Sneak Preview: Tuesday Night’s District 25 Candidate Debate

Tomorrow night, Transportation Alternatives will host the second of its three City Council candidate forums, this one for the District 25 race in Queens. Encompassing parts of Jackson Heights, Elmhurst, and Corona, it’s an intriguing district.

Both Queens Boulevard, still one of the city’s most dangerous streets,
and Northern Boulevard, another heavily trafficked feeder to the free 59th Street Bridge, run through the 25th. Only five percent of workers in the district commute by car to the Manhattan CBD, while 39 percent rely on transit [PDF]. Livable streets activism is strong here: Residents helped launch the 78th Street Play Street last year as a temporary corrective to the district’s cramped sidewalks and lack of public spaces. Calls for a protected bike lane and traffic calming on Queens Boulevard have been continuous since the death of Asif Rahman last February.

Two-term incumbent Helen Sears sided against congestion pricing in last year’s City Council vote, declined to join Eric Gioia and John Liu in urging safety improvements for Queens Boulevard, and responded to the district’s sidewalk crunch by proposing a ban on food vendors in 2006. Democratic primary challenger Daniel Dromm, a teacher at PS199, also answered TA’s candidate questionnaire, while a third Democratic candidate, Stanley Kalathara, has confirmed he will attend the debate. Republican Mujib Rahman has yet to confirm.

For a preview of tomorrow night’s action, here’s what Dromm and Sears told TA when asked their opinion of road pricing as a traffic reduction tool:

  • dan_dromm.jpgDaniel Dromm

    Daniel Dromm does believe that road pricing will alter New Yorkers’
    travel choices. Dromm is a strong advocate for reducing motor vehicle
    congestion and expanding mass transit access and funding. Road pricing
    may be an effective way to reduce traffic but its implementation and
    design must not alienate or appear to unfairly burden different
    sections of the City. The major concern is that road pricing, as twice
    recently proposed, is not politically viable at the moment. Dromm
    advocates for vastly increasing street parking fees, improving parking
    management, and initiating a residential parking program. Dromm is a
    firm believer that neighborhoods surrounding high-traffic roadways will
    benefit from reduced vehicular congestion.

  • sears.jpgHelen Sears

    Helen Sears: I believe that congestion is a serious problem in NYC for many reasons,
    including health (emissions contribute to high asthma rates and other
    issues) and the environment (it is critical that we reduce our carbon
    footprint). I look forward to working on this issue in the future, and
    will advocate for a plan that equitably distributes any burdens equally
    among the five boroughs.

The forum gets underway tomorrow at 7 p.m. at the Diversity Center of Queens, 76-11 37th Avenue (between 76th Street and 77th Street).

  • I’m heartened by Councilmember Sears’ and challenger Dromm’s conditional endorsements of congestion pricing — contingent on an equitable distribution of burdens.

    Sears told TA: “I … will advocate for a plan that equitably distributes any burdens equally among the five boroughs.” Dromm told TA: “Road pricing … must not … unfairly burden different sections of the City.”

    I can’t attend TA’s Tues evening forum. I think it would be helpful if some livable streets advocate reading this post could ask the candidates the following question:

    If a traffic-pricing plan were to be put on the table that collected considerably more toll revenues from residents of Manhattan than from residents of Queens or any other borough, and that promised to cut traffic congestion significantly while raising sufficient revenues to reduce transit fares, would such a plan meet your criterion of “equitable distribution” and do you feel you could support it?

    I have in mind, of course, any of several variable-pricing “Kheel Plans,” which may be accessed with this link (see, especially, the “Incidence” worksheet).

  • Ian Turner

    I’d say it’s quite plain that Sears is opposed to congestion pricing or bridge tolls of any kind, but knows better than to come out and say that to this audience.

  • Ian — you may be right, but that only underscores the value of presenting her with a congestion pricing plan that would appear to satisfy her criteria and asking her to comment.

  • rufustfyrfly

    Elsewhere in that same questionnaire, Dromm said he supported a “dedicated bike lane” along Queens Boulevard. I hope they ask about that, I wasn’t entirely certain he was referring to a Class 1. I have heard him bring up traffic calming issues without prompting, though, which is a good sign.

    [Full disclosure: I work for an organization that endorsed Dromm, which is why I heard him talking about this stuff.]

  • Oops. Got signed out up there. Sorry.

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Highlights From TA’s District 25 Candidate Debate

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Helen Sears, Stanley Kalathara, and Daniel Dromm. At the Transportation Alternatives City Council candidate debate last night, the three Democrats competing in District 25 sat down to tackle concerns about traffic, public space, and street safety. An overflow crowd of about 50 people packed the second floor office of the Queens Diversity Center to see […]