How will the mayoral candidates manage the streets of New York?
During the pandemic lockdown, New York City’s relentless traffic all but disappeared, leaving a vast expanse of asphalt to gain in one of the most populous cities in the world.
The streets of the once-crowded neighborhood were teeming with people eager to escape tiny apartments. Packs of new cyclists have staked their claim. The curbs were repurposed with tables and chairs for outdoor dining.
But as New York City recovers and traffic returns, there is a growing tug-of-war over who can use this huge inventory of open space: the city’s 6,000 miles of streets. The future of such a contested space has become a key issue in the race for the next mayor, who will be responsible for managing the streets.
“People talk about the streets in the context of the city’s future and what the city will look like,” said George Arzt, political consultant and former press secretary to Mayor Edward I. Koch. “They want more parks and bike paths. They want a better quality of life.
Still, the question becomes “a real headache for candidates,” Arzt added, as the next mayor will have to strike a balance between the pressure for a more liveable city and the day-to-day demands of businesses, emergency services and public authorities. New Yorkers who depend. on cars to get around, especially in the transit deserts outside of Manhattan.
Mayor Bill de Blasio, under pressure from transportation advocates and others, expanded and made permanent an Open Streets program, a pandemic initiative that temporarily closed up to 83 miles of streets to traffic to allow more walking , cycling and outdoor dining.
But one of Mr. de Blasio’s iconic transport policies, which aims to reduce fatal traffic accidents, has failed in part because some drivers have taken advantage of fewer cars on the road to speed up and run errands. dragsters.
As of May 31, 99 traffic-related deaths had been reported, the highest number in that five-month period since 2013, according to city data.
Eight leading Democratic candidates for mayor, in response to written questions from the New York Times, shared their plans to make city streets safer, less congested and fairer, creating more protected bike lanes and streets open to the use of congestion charges to discourage car use and reduce vehicle emissions.
“We are a city of pedestrians, cyclists, skaters, drivers and transit users,” said Eric Adams, Brooklyn Borough President. “The use of our streets must reflect all these uses safely while encouraging forms of travel that reduce congestion and greenhouse gas emissions. “
Or as Kathryn Garcia, former municipal sanitation commissioner, put it: “Today our streets and sidewalks are a losing battle between competing uses.
Here’s what the candidates said they would do:
Push congestion pricing to get cars off the road.
All of the candidates are backing a state-approved congestion pricing plan that should reduce traffic by charging fees for driving in Manhattan’s busiest neighborhoods, from 60th Street to The Battery.
New York would follow other cities around the world, but would be the first American city to impose such a levy.
“We need to build on this change at the forefront of the country and see it as a chance to further reduce car traffic,” said Andrew Yang, a former presidential candidate.
Shaun Donovan, former federal housing secretary, and Maya Wiley, former adviser to Mr de Blasio, said they plan to work with state and federal officials to implement congestion pricing, which requires approval. federal government and was at a standstill under the Trump administration as soon as possible.
The revenue from congestion charges will help fund public transit improvements. Raymond McGuire, a former Wall Street executive, said he would ensure that money is not wasted, saying: “We have to make sure that the revenues are invested in the areas most in need of public transport. “.
Dianne Morales, a former nonprofit executive, said she would consider expanding congestion pricing to other areas and offering subsidies and tax breaks to people who take alternatives to cars.
Build more lanes for bicycles.
Cycling took off during the pandemic as virus-wary people avoided the metro and took the bike lanes instead.
All the candidates said they would build more cycle paths, with an emphasis on creating an interconnected network of protected lanes connecting the city.
“The roll-out of new bicycle lanes and pedestrian zones has been far too slow,” said Mr. Yang, who accompanied his children by bicycle to school. “We need to break with the past to start making real progress in bicycle and pedestrian safety and infrastructure. “
Scott Stringer, the city controller, has requested 350 miles of new bike lanes in five years, including 75 miles around schools.
Mr. Adams would build 300 miles of new protected cycle lanes in four years, including “cycle highways” using road space under highways and elevated rail tracks. Ms. Garcia wants at least 250 miles of new protected lanes.
Ms Morales, who recently bought a bike, said she would build 500 miles of new protected bike lanes, which are part of NYC 25×25, a call from influential advocacy group Transportation Alternatives to reinvent a streetscape focused on the car by 2025.
“I was able to gain a first-hand understanding of the issues for cyclists in New York City,” Ms. Morales said.
To keep cycle lanes away from cars, Mr. Stringer and Mr. Yang said they would install automated cameras to help issue tickets to drivers caught blocking bike lanes. Ms Garcia said she would also strengthen enforcement of cycle lane violations.
In addition, Mr. Yang and Mr. Adams said they will make sure bike lanes are cleared as quickly as car lanes, a common complaint among bikers. Ms Garcia said she would get equipment to plow and clean up waste from bike paths more effectively.
Increase New Yorkers’ access to bicycles.
Four candidates – Mr Adams, Mr Stringer, Ms Wiley and Mr McGuire – said they would expand the city’s popular bike-sharing program, Citi Bike, to attract more New Yorkers to bike, especially in poor and minority communities.
McGuire added he would develop a city-wide bicycle master plan “rather than the piecemeal community council approach that has dominated in the past.”
Ms Morales called for switching to a municipality-controlled bike sharing program, which would be free for city residents and prioritize docking stations in transit deserts.
Mr Adams also proposed a new network of city-wide shared bicycles and electric scooters, particularly in transit deserts, while Mr Stringer said he would offer subsidies for sharing costs. of bicycles and purchases of electric bicycles.
Five candidates – Mr Adams, Mr Stringer, Mr Yang, Ms Wiley and Ms Garcia – said they would also increase bicycle parking in the city, including near bus stops and subway stations and train. Mr. Yang wants to convert parking spaces in front of schools and public libraries into bicycle corrals.
Open more streets for people.
At least three candidates – Mr Stringer, Mr Adams and Mr Yang – would build on the success of the Open Streets program by expanding it to more low-income and minority neighborhoods with a dearth of open space.
Mr Yang said he would go even further and follow the example of the city of Barcelona by creating “superblocks”, in which adjoining blocks are largely closed to traffic and streets are turned into squares, playgrounds and gardens.
“The program has been a huge success in Barcelona,” said Mr. Yang, “and it will also be a great way to bring tourists back to the city and support small businesses.”
Ms Wiley said she would create a public space management office to work with communities “to permanently and safely reallocate road space to cycling infrastructure, protected bike lanes, walking, community gatherings and green urban design projects “.
Ms. Garcia, who wants to “put the public first in our city’s public spaces,” and Mr. Adams said they would convert 25% of the space currently used for cars into space for people, which also does part of the call for NYC 25×25.
Rethink deliveries and highways.
The pandemic has boosted online shopping, leading to more deliveries in a city already suffocated by cars and trucks.
Mr Adams said he would look to move more truck deliveries outside of business hours, and Ms Garcia said she would explore ways to reduce truck congestion and improve the safety of delivery people.
Mr. Donovan and Mr. Stringer said they would add more cargo loading zones to reduce double parking. “By re-imagining how we allocate edge space, we can make our streets fairer, less congested and much more efficient,” Donovan said.
In addition, Mr Stringer said he wanted to reduce the size of aging highways such as the Brooklyn-Queens Expressway, which is scheduled for renovation or replacement, and limit large SUVs by working with state officials. to increase their registration fees.
“The next mayor must initiate a massive reform of our transport system that gets cars and trucks off the road,” said Stringer, “because tackling climate change and improving public health must be a central pillar of our recovery from Covid. ”
Design safer streets and develop technology.
Ms Wiley said she would speed up efforts to redesign some of the city’s most dangerous streets, including Queens Boulevard.
Intersections, she said, could be made safer by installing more islets for waiting pedestrians and cyclists, and designating no-parking zones at curbs in front of crosswalks to facilitate traffic. visibility of pedestrians.
Mr McGuire said he would add at least 100 speed bumps to slow drivers down and add 25 million feet of road safety markings citywide. Mr. Donovan said that “thinking about redesigning streets in a more cost-effective way can promote bicycle safety.”
Several candidates said they also plan to use the technology to improve the streets. Mr Adams said he would partner with tech companies to monitor traffic patterns in real time and look for ways to reduce congestion.
Ms Garcia and Mr Donovan said they would expand the use of control cameras, which help issue tickets for speeding and reckless driving.
“With a more strategic and consistent automated application,” said Mr. Donovan, “we can make the streets safer and stop the road violence in New York.”