City Council District 13 Candidates on Streets and Transportation Issues

Tomorrow’s Democratic primaries will be the decisive vote in most City Council districts, determining who will represent New York City neighborhoods for the next four years. In some races, the outcome is likely to come down to a few hundred votes or fewer.

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

Four Democrats are running in the 13th District, covering Throggs Neck and the northeast Bronx: Mark Gjonaj, John Doyle, Egidio Sementilli, and Marjorie Velazquez. The winner will face Republican John Cerini, who led the opposition to the East Tremont Avenue road diet last year, in the general election.

Gjonaj was the only candidate who responded to Streetsblog. He and Velazquez answered the StreetsPAC questionnaire, portions of which are excerpted below the Gjonaj Q&A.

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?

Mark Gjonaj: Mark Gjonaj supports expanded select bus service, more express buses and examining possible locations to create new bus lanes. Residents of Throggs Neck, Country Club, Pelham Bay and City Island are farthest from subway service in the district. In a recent neighborhood survey, residents from each reported far higher than average rates of personally driving to work. As areas with the greatest needs, these are the areas where Mark Gjonaj would first like to see comprehensive planning to address shortcomings of our mass transit system.

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?

Mark Gjonaj: Clogged streets are unsafe for bicyclists as well as pedestrians and drivers. Mark Gjonaj is committed to taking holistic approaches to dealing with issues like bicycle safety to ensure that we don’t create unfortunate, unintended consequences. Mark Gjonaj absolutely supports expansion of protected bike lanes in his district but would want to see specific details of any proposed changes before committing to supporting reduced traffic lanes or parking.

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?

Mark Gjonaj: Although there have been some mixed results with the Mayor’s “Vision Zero” plan, Mark Gjonaj absolutely supports the spirit that went into the plan and commends the City Council for not ignoring this important issue. Traffic cameras, speed zones, increased penalties for reckless driving, and more bike-patrol and traffic-monitoring police officers are all elements that should be considered when seeking to improve safety on our streets, sidewalks and special-purpose lanes. Mark Gjonaj is eager to serve on the City Council to focus on these public safety issues.

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?

Mark Gjonaj: Mark Gjonaj believes that these issues are important and is pleased that a wide array of plans have been suggested to deal with traffic congestion and safety. Mark would prefer to not commit to any specific plan until he has an opportunity to meet with relevant stakeholders, examine the entire array of proposals, and even tinker with existing plans to create the best outcomes for the residents of the 13th Council District and the city as a whole.


Do you support further lowering of speed limits on neighborhood streets and in areas with high pedestrian volume as a means of enhancing pedestrian safety, including expansion and enhancement of the Department of Transportation’s Neighborhood Slow Zone program?

Velazquez: Coming from a transportation desert in the East Bronx, commuting is at times almost impossible. I believe we must implement effective laws that increase pedestrian safety while considering repercussions on commute time for underserved communities like my district. There are many neighborhoods that would be perfect for Neighborhood Slow Zones, and I will support them in those areas.

Gjonaj: Yes.

Do you pledge to oppose efforts to limit New York City’s Right-of-Way Law, including opposing exemptions for bus drivers or other professional vehicle operators, such as New York City Council Intro 663?

Velazquez: I believe we must consider exemptions for bus drivers while their vehicles are not properly equipped to account for pedestrians, such as better mirrors, thinner A-pillars, and audible pedestrian warnings.

Gjonaj: Yes.

Will you pledge to support efforts to allow the Department of Transportation to operate speed cameras 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year?

Velazquez: I would need to better understand the needs for a 24/7 year round authorization before making a decision on this.

Gjonaj: Yes.

Do you support the Move NY fair tolling plan?

Velazquez: Yes.

Gjonaj: I think it is a very interesting plan, worthy of more study.