Bushwick Candidate: Here’s My Plan for Reducing Car Use in NYC

Closing Irving Avenue to cars from Starr to Suydam would create a pedestrian plaza like this, says Council Candidate Scott Murphy.
Closing Irving Avenue to cars from Starr to Suydam would create a pedestrian plaza like this, says Council Candidate Scott Murphy.

Last month, we tangled with Council candidate Scott Murphy after he penned an op-ed on a Bushwick website that declared that he wanted to “alleviate the burden of car ownership” in the neighborhood, a phrase that is pretty much a non-starter for livable streets activists. (For comparison, Murphy’s rival for the 34th District seat, Jennifer Gutierrez, told Streetsblog that she would continue term-limited Council Member Antonio Reynoso’s approach of saying, as she put it, “I don’t give a ‘f’ about car culture.”) In fairness, Murphy later claimed that we took his one mildly pro-car comment out of a larger, broader car-reduction strategy, so we said, “OK, Scott, show us what you got.” The op-ed below answers that question:

Scott Murphy
Scott Murphy

Simply put, cars and the roads they travel on are not working for most New Yorkers. Parking, tickets and tows, accidents, fatalities, pollution, green space equality are all reasons why we need to radically reimagine transportation, policing, and green space in New York City.

New Yorkers in all five boroughs deserve a world-class transportation system that services the entire community equitably and affordably. New York needs to become a truly multimodal city for all of its residents. We need to continue to promote and support private companies that are coming into New York to fill a void that public transportation has been unable to fill. We need to support and expand micro-mobility options like on-demand e-bikes, mopeds, and car sharing programs. These transportation systems help New Yorkers displace the need for a car, which will help reduce pollution, make our pedestrian spaces safer, and grow our economy with good paying jobs located in our neighborhoods and fewer cars.

In addition, we need to task the MTA with expanding reliable bus service in underserved areas, and working with the city Department of Transportation to create truly dedicated bus lanes in order to make traveling by bus as efficient as traveling by train.

One of my plans to help reduce the number of cars in the city is something I’m calling an alternative transportation allowance. This would be a payment made monthly for one year to city residents who can prove they sold their car. I would pilot this program in District 34, where I’m running. The money to pay for this would come from a small increase in the city’s gasoline tax, which would go directly into a special fund to discourage car ownership. Participants in the program would also receive discounts on transit passes, as well as preferred rates with micro mobility companies.

In addition to reducing the number of cars, I would work with local community leaders to help discourage people from reckless and excessively fast driving by implementing traffic calming measures throughout the district, including speed humps and traffic chokers. Traffic calming has a number of great effects on communities where it’s already been implemented, including:

  • Address chronic disease (e.g., asthma, diabetes, heart disease)
  • Improve equity
  • Increase physical activity
  • Improve safety
  • Reduce motor vehicle-related injuries and fatalities
  • Reduce transportation’s contribution to air pollution

Another area of great concern we need to address is policing and police accountability. I have signed the DSA pledge to vote “no” on any budget that does not reallocate at least $1.5 billion out of the NYPD’s $11-billion total yearly expenditure each year during my term, for a total of $3 billion.

In addition, I am proposing that we divide the NYPD into two divisions, one focused on law enforcement and one focused on quality of life issues. The law enforcement division would have many of the same duties as the current NYPD, but with reforms aimed at demilitarization, ending racist policing tactics, and would be a significantly smaller percentage of the force. The larger quality-of-life division would function less like the military and more like a social services organization made up of social workers, community leaders, and other members of the community who want to improve their neighborhood. Quality-of-life division members would be trained and supplied with self-defense tools, but would not use firearms.

I would also aim to increase Police accountability by outlawing the idea of professional courtesy, which is the practice of cops letting other cops get away with some crimes like speeding and DUI just because they’re cops. I would also work to outlaw the distribution and possession of “Courtesy Cards” which are generated by the police unions and are designed to work like a “get out of jail free” card for the person possessing the card, insinuating that because they know or are related to a cop, they should be allowed to break some laws. In addition, cops who are caught intentionally breaking laws should immediately be suspended without pay pending a full investigation.

Another critical issue is equitable access to green space. If COVID has taught us anything, it’s that green space is more important than parking space. I have a lot of ideas about how to create more green spaces for New Yorkers, but one of my plans that is specific to District 34 is to radically reimagine the space around Maria Hernandez Park. This green space is more than just a park, it is a community hub. During the summer on the weekends, it becomes the backyard of the District, hosting volleyball and fast football on the available courts, as well as lively games of handball. Skateboarding, picnics, and time at the playground are all activities that residents of the neighborhood enjoy at this park. I have a multi part plan for the park area that would increase the size of the sidewalks, eliminate car traffic on Irving Ave between Starr and Suydam, and would make the pedestrian spaces safer for park goers.

First I would close Irving Avenue to cars from Starr to Suydam streets to create a pedestrian plaza like the one at the top of this post.

Giving that space back to pedestrians would help slow down traffic overall on Irving, making the space much safer for pedestrians and the children of PS 123.

I would also eliminate all of the parking on the surrounding roads that are adjacent to the park in order to expand the sidewalks (expanded space highlighted in orange):

murphy op-ed parkd-2

This would provide more space for pedestrians and could potentially reduce the amount of pollution that is spread through the park from idling cars.

It would also provide much more room for the Riseboro Farmers Market on Knickerbocker:

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All of this has the potential to eliminate pollution, increase the amount of green space in the district, and reduce the possibility of motor vehicle accidents in the area.

The election is on June 22. Early voting begins on June 12. Click here for more information.

Scott Murphy is running to represent Council District 34 in Bushwick and Ridgewood. He is asking voters to rank him first and Andy Marte second. For info on Murphy’s campaign, click here. Follow him on Twitter @scottfmurphy.