Oddo: Bike Lanes Were Just to Grab Attention for Loosening Enviro Review

James Oddo
City Council Minority Leader James Oddo. Photo: ##http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2010/09/city_council_moves_to_ease_reg.html##SI Advance##

City Council Minority Leader James Oddo has a surprising message for Streetsblog and its commenters: “Thank you.”

We didn’t think too highly of Oddo’s proposal to require environmental review for bike lanes. And experts said it would throw an unnecessary road block in front of expanding the bike network, making the projects exceedingly slow and expensive without any countervailing benefit.

But in a phone call with Streetsblog, Oddo said that story was exactly what he wanted to see. “I used you guys,” he crowed. “I knew when I touched the third rail of bike lanes, it would get noticed. The aim of my letter to the Deputy Mayor and the DOT Commissioner wasn’t bike lanes. It was the city’s environmental review process.”

He hurried to say that he didn’t have any problems with bike lanes — but his explanation will be cold comfort to cyclists who can no longer ride on the Father Capodanno Boulevard bike lane in his own district. “This commissioner and this department, they can build all the bike lanes they want,” he said. “As long as I get drivable roads in my borough, that’s my concern. I can’t help the fact that Staten Islanders are addicted to automobiles because the government hasn’t given us mass transit.”

Oddo called the environmental review process “arbitrary, pointless, and a job killer.” He said his ultimate goal was to raise attention to this white paper by Manhattan Institute fellow Hope Cohen, which outlines an agenda to reform environmental review.

To what end does Oddo want to loosen the city’s enviro review procedures? The Staten Island Advance reports today that he wants road widenings to be sped through the process — projects that will actually induce more traffic and cause more pollution. The Manhattan Institute paper does not address the appropriateness of environmental review for specific types of transportation projects, like road widenings.

And the Advance notes that Oddo does seem to have problems with bike lanes, which he said cause congestion and endanger all road users. Note that the project that got him and his Staten Island colleague Vincent Ignizio so riled up was merely the prospect of sharrows on a couple of streets.

So it can’t hurt to remind Oddo that you don’t want to see bike lanes burdened with unneeded environmental review. You can send him and Ignizio an e-fax here.

By the way, there are plenty of environmental review reforms Oddo could pursue that would actually be beneficial for the environment. Streetsblog has written about a few flaws in our local enviro review law: It doesn’t count the total impact of off-street parking, and it suggests that developers provide too much parking.

Any other changes you’d like to pass on? Leave your suggestions in the comments.

  • Larry Littlefield

    The environmental review process was substantially reformed several years ago, leaving only the largest projects — and those that aren’t “as of right” subject to it.

    There is a broader dispute between plan-based planning and deal-based “planning.”

    Under plan-based planning, the city has real rules in place that apply to everyone, and everyone can just go ahead and build under those rules. Most NYC development is as of right, and there has been some attempt to get reasonable as-of-right rules in place in recent years.

    Under deal-based planning, the zoning rules are meaningless but aren’t changed — so influential developers can purchase underzoned properties on the cheap and get individual negotiated approvals just for themselves. Today, such deals require an EIS, because they represent a change in the underlying rules.

    What the Manhattan Institute and the NYC Partnership want to do is expedite deal-based planning. I’d rather see it eliminated altogether.

  • mark davis

    I don’t think it’s appropriate for elected officials to lie to prove a point.

  • PaulCJr

    Mr. Oddo is wrong in his statement that the government hasn’t tried to give SI better public transit. The reason why SI doesn’t have better public transit is because SI residents always come out against improvements. SI residents or the ones that vote at least, want to keep SI as suburban as possible. For example when the State/City wanted to connect the SI RailRoad to the rest of the metro system back in the day they refused it. SI also shoots down all forms of greater density every time it is proposed, so they end up having to drive everywhere because they don’t let their borough increase density which would make it more walkable. So contrary to what Mr. Oddo says, SI residents can only blame themselves for the transit mess they are in.

  • Marsha Kramer’s Eyebrow

    Well it is just great to know that electeds now feel like lying to the public is a good thing. It’s really shameful. I hope Mayor Bloomberg calls him out, he’s making it harder to make this city more sustainable, livable.

    But on the positive side – the livable streets movement can take some comfort: Oddo and others are realizing the power of transportation advocacy and news groups. Really, that is quite incredible if you think about it – they realize our ability to impact the whole of the city and to mobilize and get press.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “The reason why SI doesn’t have better public transit is because SI residents always come out against improvements.”

    Right, and don’t forget the ferries. They come out and fight road improvements too.

    I’m not sure what is refered to by the widening of Rockland Hill Road and Forest Hill Road, but it a major increase in capacity is expected it should be subject to environmental review. On the other hand, modest improvements such as turn lanes at intersections and improvements in highway exit design should not be. And I think that’s how it goes.

    Moreover, is Mr. Oddo talking about a widening of those streets through the Greenbelt? Ho boy, don’t those of us off the rock us into THAT major war Mr. Oddo.

  • OBA

    James Oddo: Reason #15,714 to let S.I. secede from NYC.

  • J:Lai

    Swap Staten Island for Jersey City and a 7 train extension!

  • J

    I don’t think you all are being fair to Staten Island. It has always been on the verge of being connected to the rest of the system, and political leaders are rather vocal in their support of many transit options. From a national perspective, it’s actually rather densely populated and would be well served by transit.

    Politicians there recently campaigned successfully for bus service to New Jersey to connect SI to the Hudson Bergen Light Rail:
    http://www.mta.info/nyct/bus/schedule/staten/s089cur.pdf

    There is now broad support for HBLR connection to Staten Island via Bayonne Bridge & restoration of service on North Shore branch of Staten Island Railroad:
    http://www.silive.com/news/index.ssf/2011/01/support_builds_for_bayonne_bri.html

    Aborted plans for subway to SI:
    http://www.nycsubway.org/lines/4thave.html

  • Coinkydink

    NBBL/Iris/Steisel > Gibson Dunn/Randy Mastro > Oddo EIS brain storm.

    There’s more to come in this season of Iris’ discontent.

  • “I can’t help the fact that Staten Islanders are addicted to automobiles because the government hasn’t given us mass transit.”

    …Excuse me? Wake up and smell the exhaust. You ARE the government–and have been for ten years. You want mass transit? Make it a priority over useless road widening. And the only bike lane that might even begin to contribute to congestion is a nonexistent one. The solipsistic hypocrisy of this man turns my stomach.

    And I’d rather not see Staten Island secede. I enjoy living in New York City–among ample trees at that–and actually being able to afford it.

  • Instead of lying to New Yorkers through and possibly in collusion with Post reporter Sally Goldenberg (whose false report is still uncorrected), why not just ask us what we think about SEQR?

    I’m not so hot on it myself. While pausing to reflect on the environmental downsides of responding to knee-jerk demands for a road widening seems like a good idea, blocking it with protracted litigation wastes a lot of time, money, and produces bubbling resentment as a byproduct (see: James Oddo). It would be far better to reject the same project outright because it will be costly and ineffective over the long term, based on empirical data collected before and after widenings of the past 30 years. If that’s possible.

    Something I’ve been thinking about this winter, and right now as I listen to snowplows working the 6/8 lane traffic sewer that runs by my home, is how much wide roads contribute to the massive cost of snow removal. Do people realize, as they clamber over mounds of snow to cross the street, that the height of those mounds is a function of the width of the road that must be cleared? That clearing a 6-foot wide bicycle lane or sidewalk is an order of magnitude different from clearing 100-foot wide road? And it doesn’t help that the road is lined by $60k SUVs strewn at odd angles, whose owners that left them there “parked” in the drifts will not hesitate to sue the city if their preciouses are glanced in the process of making the snow go bye-bye.

    I don’t know how we can continue to afford this to giant roads people pay nothing to use and for a great number of vehicles that are not even registered in this state. What we should be talking about is road narrowing and scaling back a dead-end transportation system that we can not afford to clear 24-hours a day in a winter-long “snow emergency”.

  • kk

    Some of the bike lanes are fantastic , but the riders are reckless and dangerous .

    Who will regulate that ???

  • BicyclesOnly

    Coinkydink knoweth of what he speaks. If Oddo is being honest at all about “using” the enviro review issue, he was “using” NBBL and its fellow travelers just as much as he was using us (an equal-opportunity sleazeball!). I think the EQRA lawsuit’s coming soon.

  • StevenF

    Oddo does not know the difference between a Categorical Exclusion
    and a Categorical Delusion.

    Traffic calming, including bike lanes, nearly always rates as a Categorical Exclusion.

    Widening roads, increasing motor vehicle capacity, does not qualify as a CE, and may in fact trigger Major Capital Investment Review, Environmental Reviews and even EIS reviews.

    To think otherwise is a Major Delusion.

    Maybe Oddo is trying to bring back Robert Moses, the Darth Vader of Urban Planning. Oddo conveniently forgets that Moses tore a new asshole through Bay Ridge and much of Staten Island in the late 1950’s to build his Verrazano-Narrows Bridge. Thousands of people were thrown out of their houses.

    And in the end, though the VNB was designed for two bike/ped paths, Moses took the paths out of the final build. The space is still waiting there to be completed.

    Moses’ overreaching was the source and cause of the present environmental review laws. Moses was so over the top, so insensitive and intolerant of anyone else’s opinions, that he poisoned the planning pot. The rules put in place to prevent another Moses Death Star from being built are perhaps too strong, but they are the result of a legitimate hypersensitive reaction.

    PS: prior to Moses and the VNB, SI had the population density of an outer NY Metro suburb, looser than Nassau or Bergen Counties.

  • Larry Littlefield

    “Moses was so over the top, so insensitive and intolerant of anyone else’s opinions, that he poisoned the planning pot. The rules put in place to prevent another Moses Death Star from being built are perhaps too strong, but they are the result of a legitimate hypersensitive reaction.”

    Two rules of public policy around here: the principle of permanent vested interests, who control anything related to money, and the principle of oscillating stupidity, the result of games played about everything else.

    With regard to the approval process for land use and infrastructure, I think the last few years have been fairly balanced between the Moses bulldozer and the NIMBY nuts 1980s and 1990s.

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