Streetsblog continues our series on City Council candidates with a look at the race for District 6 in Manhattan, covering the Upper West Side. The seat has been held by Gale Brewer, who is term-limited, since 2002.
Six Democratic Party candidates are vying for the seat: real estate executive Ken Biberaj, Democratic State Committeewoman Debra Cooper, education activist Noah Gotbaum, Democratic Party District Leader Marc Landis, and former Community Board 7 chairs Helen Rosenthal and Mel Wymore. They are joined by Green Party candidate Tom Siracuse.
Streetsblog sent questionnaires to the campaigns to get a better understanding of where the candidates stand on transit, traffic safety, and transportation policy. We begin today in alphabetical order with responses from Ken Biberaj and will run answers from Marc Landis, Helen Rosenthal, Tom Siracuse, and Mel Wymore in separate posts. Streetsblog did not receive questionnaire responses from Debra Cooper or Noah Gotbaum.
Streetsblog: The effort to bring protected bike lanes to the Upper West Side continues to face hurdles from some community board members. Do you think the lanes are a benefit for the neighborhood? Do you want to see them expanded and, if so, where?
Ken Biberaj: New York City is a leader nationally and globally in the effort to create greener, more sustainable communities. Finding safe ways for people to move around the city with minimal impact on our environment is a huge priority for our leadership, and I believe bike lanes are a positive step in this direction. With a rise in bicycle use, as well as the Citi Bike program being introduced this year, we can expect more cyclists on the streets, and bike lanes are necessary to ensure the safety of our citizens. With this, I think we also need to ensure that our cyclists follow appropriate traffic rules to ensure the safety of pedestrians.
SB: Outgoing Council Member Gale Brewer has been a strong supporter of closing the Central Park drives to automobile traffic. Do you also support a car-free Central Park? If so, how would you like to see a car-free Central Park implemented?
KB: I fully support a car-free Central Park. All the data and history clearly demonstrates that removing, not adding, capacity for cars will reduce congestion over time, not to mention the tremendous health benefits and opportunities getting cars out of Central Park will present. I foresee an international architecture competition to reimagine the current loop road in Central Park to better accommodate bikers, walkers, runners and add much needed green space, almost like a High Line in Central Park. This would be a win-win for the people of New York while attracting additional visitors from around the world.
SB: Citi Bike was launched last month. Plans call for the program to be expanded to the Upper West Side in the future. Do you support the siting of bike-share stations in the neighborhood?
KB: I think bringing in bike-share stations on the Upper West Side would allow for more people to have access to our businesses, museums, and restaurants. It would promote healthy behavior, and allow for more transportation options. However, we must be strategic as to where these stations are located and how this program is implemented. We must make sure bike kiosks do not block access for emergency services, deliveries and garbage removal. We must make sure that these stations do not add to the already heavily congested subway areas such as 72nd and 96th Streets. I applaud the DOT for its exhaustive consulting process with the first wave and look forward to see how they adjust the program after a few months of operating data.
SB: On the East Side, Select Bus Service on First and Second Avenues has led to faster bus speeds. Do you want dedicated bus lanes and other service improvements for bus riders on the Upper West Side, and if so, where?
KB: The East Side operates on one subway line, and therefore it is necessary to have Select Bus Service on First and Secord Avenues. I believe the challenges of the West Side are a bit different. Much of our senior population relies on local bus service to get to their destinations, and I believe that there are pockets of our community that have difficulties even accessing the existing buses. That being said, I fully support bus-only lanes, and the use of traffic-ticket cameras to support their exclusivity.
SB: How can the Council best use its powers to reduce vehicular deaths and ensure traffic justice citywide?
KB: Drivers, cyclists and pedestrians all have a responsibility to make sure they are acting in accordance with traffic regulations and street signs. However, we know that there are high-traffic places on the Upper West Side where traffic is dangerous. A large part of their danger is simply the congestion at subway stops and bowties. The DOT as made great strides in traffic calming improvements throughout the city and I’d like to see an increased focus on the Upper West Side. It has also come to my attention that the NYPD, while doing a tremendous job keeping crime down, has not exactly embraced the idea of shared streets, whether that is being over- or under-zealous with its enforcement of traffic rules for bikers or charging reckless drivers who hit pedestrians. Recently the Commissioner has commented that the NYPD will improve in this area and I truly hope they do.
SB: The MTA is a state agency, but what actions would you like to see the City Council take to fund and expand transit service?
KB: The only way for the MTA to be a world leader is for it to have a source of consistent funding that is not reliant on the political machinations of Albany. I know this may sound controversial but I fully support a well thought out and planned congestion pricing program, coupled with residential parking permits and smart “dynamic” pricing of street spaces (like in San Francisco). Additionally, I support making the appropriate investments in our city’s infrastructure to strengthen our transit systems.