Vacca Watch: At Budget Hearing, Council Calms Down, Focuses on Potholes

The City Council wants more potholes filled, like this one on Linden Boulevard, but budget pressures and a harsh winter have strained DOT's capacity. Image: ##http://thedailypothole.tumblr.com/post/4141316986/in-the-shadow-of-the-van-wyck-141st-linden##NYC DOT.##

Call it the case of the missing demagoguery. Yesterday’s City Council transportation budget hearing was less notable for what was said than what wasn’t. Attacks on the city’s proposed parking meter rate increase were largely absent, and the scapegoating of bike lanes and pedestrian plazas that has dominated recent hearings in James Vacca’s committee failed to materialize. Mostly, council members just talked about potholes.

That isn’t to say that the hearing was entirely free of grandstanding. Vacca told DOT Commissioner Janette Sadik-Khan that he intended to again oppose a proposed increase in parking meter rates from 75 cents per hour to one dollar. “Increasing parking meter rates will discourage people from going to those mom and pop shops,” he argued.

And Queens Republican Dan Halloran asked whether the engineers who designed a traffic island in Little Neck that got on the wrong side of Marcia Kramer had been disciplined.

But unlike recent transportation committee hearings, neither Vacca nor other committee members put DOT on trial, and the hearing never strayed beyond garden-variety political theater. That’s somewhat surprising given the main topic of conversation: The fact that there are more potholes on city streets than ever and that there isn’t money in the budget to pay for more repair.

“There’s not enough money to get all of the pothole pieces done,” Sadik-Khan told the committee at one point. Although the city has filled 27 percent more potholes than at this point last year and increased its repaving target by 250 miles, bad winter weather left the roads in unusually bad shape. At the same time, said Sadik-Khan, the DOT’s capital plan, currently budgeted for $7 billion over the next decade, has been reduced by a full 47 percent over the last four years as the recession has led the city to slash its budget.

That might have opened the door for repeats of May’s plaza hearing, when Eric Ulrich wondered “why can’t we just get back to basics and worry more about paving the streets than we are about installing bike lanes and putting in pedestrian plazas even if people don’t want them.” Maybe it was the absence of CBS2 cameras, or maybe it’s actually sunk in that far larger forces are affecting the multi-billion dollar capital program than a few bike and pedestrian projects, but for whatever reason, no one, Ulrich included, took the bait.

In fact, a few more City Council members joined the significant number of their colleagues who have spoken in support of the plaza program. “I want to congratulate you on the plaza program, which I strongly support,” said Oliver Koppell, while Ydanis Rodriguez told Sadik-Khan that he wanted another plaza for his district in addition to the planned Plaza De Las Americas.

  • MRN

    Minor type: the current outer-borough rate is already $0.75/hr; the mayor has proposed increasing it to $1.00/hr.

  • Joe R.

    I’m glad the focus is on potholes.  This is something which causes huge problems whether you’re in a car, or on a bike.  Over 33 years of cycling, I’ve probably trashed about half a dozen rims on account of potholes, and had easily three times that number live a shorter life than they should have on account of being dented to the point where they couldn’t be trued any more.  Just last month, I hit a monster hole which busted my GPS bracket.  I’d also say probably 95% of my crashes have been on account of potholes.

    The city really needs a new model for keeping the streets in good repair.  Instead of paying to repave or repair streets, the city should pay private companies x amount per year to keep a street in good repair.  The city would check streets for smoothness every few weeks.  If a street doesn’t meet standards, the company doesn’t get paid again until it does.  In order to maximize long term profits, it will then make sense to initially rebuild the street to such high standards that it wouldn’t need to be touched for 50 years.  The initial cost will be very high, but the next 50 years will be almost pure profit.  Low standards are really the reason for potholes.  Many streets don’t have concrete subroadbeds, or have poor drainage.  All that can be fixed by rebuilding the street once and for all to high standards.  And moving the utilities to covered trenches such that Con Ed no longer has to break up the streets to access utilites. That’s another huge problem.  Often no sooner is a street repaved than ConEd breaks it up again.  Keeping streets smooth isn’t rocket science.  Many other places with traffic just as heavy as NYC manage to do it.  We need to change the culture here.

  • Former Guest

    Yeah MRN, and meters are $3.00/hr. on Broadway on the Upper West Side. ($0.50/10 minutes.) Parking there is no worse than Flushing, Whitestone or Sunnyside. Meter prices should be based on parking availability, not pure politics. Council members are screwing their driving constituents by keeping meters artificially low.

  • Brooklyn Shopper

    Can someone please sit Jimmy Vacca down in front of a video of Donald Shoup playing with Matchbox cars on Streetfilms and just help this guy understand how increasing meter rates actually HELPS mom and pop local shops and New Yorkers who use their cars for shopping?

    While you’re at it, tell Jimmy to restore Sunday parking meters. It’s insane that, on the only day that I actually ever use my car to go buy a large piece of hardware or a huge bag of groceries, I can’t find a parking spot on my local commercial strip b/c the dolts at City Council rescinded parking meters on Sundays. How is this helping local business???

  • Anonymous

    Right now it appears to be a racket as much as anything, with a built in disincentive to make lasting repairs.  Just dropping a pile of asphalt into a hole isn’t the proper way to repair it.

  • Vidro3

    someone should show Vacca this
    http://thedailypothole.tumblr.com/

  • Carmacarma

    yes, higher rates are actually a good thing.  freeing up spaces is the best way to get more traffic off streets, b/c there is less of a need circling for that cheap space if there actually were spaces available.  im not saying everything should be muni meter spaces, but certainly commercial areas.

  • Carmacarma

    yes, higher rates are actually a good thing.  freeing up spaces is the best way to get more traffic off streets, b/c there is less of a need circling for that cheap space if there actually were spaces available.  im not saying everything should be muni meter spaces, but certainly commercial areas.

  • carma

    ive busted car tires going over potholes.  but seriously, its so much more dangerous biking over bad streets than it is driving.  this winter has been brutal, but the response from DOT to fix the potholes have been equally dismal.

  • carma

    ive busted car tires going over potholes.  but seriously, its so much more dangerous biking over bad streets than it is driving.  this winter has been brutal, but the response from DOT to fix the potholes have been equally dismal.

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