Next Week: Testify at City Council About NYC Bike Policy

Heads up on an important calendar item for next week. On Thursday, the City Council Transportation Committee will hold an oversight hearing on bike policy, which is expected to focus on bike lanes and how they’re implemented. The public is invited to testify, so if you can spare the time to help explain to council members why new street designs are making the city safer and more livable, your voice can make a difference.

The City Council will exercise its oversight powers next week to examine projects like the Prospect Park West bike lane. Photo: ##http://www.nyc.gov/html/dot/html/bicyclists/prospectparkwest.shtml##NYC DOT##

“I want to look at bike-riding policy in NYC, the opportunities it presents and the challenges it presents,” committee chair James Vacca told Streetsblog. “I do know that there were instances where people thought that bike lanes could have been put in different locations, or that they could have had more community consultation.”

He said he expected the Prospect Park West bike lane, which has stirred up a small but well-connected opposition, to come up in testimony at the hearing. So it seems like the PPW bike lane malcontents — the “Neighbors for Better Bike Lanes” — have had some role in spurring this public forum.

Vacca didn’t name other specific projects but said he’s interested in hearing about the following topics:

  • DOT’s plans for the future.
  • The effect of bike riding and bike infrastructure on traffic speeds. Vacca has been vocal about wanting to slow down speeders and called this aspect “very much of interest to me.”
  • The process of presenting bike projects to community boards. Vacca suggested that even a majority vote in favor of a project could still be a red flag. “If you see a vote on the community board that is 15-14, that indicates the the CB passed it but that there are some lingering concerns.”

Having spent many evenings at community board meetings observing presentations and votes on plans for bike lanes, pedestrian safety improvements, public plazas, and bus enhancements, here at Streetsblog we’re looking forward to a forum that makes the extent of DOT’s public outreach clear. Given the bombastic headlines that tend to follow even the tamest news about street safety improvements, however, it’s going to take a very strong showing from supporters of better cycling conditions to keep this hearing from turning into another bruising round of bike policy press.

The hearing starts at 10 a.m. next Thursday. With a big turnout expected, Transportation Alternatives is encouraging people to show up at City Hall at 9:30 (with photo ID in hand).

  • Larry Littlefield

    Sounds like a public hearing designed to be attended by those without jobs.

  • Larry, that’s a stereotype that is unfortunate. I’m sure there are some on both sides of this issue without jobs or anything “better” to do, but some of us have jobs and other responsibilities yet still find time to come to hearings and rallies because the issue of safer streets is worth it.

    We can not take these safety improvements for granted, nor can we hope that others will do the advocacy for us. Small, scared minorities can easily take away what has been building slowly over time. Ten scared PPW mansion owners can generate a heck of a lot more press and attention than thousands of safe cyclists.

    This hearing needs calm, reasonable people to speak up on behalf safer streets and it needs a packed room. If this issue is seen as just the pet cause of “fringe” group of online activists (ie, Streetsblog readers) intent on mowing down seniors then it will fail. If it’s seen as a benefit to all New Yorkers, it will succeed.

    The other side will stereotype us as menacing hipster scofflaws with nothing better to do than play on our toys in city streets. Let’s not aid them in there efforts.

  • “their efforts,” of course.

  • Larry’s point, as usual, is astute. A “public hearing” in downtown Manhattan on a weekday morning excludes the following kinds of groups:

    1. People who don’t speak English;
    2. People who work at night and need to sleep in in the morning;
    3. People who live and work in the outer boroughs;
    4. People who work during the day;
    5. People with small children to mind

    At least a community board meeting is in one’s own neighborhood and in the evening, after regular business hours are complete. I would expect that this kind of hearing attracts the English speaking, articulate, retired people who seem to comprise the anti-bike lane lobby.

  • Larry Littlefield

    And don’t forget the nature of public hearings.

    After all the officials and designated advocates have spoken first, and by the time those who have signed up get to speak, all the elected officials and reporters will have departed to be replaced by a staff member taking notes.

    At least that is the case for the few (evening) public hearings I have attended, and the ones were I was in fact one of the staff members taking notes back when I worked for the government.

    The issue of how to get reasonable and representative public comment is a tough one. Even if that is the actual goal, let alone if it isn’t.

  • Do you think the failure of law enforcement will be brought up at the meeting? Why or why not?

    http://bit.ly/htU4Pw

    There will be some massive feeder rides to the meeting, hit me up if you want to know when and where.

  • Wouldn’t “People who work at night and need to sleep in in the morning” not be able to attend the meeting no matter when it was scheduled?

  • hmph

    hmph, since when is it critcal mass’s concern to have laws enforced? sheesh, just ride yer damn bikes. isn’t that what critical mass is all about – just going for a ride? enough with the politicization of the, er, “spontaneous,” um, “action.” please. why do you think so many people gave up on it?

  • Sheesh

    Wow, Larry and Jonathan, I love how people jump to conclusions.

    This is a City Council hearing. It’s not some set up meant to exclude a segment of the population. This is within the same window of times that ALL City Council hearings are. It’s not like the scheduled time is some Machiavellian master plot to exclude certain viewpoints.

    At least Doug has the right idea. If it’s important to you – then go and discuss your view point reasonably.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I didn’t claim a conspiracy, or certain viewpoints as a target.

    I merely point out that I am just about out of days off for the year, which also includes sick days for me. I don’t have that kind of flexibility, and I expect that most people don’t have that kind of flexibility.

    If it was a 6 pm hearing and I could stop off on the way home, I would do so. I stopped off at the rally for the PPW bike lane on the way in to work, although it made me late. So I’m not looking forward to “aha, no bike lane for you, because you didn’t show up for the hearing.”

    If all City Council hearings are at the same time, then people will have the same problem attending all of them.

  • tom

    I have attended CC committee meetings on what I thought were mundane pieces of legislation and the committee room was full thirty minutes beforehand. Could someone with standing implore Chairman Vacco to secure a larger room to avoid what promises to be an overcrowded meeting? Just the thought of being turned away is discouraging.

  • Larry Littlefield

    I feel your pain, Tom.

    Many years ago, in the first election with new faces due to term limits, a group devised an evening events with the City Council candidates in my district. The idea is citizens would set at tables, and after the candidates spoke and were questioned by representatives of various advocacy groups, they could go around to the tables and answer questions from ordinary citizens. It was on a weekend in summer.

    What a great idea, I thought. I had to support and participate in an event like that. I paid to photocopy a bunch of tables and charts to hand to the candidates, and ask them questions about their fiscal priorities. What did they agree or disagree with? What would they seek to change?

    I had walked over, because I was not smart enough to travel those distances by bike back the. The place was not air conditioned, it was a heat wave, and it was steaming hot in the room. The candidates were late and the event started an hour late. Then the various advocates went on with their more for me (with no mention of who then would get less) spiels, and the candidates spouted platitudes.

    And when they were done, the event organizers announced that because of the heat the second half of the event was cancelled.

    Perhaps I can send Vacco a letter.

  • The Vacco hearing next Thursday is of course not a conspiracy, because it’s not secretive and it’s not illegal.

    The agenda item is “Oversight – Bicycling in NYC – Opportunities and challenges.” The named members of the Transportation Committee are Vacca, Brewer, Garodnick, Koppell, Lappin, Mealy, Nelson, Rodriguez, Rose, Van Bramer, Ignizio, Koo, and Ulrich.

    Let me pose to you a question.

    Speaking only of myself, I spend a half-hour a day (at least) reading Streetsblog and writing coherent comments. I have a leadership role in my neighborhood livable-streets organization. I am a paid-up Transportation Alternatives member and a financial supporter of Streetsblog. I read and comment regularly using the twitter #bikenyc hashtag. I ride my bike to work and on errands in New York City every day, rain, sleet, snow, or gloom of night be damned, and have done so for the last decade, excluding the year I spent courtesy of the US military in Iraq, and when I was there I rode my bike to work as well. By happy chance, I am married to a person who rides daily as well, and between us we own five bicycles.

    And you’re telling me that in order to be recognized as someone with something to say on the topic of “Bicycling in NYC – Opportunities and challenges” I have to take time off work, travel 20 miles out of my way, and attend a City Council hearing, where I’m likely to be limited to a 90-second statement?

    I should get a got-damned engraved golden ticket to such a hearing, and so should the other “Bicycling in NYC – Opportunities and challenges” experts who consistently post on Streetsblog and contribute their time and money to promoting bicycling in New York City as a safe, pleasant, and environmentally friendly activity, for instance, Larry, BicyclesOnly, gecko, and Mark Walker, to name a few. If Jimmy Vacca and his colleagues named above truly wanted to hear about “Bicycling in NYC – Opportunities and challenges,” I’m sure most of us would agree to contribute to a white paper, or to record video comments, or even to meet a couple Council members for lunch. I’m sure that such comments would discuss the issue of bicycling and safe provisions for bicycling in a larger context, including, among others, the childhood obesity epidemic, the onrushing effects of global climate change, the free on-street automobile parking entitlement, the food-delivery cyclist problem, the lack of cyclist education among the general public, and the coming inability of the MTA to provide regular transit service. That, to me, is what “Bicycling in NYC – Opportunities and challenges” would be about: how the city can use bicycling as a tool to address these different problems. And you may call me a “true believer,” but I, for one, would like to hear just one of those automobilism apologists outline an alternative future in which all those problems are being addressed without an increase in the numbers of bicyclists.

    But the “public hearing” format means that the Councilmembers will hear instead from a sampling of axe-grinders who have the free time to spend at the hearing and the willingness to bear the onerous conditions required for participation. It is a total farce in the making, and will not help our municipal government meet its obligation to address the long-term problems I mentioned above through public policy. The vain hope that the Council will actually begin to address those problems through an enlightened, bicycle-positive transportation policy has been one of my reasons for participating on Streetsblog.

  • Sheesh

    Jonathan,

    (I guess I’ll stick with the name ‘Sheesh’ simply because that’s how you’ll know I’m the same person as above – but this response wasn’t written with a sheesh-ish tone…)

    I will freely admit you likely are more familiar with biking and related transportation issues than I (tho I also enjoy Streetsblog and other transportation blogs). Certainly, you, and several others here, are far more familiar than the average person. But, the purpose of such hearings isn’t ‘to be recognized as someone with something to say on the topic.’ The purpose of such hearings is to (theoretically) inform legislators on the issues. Time limitations (I don’t know off-hand what it is for the public at this hearing, but only a few minutes I’d guess) are not in place to rein you in, but to rather rein in others who might not be so knowledgable and would use such a forum merely to rant.

    I don’t think calling the hearing a farce is fair – because for some of these hearings, knowledgeable advocates (often for opposing sides) do show up to discuss and represent viewpoints. I freely admit that the public portion is not all it could be. But, to be honest, local electeds like Council Members are (and this will vary) sometimes fairly accessible to the public. Many go to local civics/community boards where they will happily discuss issues with constituents. Others are part of clubs or other organizations where they can be found regularly at certain days/times and will, again, talk issues with people. At the very least, representatives of these electeds are not too hard to run into or track down at community events. Just by attending local events, I’ve run into (and talked with) many City, State and Federal electeds. If you’re looking for a more formal meeting, then that’s really going to vary by person – but some might be willing to sit and talk.

    The goal, for you and others, is to get your thoughts/ideas out there, right? So there’s lots of ways to do that. This hearing is just one way – there’s others too. If you feel you have some sensible things to contribute to the discussion (and it sounds as if you do – even if I may not agree with all of it) then why not contact the members of the committee to share those thoughts? E-mail, a formal letter, the method is up to you.

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