Nadir of the Year – Transit Division: This vote wasn’t even close. Low points don’t get much lower than the worst service cuts in a generation. In June, more than a dozen New York City Transit bus lines were eliminated, service was reduced on dozens more, trains started to run less frequently, and platforms got more crowded.
“Success has a thousand fathers, but defeat is an orphan,” the saying goes. The lineage of these service cuts is long and includes governors, mayors, and scores of legislators — the decision makers who borrowed to the hilt, rejected full funding packages, and flat out robbed from the transit system. So far, none of them have paid a political price.*
Nadir of the Year – Street Safety Division: As of this month, there are laws on the books that let New Yorkers look up local data on hate crimes, domestic violence, and arrests in schools. When it comes to traffic enforcement and the safety of their streets, however, New Yorkers are still in the dark.
A bill requiring the release of data on traffic crashes and summonses stalled in the City Council after high-level NYPD officials refused to back the measure at a hearing in April. Interested in finding out which parts of your neighborhood are badly in need of traffic calming or better enforcement? The police don’t want you to know. “This information is only valuable to those with the training, knowledge and experience to understand its context and interpret it correctly,” testified Chief of Transportation James Tuller.
His predecessor, Michael Scagnelli, begged to differ, telling the Council: “I strongly believe that one way to help reduce traffic injuries and fatalities on New York city streets is for the NYPD to make traffic injury, fatality and summonsing data open and available to the public.”
Urban Abomination of the Year: Four nominees faced off in what turned out to be the most hotly contested people’s choice category. All were united by an abundance of traffic-generating, city-decimating parking. What was it that put the subsidies for parking at Flushing Commons over the top? I think it mainly has to do with timing.
In a year marked by shrinking budgets and transit cuts, the City Council and NYC Economic Development Corporation doled out $3 million to subsidize driving and keep parking cheap at Flushing Commons. The same amount of funding could have covered all the bus service that Flushing lost in 2010.
Biggest Setback: In April, NYC DOT was presenting plans for continuous bike routes on First and Second Avenue from Houston to 125th Street, including protected lanes in East Harlem. In June, the city said it would only build protected lanes up to 34th Street this year, and the commitment to completing protected lanes uptown was suddenly in doubt. In between, Stephen Goldsmith took over as deputy mayor for operations.
Biggest Loophole: It turns out that even if you enact a law that directs specific taxes explicitly to transit, the governor and the state legislature can swoop in and spend it on other things. With Albany facing huge structural deficits, the lack of a locked box for transit revenues cost the MTA $160 million and was a direct contributor to this year’s service cuts. Andrew Cuomo will have the power to close the loophole for as long as he’s governor.
Best Encapsulation of Albany’s Views on Transportation Policy: In August, Assembly Speaker Sheldon Silver flew to Rochester, where he accepted a lifetime of free parking from Mayor Robert Duffy (now Lieutenant Governor-elect).