A series of articles in Streetsblog last year that was highly criticized by City Hall because it outlined failures of the Department of Transportation to meet bus and bike lane mileage requirements due to staffing shortages and political waffling has just been confirmed — by City Hall.
The preliminary Mayor’s Management Report, which covers July through October, 2022 and was issued late on Monday, closely echoed Streetsblog’s reporting:
- Regarding the 42-percent decrease in bike lane miles created during those four months compared to the same four months in 2021, the city admitted, “The decline in bike lane production is mainly due to fewer contractors available, shortages in installation materials, and general political opposition delaying project completions.”
- Regarding the 47-percent decrease in bus lane miles created in the same four-month comparison, the city said, “Bus lane miles installed decreased … due to political opposition, the lack of staffing available as well as the availability of markings contractors, operating space constraints, and a delay in the delivery of in-house markings machinery required to complete scheduled projects.”
Streetsblog faced major push back from the City Hall and DOT press offices when we reported that DOT was struggling to build new bus and bike lanes because of staff/resource shortages and political opposition. Now, the Preliminary Mayor’s Management Report says, well: pic.twitter.com/pVs8IdHvNb
— Jesse Coburn (@Jesse_Coburn) January 31, 2023
The Mayor’s Management Report concessions follow three key Streetsblog stories. First, in September, Streetsblog revealed the extent to which vacancies at the Department of Transportation had stymied projects.
“The departures have left some remaining employees overworked and demoralized as they struggle to carry out the agency’s vast array of responsibilities amid persistently high rates of traffic violence in the city, according to interviews with a dozen current and recently departed staffers, nearly all of whom requested anonymity to speak candidly about their experiences,” Streetsblog reported. “‘We got to the point where we couldn’t produce anything new,’ said one recently departed agency employee. ‘We were just keeping the lights on.'”
DOT officials had pushed back on our reporting, but spokesman Vin Barone’s on-the-record comment was more general: “Our passionate team is working every day to execute Commissioner Rodriguez’s ambitious agenda to deliver a safer, healthier, and more sustainable city with a clear focus on providing investment and resources equitably to historically underserved communities.” He added that the “historic $900 million [investment] in the New York City Streets Plan” showed that the city would “remain on track to complete on time.”
A month later, Streetsblog reported that the mayor’s Office of Intergovernmental Affairs had killed several projects after bowing to local political pressure from allies of Mayor Adams. That story revealed several specific instances of political meddling, including a stalled Citi Bike expansion in Queens and the proposed Fordham Road bus lane in the Bronx. The proposals have faced opposition from Council Members Bob Holden and Oswald Feliz, respectively, both of whom endorsed Adams during the mayoral primary in 2021.
City Hall spokesman Charles Lutvak told Streetsblog at the time, “The City Hall intergovernmental affairs team is working every day to realize the mayor’s vision and advance these administration priorities.”
As late as Nov. 1, DOT officials were still claiming they would reach their bus lane requirement under the Streets Plan, but in December, Streetsblog broke the news that not only would DOT fail to meet the benchmarks, but that the agency also did not believe it would meet the higher benchmarks for 2023. That part of the story was also highly criticized by City Hall.
But the numbers for 2022 — and the reason for the shortfall — were accurate, as confirmed by the Mayor’s Management Report. As Streetsblog reported in December, DOT only built 11.95 miles of the dedicated or camera-protected bus lanes, which is just 67 percent of the mandate in the Streets Plan. The agency said it completed 25 bike lane miles, which would be 17 percent short.
This week, Streetsblog reached out to the Department of Transportation for clarification on why its public messaging at the time of Streetsblog’s stories was counter to what the agency later admitted, but the agency declined to answer specific questions such as what projects had been undermined by which political opponents. Spokesperson Mona Bruno sent over a statement:
DOT improved the lives of 400,000 daily bus rider last year with projects that have made their service faster and more reliable. We’re working creatively, and in close partnership with the MTA, to deliver high-quality, high-impact projects to support bus service where New Yorkers depend on it the most.
On the plus side, the Department of Transportation claims that the “shortages … and general political opposition” are a thing of the past.
“DOT is actively addressing those issues and expects to have more productive results moving forward,” the management report said. “The installation target [of bike lanes] is 50 total lane miles by the end of June 2023.”