John Liu on Bicycle Access Bill: Why Is DOT Involved in Bike Commuting?

john_liu.jpgWill the real John Liu please stand up? The councilman plays to the crowd at last year’s Tour de Queens. Photo: qmaparks/Flickr.

Never one to pass up a moment in the spotlight, City Council transportation committee chair John Liu delivered some choice theatrics at this morning’s hearing on the Bicycle Access Bill (Intro 871). At a committee meeting ostensibly devoted to easing the way for New Yorkers to commute by bike and bring their rides to work, Liu seemed more intent on confronting DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan. There was no vote, leaving some to question whether the bill, which enjoys the support of 29 co-sponsors and Mayor Bloomberg, would become law before the City Council’s summer recess.

Before I get to that, a little explanation is in order about the current status of the bill. This is the second committee hearing on Intro 871. It’s been reworked substantially in the seven months since the first hearing, with both transportation advocates and the real estate industry weighing in. The bill has also been tweaked since Streetsblog posted the revised text earlier this month. I don’t have the most up-to-date version available, but based on today’s testimony, there are two notable changes:

  • The bill now clearly states that building owners can claim an exemption if "secure" bike parking is available nearby. This should close a potential loophole in previous language, which granted exemptions for buildings near "sheltered" bike parking. That’s the good news.
  • The bad news: The bill no longer requires buildings that have a passenger elevator but no freight elevator to provide bicycle access. Previously, any building with a passenger elevator big enough to accommodate a bike had to comply.

The current legislation is still strong enough to merit the support of transportation advocates, but the loss of passenger elevator access is significant. Said bill sponsor David Yassky, "My hope is that at some point in the future, the bill will be amended to include passenger elevators." We have a request in with the Department of Buildings to determine how many buildings this exemption would affect.

Most of the questioning and testimony this morning centered around enforcement. Intro 871 relies on a "tenant-driven" process: Building owners have to provide bike access if a tenant requests it, and they may deny the request if their freight elevator can’t accommodate bikes. Council Member Daniel Garodnick suggested that the final bill should spell out exactly how the city will determine whether building owners have legitimate reasons for denying access. Sadik-Khan agreed.

This addressed one of the major shortcomings Liu found in the bill, but the committee chair wasn’t satisfied. In a long, combative exchange with Sadik-Khan, he questioned why DOT "is involved in this bill in the first place." Sadik-Khan and Buildings Commissioner Robert LiMandri had already explained that DOT and DOB would jointly monitor compliance with the bill. Undeterred, Liu launched into a digressive speech about the city’s lack of enforcement of "stoop-side stand" regulations. Claiming that sidewalk vending stands present a pedestrian safety hazard, he accused DOT of "inconsistency" for proposing to inspect bicycle access to buildings while leaving stoop-side stands unmonitored. Liu, it should be noted, has vocally opposed the pedestrian safety improvements underway in Times Square.

While the committee chair was dragging out the proceedings, two bike commuters sitting next to me left the council chamber before they had a chance to testify in favor of the bill. They had to get back to work.

  • For what it’s worth, Liu was also at the pedestrian memorial march on Saturday. I caught up with the march in progress, so if he spoke I missed it. Didn’t see him later on to get a pic.

  • http://www.streetfilms.org/archives/tour-de-queens-2008/

    John Liu speaks from :20 to :41 seconds in about making this a far better city for cyclists….

  • The Bicycle Access Bill with full access for any building would be a sea-change for cycling in New York City, and bring about multiple benefits from citizen’s commuting options, their spend on transport, air quality, to street safety. Anyone looking to be comptroller should understand the entire ecosystem inherent to budget, policy and quality of life for citizens in New York.

  • Slappy

    Not being permited in passenger elevators is frustrating. Many buildings have limited hours of freight elevator service. Some end access at 4:30 or 5pm this would give people who work till 5 or later the shaft. There is always a way to take a good bill and make it useless.

  • Rebelfish

    During the discussion this morning, it seemed Commissioner Sadik-Khan was missing the point of many of the questions, specifically those about the ability of the DOT/DOB to deny exemptions under the current text of the law. It seemed that all of the councilmen present thought that buildings w/ freight elevators could get a waiver (to deny access) too easily, and most of the discussion centered around reworking the bill to clearly outline the powers of the DOT/DOB.

  • My Office Doesn’t Have a Freight Elevator

    Typical. With a history of never bypassing an opportunity to make a point in front of the cameras this recent display doesn’t surprise me. Honestly- it’s a quality that would have probably made him a good Public Advocate (a position he ran for) but there’s no way this guy should be put in the Comptroller’s office (the position he’s now running making the switch ironically after Mark Green entered the race). I’m sure he has good intentions- but all he managed to do today was divert time away from making a substantive case– he could have been the case for amending the law to include buildings w.o freight elevators but instead he interrupted a serious hearing to further his own agenda. I respect John Liu- but these kind of shenanigans are what’s wrong with politics– after what happened in upstate last week, where “the show” and gamesmanship of politics trumped the substance, he’s the last thing this city needs in city-wide office.

  • Shemp

    What possible reason do you have for respecting John Liu?

  • Liu supported congestion pricing. He’s deteriorated since then. Maybe he saw CP as a political liability and is backpedaling. If that’s the case, it may well backfire — his recent grandstanding has created a lot of animosity among the growing livable streets constituency. I’m very leery about voting him into a citywide office — but before I decide, I’d like to see him campaign against someone else and choose the lesser of two evils. If both comptroller candidates are putrid, I’ll go to Plan B, which is not to pull the lever at all.

  • Glenn

    All city council members seem to care about is finding an exemption that they “spearheaded” or at least “fought for” to use as a message in their campaigns. “It’s a great idea, but not for ‘insert special interest group that either has narrow interests or deep pockets'”

  • Shemp

    Gimme a break – Liu had about 19 different positions on congestion pricing, depending on who he was talking to and how the issue was playing.

  • In my current office building (much more enlighted than my last one!), we are required to bring bicycles in the freight elevator during the day and after hours we take them out via the passenger elevators. It’s a reasonable policy that meets everyone’s needs.

    I see no reason to categorically force bicycles onto a freight elevator and exclude them from being carried on passenger elevators. Are we going to exclude strollers and wheelchairs while we’re at it? Is the fear that 50 bicyclists (without a parade permit) are going to show up to work at the same time and clog the elevators for the next hour?

  • SL

    Ben, thanks for the update on what I missed, and for the anonymous cameo!

    For what it’s worth, I felt like Liu, while certainly employing a combative style of questioning, generally supports this bill. I felt he wanted to make sure it was strong enough to mean something, thus his desire to close up the freight elevator exemption that was, in his words, “a loophole big enough to ride a thousand bikes through.”

    I don’t think you can compare tenant-requested inspection of specific building violations with blanket enforcement of all stoop-side stand encroachment.

  • Joe

    You are not the only person to wonder who the real John Liu is. The guy takes campaign money from everyone. And he cannot remember his past. Will the real John Liu please stand up?

  • john campo

    I brought my bike to work all of last week at 1290 6th Ave AXA Equitable. They have a lock up in the basement for over 100 bike all of 3 bikes are down there. Today Monday second week of working in this building I was stopped at the loading dock and told I couldn’t bring the bike in the building. When I pointed out that I had done so all of the previous week.
    They called my employer and told him I was not allowed in the building any longer. On a day when we celebrated the taking down of the Berlin Wall, USA love of security guards and it miss-use makes one wonder where we are headed and at who’s expense. The Bike law is a sham, smoke and mirrors…

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