. The vast majority of L train riders transfer to another line on their daily commute, so the lost fare would be recouped when riders enter another line. Similar service has proven to be efficient and successful in Washington, DC, and Denver.

Keith Powers: 14th Street during the L-Train shutdown, restorations to crosstown bus service that has been cut, making 72nd Street a stop for Select Bus Service, and expanding buses near Waterside Plaza.

Marti Speranza: A community guided expansion of Select Bus Service and more dedicated bus lanes. We need more buses in the southern part of the district around Stuy Town, especially during the L train shutdown. And on the Upper East Side we need to expand local bus service to better serve seniors.

How would you make bicycling safer in your district? Do you support the expansion of protected bike lanes, even if street space has to be reallocated from traffic lanes or parking spaces?

Vanessa Aronson: I do support the expansion of protected bike lanes, but as the City continues to develop them, it needs to also consider pedestrian safety and education. Although the addition of protected bike lanes across the City has resulted in 17 percent fewer crashes with injuries over three years, many constituents are confused, overwhelmed, and frustrated by the additional lanes to watch while crossing before the City begins work on new bike lanes, it should look to fill in the gaps that exist in current routes. In District 4 alone, there are a number of places where the bike lanes end abruptly, confusing everyone on the road. 1st Avenue has a number of gaps, including at the corner of 1st Avenue and 48th Street. Routes running across Manhattan are notorious for ending abruptly or skipping back and forth on opposite sides of the street, such as on 51st, 49th, 44th, and 39th Streets. Finally, bicyclists and pedestrians alike will rejoice when the East River greenway is finally completed.

Keith Powers: Yes. I also support expanding protections for bikers in mixed zones, closing the gap in bike lanes on the Upper East Side, creating clearer/visible signals for pedestrians that have to walk through the bike lanes, and improving accessibility to the waterfront for biking.

Marti Speranza: More protected bike lanes, redesign arterial streets, and hire more bike cops who have a better perspective to understand the dangers that cyclists and pedestrians face. Especially on the UES where parking is slim and seniors have no choice but to rely on cars, we should aim to minimize the loss of parking spaces, if possible.

How can the City Council best use its powers to reduce traffic deaths and injuries and ensure all New Yorkers can safely walk and bike to get where they want to go?

Vanessa Aronson: First, the City Council must define clear metrics and concrete plans to achieve Vision Zero, zero deaths and or serious injuries by 2024, and actually set aside the funds to implement the plans. Second, the City Council should insist that the Department of Transportation use data on which streets and intersections are the most dangerous in the city to reform them first. The City should also make more use of automated enforcement technology to deter dangerous driving. Finally, the NYPD needs to be brought on board to work in collaboration with the City to achieve Vision Zero.

Keith Powers: The Council has oversight over the Department of Transportation, meaning that Council Members can have meaningful impact on the streetscape. The Council also can pass laws to increase penalties, reduce speeds, and try new innovative strategies (e.g. Barnes dance crossing).

Marti Speranza: Fully fund DOT, prioritize the redesign of arterial streets, work with Albany to get more speed cameras installed. Community boards also need reform: we should work to ensure that all CB’s have a diverse membership, including members who bike, walk, and take public transit to get around.

Congestion pricing has been in the news as a potential way to reduce traffic jams and fund the transit system. One option is the Move NY plan, which would toll all East River crossings and a cordon across Manhattan at 60th street while reducing tolls on outlying MTA crossings. The revenue would fund the MTA capital program, accelerating transit improvements and reducing the need for future fare hikes. Do you support this plan?

Vanessa Aronson: I do support the Move NY plan. However, we have to realize that Move NY is going to incentivize more people to use public transit (which is great!), but I’m concerned that the Move NY plan doesn’t supply the upfront funding that is necessary to support the already over-burdened and unreliable MTA system and we are just going to replace one problem with another.

Keith Powers: Yes. There has been an argument made by some that NYC could enact Move NY without Albany’s approval. I am interested in exploring that option.

Marti Speranza: Yes.