At Forum, Mayoral Candidates Back Bus Lanes, Shy Away From Funding

Democratic (top) and Republican and independent (bottom) candidates for mayor talked transportation this morning. Photo: Stephen Miller

At a mayoral forum on transportation this morning, the first since a February event hosted by Transport Workers Union Local 100, eight candidates offered ideas on how they would improve the city’s road and transit network. For the most part, the candidates were eager to support buses, quick to get agitated about bike lanes, and short on realistic ideas for how to fund their plans.

The forum, organized by the University Transportation Research Center, packed a room with over 200 students and transportation professionals at Baruch College, with questions posed to the candidates by a lineup of experts. There were two panels: the Republican and independent candidates — Adolfo Carrión, John Catsimatidis, Joe Lhota, and George McDonald — followed Democratic candidates Sal Albanese, John Liu, Bill Thompson, and Anthony Weiner. Bill de Blasio and Christine Quinn did not show, leaving empty seats behind their name tags.

Many of the candidates wanted more mayoral control over the city’s transit network, if not an outright transfer of responsibility from the state. While city control of subways and buses is unlikely, Lhota said, “that doesn’t mean we shouldn’t bring it up.” Even without full control, he said, the mayor can exert influence through MTA board appointments, providing operating subsidies, and adding bus lanes.

The candidates all cited the need to expand the bus network, particularly Select Bus Service and express buses; many of them also spoke highly of ferries, which require substantial subsidies.

Albanese, Carrión, and McDonald all endorsed “Gridlock” Sam Schwartz’s “fair toll” plan, which would increase or add bridge tolls where there are transit options while cutting tolls where transit is scarcer. Albanese said he would split revenue from the toll plan: Three-quarters of it would go to transit operations, with the goal of reducing the pressure for fare hikes, and a quarter would go to capital investment. McDonald, citing the MTA’s growing operating budget, driven by labor and debt costs, said he would dedicate all of the program’s revenue to capital investments.

Catsimatidis said that he opposes any proposal that would add or increase tolls, while Thompson repeated his long-standing call for assessing vehicle registration fees by weight and reinstating the commuter tax, which would be dedicated exclusively to transit. Liu, while calling a return of the commuter tax unrealistic, said Congress should allocate more funds to transit.

Albanese and Carrión both said they would create a national coalition of mayors to advocate for more federal investment in transit, using Bloomberg’s Mayors Against Illegal Guns as a model.

Liu also said the city should use revenue from real estate development in the outer boroughs to finance bus service expansion, citing the Hudson Yards 7 train extension as a successful example of this type of funding mechanism. Lhota also spoke favorably of the 7 train extension, and called for more tax increment financing. (With real estate tax revenue falling below expectations at Hudson Yards, city tax dollars are now making up for shortfall.)

Anthony Weiner did not discuss funding mechanisms for transit investment.

In his question to the candidates, Transportation Alternatives Executive Director Paul Steely White noted that bike-share and bike lanes enjoy higher approval ratings than the mayoral candidates, a fact that Weiner mocked. “I actually have some polling here that says that a proposal to give rocket packs to every citizen to fly to work has 90 percent, so congratulations on your polling,” he said, before reiterating that while he calls himself “a pro-bike Democrat” and uses Citi Bike, he believes “there are good bike lanes and bad bike lanes.” Weiner once again claimed that the Broadway bike lane near his apartment hinders commercial deliveries and impedes emergency response.

Liu said he is an “avid cyclist,” but claimed that bike lanes were only really necessary in Manhattan. “The city is still insisting on a one-size fits all model,” he said. “The hazards from trucks and buses and cars are not as great as they are in Manhattan.”

Liu, Thompson, and Weiner all couched their opposition to bike lanes in objections to the planning process. Weiner said that the administration “has been dripping with condescension” when it works with communities on bike lanes. “It comes back to making sure that communities are involved in the discussion,” Thompson said.

Once again, Sal Albanese was the only Democrat to offer a reality check to the rest of the field. “All the bike lanes that have been put into place have been put into place with community input,” Albanese said. “The bottom line is that it’s great for the city.” Carrión and McDonald also offered full-throated endorsements of bike lanes.

The forum included its fair share of questionable ideas from the candidates. Lhota proposed building park-and-ride facilities at the ends of subway lines so suburbanites could park and pay a $2.50 subway fare, instead of using Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North. He also championed extending subway lines in the outer boroughs, including a new subway tunnel from Bay Ridge to Staten Island, while Catsimatidis said the city should consider a monorail along the Long Island Expressway.

  • Why does Weiner still have political aspirations?

  • Morris Zapp

    Congratulations on your polling. Zing!

    But seriously: Douche.

  • I can prove to “avid cyclist” Anthony Weiner that the Broadway bicycle lane doesn’t obstruct deliveries. I could simply take him for a ride on his avid bicycle along the lane. It is constantly obstructed with deliveries, pedestrians, cop cars and, sometimes, just a car that wants to go fast away from other cars.

    It’s pretty useless as a bike lane, of course, but that’s another story.

  • Liu said he is an “avid cyclist,” but claimed that bike lanes were only really necessary in Manhattan.

    Wow. That is really depressing. At least I know one person I’m NOT going to vote for. Not EVER. He’s ready to shaft the Bronx, Queens and Brooklyn!

    How is Manhattan different? Washington Heights has the Exact same built environment as the south Bronx. Harlem is like much of Brooklyn. This is really clueless!

  • Guest

    The forum included its fair share of questionable ideas from the candidates. Lhota proposed building park-and-ride facilities at the ends of subway lines so suburbanites could park and pay a $2.50 subway fare, instead of using Long Island Rail Road or Metro-North.

  • UnknownBird

    Do the neighborhoods at the end of the subway lines really want giant parking lots? I wouldn’t.

  • Morris Zapp

    I’ll elaborate, in case the candidates or their operatives are reading.

    I’m a one issue voter. My issue is the physical well being of my loved ones and myself. Clearly Anthony Weiner does not understand this, and does not care to.

    Your little zinger cost you my vote, Weiner. Was it worth it?

  • Anon commuter

    Weiner had the smartest and accurate comment in regards to Bill Thompson sitting on the Battery Park Authorities Board. What exactly does he do on that Board and why is the Battery Park Authority still in existence.

  • Nolan

    if I remember correctly all of the candidates supported SelectBusService expansion (except for Cats), but none said anything explicitly about bus lanes.

  • Nolan

    if I remember correctly all of the candidates supported SelectBusService expansion (except for Cats), but none said anything explicitly about bus lanes.

  • Anonymous

    “I actually have some polling here that says that ‘Is Anthony Weiner a condescending, out-of-touch has-been?’ has 90 percent, so congratulations on your polling,”

  • Andrew

    The candidates all cited the need to expand the bus network, particularly Select Bus Service and express buses; many of them also spoke highly of ferries, which require substantial subsidies.

    Any particular reason you add that ferries require substantial subsidies (which is accurate) but not that the same applies to express buses?

    Going back to 2010, prior to the service cuts (because that’s the data I’ve seen), NYCT weekday express bus riders paid an average of $4.22 per trip for a ride costing an average of $16.42 – a subsidy of $12.20 per trip. MTA Bus weekday express bus riders paid an average of $4.18 per trip for a ride costing an average of $17.98 – a subsidy of $13.80 per trip.

    Local bus riders receive far less of a subsidy: on NYCT, $1.59 per trip (average fare paid of $1.14 compared to a cost of $2.73); on MTA Bus, $3.35 per trip (average fare paid of $1.28 compared to a cost of $4.63).

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Aha-LfXMlWNBdFpZajNOUnNmRkpTSGl2UjRjS2x4eEE&hl=en#gid=0

    https://docs.google.com/spreadsheet/ccc?key=0Aha-LfXMlWNBdHd4QkhLRF92cURWNWdSbzNfSjJwWWc&hl=en#gid=2

    And this isn’t because express bus riders are in greater need of subsidy. On the contrary, express buses largely serve upper middle class neighborhoods. Many express bus riders look down on the very subway and local bus riders who are subsidizing their rides.

    If we had unlimited funding for transit, then express buses are a nice luxury. But I think most Streetsblog readers are aware that we don’t. Just as we shouldn’t bleed the core subway/local bus system by focusing on ferries, we also shouldn’t bleed the core subway/local bus system by focusing on express buses.

  • Ben Kintisch

    I’m glad that SBS, once a radical new experiment, is now a new transportation option to be endorsed by most candidates. Kind of lame how they talk about bike infrastructure, though.

  • Daphna

    Select Bus Service is different than express buses. SBS buses are the local buses. SBS treatment just gives them off-board fare payment and a dedicated bus lane pigmented red.

    Thank you for that information about the NYCT and MTA express buses. I am disturbed to find out there is a $12.20 or $13.80 subsidy per trip on those.

  • Daphna

    NY State Senator Bill Perkins still thinks SBS is a radical new experiment unfortunately. He needs to be educated and would benefit from learning from some of these candidates. He and a tiny number of Manhattan Community Board 9 and 10 members were so vocal in their fear of change that they got the SBS plan for 125th Street cut in half.

    Even the remaining half of the plan, from Lenox to 2nd Avenue is in jeopardy because the Transportation Committee of CB11 has revoked their support. This committee voted to support the plan in May and revoked their support for the same plan in June. They still like the plan and have no complaints about it, but they want the M35 to change its route by 1 block and are withholding their support for 125th Street M60 SBS until they get the M35 to return to Randall’s Island via 125th Street instead of 124th Street. Their issue with the M35 has nothing to do with transportation but has to do with the homeless/mentally ill population who take that bus from Randall’s Island to East Harlem. Some on the Transportation Committee of CB11 are fixated on having the M35 stop changed by half a block – as if that will somehow put the “undesirables” in a more manageable place. Meanwhile 33,000 bus riders a day are stuck in traffic on a dysfunctional street without appropriate curbside regulations, with tons of double parking, and with 2.7mph average bus speeds – about 6mph slower than average NYC buses.

  • Daphna

    That is a good distinction to make. Supporting something in concept, like Select Bus Service, is a rather useless type of support if a future mayor does not back that up with the courage to assign dedicated street space to it in the form of dedicated bus lanes.

    It is easy to support SBS or biking in theory; the real test comes when street space must be re-allocated to give dedicated space to a bus route or to bicyclists.

  • Anonymous

    Yes.

  • Anonymous

    Boats are holes in the water that you fill with money to keep afloat. That includes ferries. They also have capacity problems, particularly with adding bikes. There appropriate places for ferries where the marginal cost of the boat is less than other transit, but that’s a limited subset. Much like express buses.

  • Anonymous

    There are reasons I dislike bus service, and prefer bicycles and rail. You list above includes are several of those reasons.

  • SBS is Limited-Stop service plus added benefits. Local service is too many f***ing stops. Thats the difference.

  • Joe R.

    I’ll be on board for this idea as soon as we extend all the subway lines to city limits so the huge garages are in Long Island. The concept actually isn’t a bad one if modified slightly. End the expressways coming from Long Island or upstate NY at city limits. Put in huge parking garages near the last stop on the subway. That will end the influx of suburban auto commuters for good.

  • Joe R.

    Same here. I’m not seeing much point to a form of motorized transportation which averages walking speed, or at best the speed a slow cyclist can maintain. Either speed the buses up, or just replace them with something which is faster.

  • Joe R.

    I’m glad to see the two buses local to me (Q64 and Q65) have good farebox recovery ratios. I figured they would-both lines are pretty busy.

  • Joe R.

    I personally feel we need good bicycle infrastructure MORE in the outer boroughs than in a place like Manhattan which already has great transportation options for many trips. The bicycle infrastructure we did build in Manhattan for the most part wasn’t even done right in that it doesn’t make cycling any faster, and has marginal safety benefit (even if the perceived safety benefit is rather high). We should have just focused on upgrading the Hudson and East river greenways, while also building something similar right in the middle of the island.

    Liu claims the outer boroughs don’t need more cycling infrastructure. Here are several good reasons why they do:

    1) The traffic on major arterials, which are often the only viable thru routes, is fast and aggressive most times of the day. You also have double-parked vehicles galore, jaywalking pedestrians, and school buses.

    2) Thanks to heavy truck/bus traffic, the pavement on said arterials is in exceedingly poor condition. If anyone doubts this, take a ride up Hillside Avenue, Jamaica Avenue, Queens Boulevard, just to name a few.

    3) The arterials are littered with traffic signals which are exceedingly poorly timed, if they’re timed at all. You’re left with the usual choice-run red lights or average not much better than walking speed.

    4) The few “good” bike routes which exist generally don’t really go all that far, and often don’t connect to each other.

    My proposal:

    1) Extend infrastructure similar to what exists along the Belt Parkway and a few other places along all the city’s expressways. This creates a barebones trunk network of non-stop bike routes which cyclists can use to get within a few miles of their final destination.

    2) Supplement 1) with non-stop bike routes along or parallel to major arterials. In many cases this is easy. For example, the LIRR runs above grade a block from Jamaica Avenue. You can hang bike lanes off the viaducts. Same thing with the #7 which runs along Queens Boulevard and Roosevelt Avenue. That can even connect neatly to the Queensboro Bridge. Leverage what exists as much as possible, fill in the gaps with purpose built above grade infrastructure.

    3) The first two items should be enough so most cyclists are within 1/2 mile of non-stop bike highways. That’s good enough. Non-arterial local streets can generally suffice for the remainder of the journey. In some instances they may need a bike lane. In many others they’ll suffice as is.

    The beauty of this idea is it draws on one of the strengths of the road network in the outer boroughs. Most of the streets are perfectly bikeable with little or no modification. The problem is they really aren’t contiguous. They’ll do fine for the last 1/2 mile or so but you need something safe, fast, and efficient to cover the rest of the trip. The arterials as they are now aren’t up to that task for the reasons I mentioned.

  • Anonymous

    I live in terror every time I ride on Queens Blvd. I can’t BELIEVE I voted for that jerk. Never again.

  • Bolwerk

    Monorails and more buses? The usual dumb, generic ideas. The right answer is one that won’t be caught in a soundbite: what you build is situational, and should consider the best mode for the job, and should involve any number of modes. None of which should ever include park ‘n ride within NYC borders.

    SBS is an easy thing to promise because it promises the TWU more jobs while accomplishing little in the way of actual transit improvement. The best part (for pols) is it’s easy to shrug off when they find there is no money left. This forum is about getting TWU support, not about improving transit.

  • Bolwerk

    For the same reason he had them before he tweeted his dong. Tweeting his dong actually did nothing substantive to hurt anyone, and had absolutely no meaningful impact on whether Anthony Weiner has good ideas as a politician.

    The fact of the matter is, Anthony Weiner was a right-wing populist “liberal” before he tweeted his junk, and remains one. He is bad because he hasn’t changed at all. I wish he never resigned from Congress, so that there wouldn’t be a risk of him actually becoming mayor now.

    (He’s worse on transport issues, but I think I actually prefer him overall to the neo-con frontrunner Quinn.)

  • Bolwerk

    Quelle surprise. The GOP has always seen the city as a doormat for the suburbs.

  • Miles Bader

    Who the hell builds a monorail these days?! Except in very specific circumstances (which this certainly doesn’t sound like), typical monorail designs are inferior in just about every way to plain old steel-duo-rail…

  • Bolwerk

    Heh, I dunno. About a decade ago, it was the major object of masturbation with the transit-for-everyone-else-cars-for-me crowd, as you may remember from nyc.transit or misc.transport.rail.americas. It seems that so-called bus rapid transit has largely superseded monorails in that regard, so Catsimatidis – who is arguably the George W. Bush in this field – is probably just behind on his talking points.

  • Alex Knight

    And even if they did (which I seriously doubt), where the hell would they put them? Does Lhota think we can just tear down blocks of housing to put up garages? Unlike the DC Metro and BART, our subway does not extend out into low-density, partially undeveloped areas. They terminate in dense, walkable neighborhoods that are fully developed and leave little to no room to waste on parking. He just lost a lot of cred with that boneheaded idea.

  • Anonymous

    Monorail isn’t really that inferior. The only real limitation is that monorail switches are larger, slower, and require more power than rail switches. Monorail is able to handle steeper grades and tighter curves, but is more susceptible to weather and tire wear.

    The problem with monorail is that its biggest selling point is novelty. Monorail advocates often point to a lessened visual impact of narrow beamways, but that’s often negated by safety requirements like escape catwalks and drip pans over roads.

    Also, outside of transit circles, many people conflate all modern elevated rail with monorail, calling things like JFK Airtrain and Vancouver Skytrain monorails because of their concrete guideway. Monorails do have their place, but those types of “light metro” services have largely taken it over.

  • Anonymous

    Agree. Sounds like something Professor Harold Hill sold to Springfield on “The Simpsons.”

  • Anonymous

    Liu is a lying opportunist who wants it both ways.

  • Anonymous

    Regarding Weiner’s political ambitions, I think he knows he’ll lose the primary but it makes him “viable” again. It occurs to me that Huma and he moved to Gramercy to wait out Carolyn Maloney retiring from Congress. Then it’s back to the old grind. Or maybe when Senator Chuckie is vulnerable or dies, The Wein Machine will make another opportunistic move. That’s what this guy is all about.

  • Bolwerk

    Heh. Well, whatever. He can leave New York and go to Washington and improve the politics in both places.

    But as someone holding executive authority, he crosses the line from clownish nuisance to outright dangerous.

  • Miles Bader

    Of course there are various different factors, but the thing I’ve noticed about beam-straddle monorails I’ve ridden is that they:

    Use short, narrow cars, and this reduces their capacity quite significantly

    The beam-straddle design takes up a significant amount of room in the passenger cabin for the wheels, and this furtherreduces capacity.

    Use rubber-tires, and are very noisy and rough as a result,
    and seem to be quite a bit slower than rail as well (I don’t know
    whether this is inherent or to reduce wear or something).

    The vaunted “tighter curves” seems true, but in practice means “crazy side-to-side acceleration,” i.e., uncomfortable ride.

    Of course some of those points are shared with rubber-tired non-monorails, e.g. “people movers,” and indeed, buses.

    Anyway,

  • Anonymous

    Strange, my personal impression of rubber-tired subway train cars (which I’ve seen in Montreal, Paris, and Mexico City) is that they are less noisy and less rough than the metal-wheeled cars found in NYC and many other places.

    I can’t speak for monorails, though.

  • Miles Bader

    Aren’t the Montreal/Paris cars “rubber around steel”?

    The sort of rubber tires monorails (and the Yurikamome line) seem to use are more like auto/truck tires, and get very noisy as speed increases (which I imagine is one reason they keep the speed down).

    Steel-on-steel by contrast, can be almost silent if the track is in good condition and the curves aren’t tight, even at high (for local transit) speeds.

  • Anonymous

    I’d like to see proposals to improve transit performance without additional capital investment, since it doesn’t seem like there will be any new money for capital budget anytime soon.

    I think there are large parts of city, in all boroughs, where it would be beneficial to have fewer bus lines, but for the remaining lines to have better service. There is so much redundancy in the bus system, with multiple lines running on the same route for much of their run. In any stretch where multiple lines run along the same route, one of the lines should either eliminate that section from its route, or else run express and skip all local stops in that section.

    Local buses are really terrible for trips longer than a couple miles. They are best for linking areas that have no direct subway connections, or for getting to/from the subway for areas that are beyond walking distance from the closest stop. There are a few exception to this rule, but by and large the city would benefit if most local bus routes were no longer than a few miles, and followed more of a hub and spoke layout instead of making long runs.

    Bus routes are the easiest and cheapest part of the transit system to change. One of the selling points of SBS or BRT is that surface transit can be re-routed far more easily than rails and tunnels, and yet we are not taking advantage of this flexibility.

  • Bolwerk

    You can’t speak for conventional rail in general either. In many places, it is so quiet that it’s actually something of a danger because people don’t hear it.

    Raelly, any mode can be pretty quiet – though engines running on fossil fuels are usually pretty noisy, so a diesel train is probably gonna be louder than an electric trolley-bus.

  • Anonymous

    Most monorail systems have cars with similar width to rail, usually 9 to 10 feet. The cars are usually shorter than rail, and articulated rather than coupled. They might have less capacity per car, but for trains of the same length, the capacity would be the same.

    Early Alweg monorails did have wheel wells in the cabin, usually with seats over them. More recent designs simply raise the height of the floor over the beam, so the load wheels are beneath the floor.

    Rubber-tired metros in France, Montreal, and elsewhere are well regarded for their quiet ride. Tires do have some impact on acceleration, but not speed.

    Tighter curves don’t turn it into a roller coaster. It’s a feature that’s there when you need it, but most curves would be no different then rail. I’ve been on some subways that can really slam you around going through switches too.

    Monorails can be set up just like rail systems, without sacrificing capacity, speed, or comfort. But if you’re going to set it up to run like a rail system, why not just run a rail system? Unless tight curves, steep grades, or some other factor rule out conventional rail, monorail is just a different way of accomplishing the same thing.

  • Joe R.

    In addition, anything with rubber tires is at an efficiency disadvantage over rail. Rubber tires of the type used on monorails have a coefficient of rolling resistance similar to truck tires-about 0.007. Steel wheel on steel rail has a crr of 0.0008 to 0.002, depending upon wheel/rail condition, bearing type, temperature, and curvature.

  • Andrew

    I’m aware of the distinction, but I probably could have made it clearer in my comment. Thanks.

  • Andrew

    That’s absurd. The M35 uses 124th instead of 125th because, to get onto 125th, it would have to make a left turn from the right lane. What difference does it make?

  • Andrew

    One of the common purposes of branching (the phenomenon you describe in your first paragraph, with multiple bus routes sharing a common trunk for some distance) is to provide adequate service to a busy corridor while not overserving the extremities. Depending on ridership patterns, it sometimes (but not always) makes sense for some of the routes to make limited stops (Limited or SBS service), and many trunks are set up that way. But if most of the ridership along a trunk is short-distance local traffic, it’s probably best to leave all of the service local, so that riders have short waits.

  • Miles Bader

    Even if they did terminate in partially undeveloped areas, giant parking lots would be a pretty stupid idea … they’re a huge disincentive for better development patterns…

  • Pepe

    The current M35 bus stop location has been a problem the East Harlem community has been working to have corrected for over a decade without success. While some may have issue with the customers of that bus, there remains a very serious and dangerous sidewalk congestion issue at that bus stop location. Hundreds of individuals currently residing at facilities Randall’s Island converge on a very narrow sidewalk to board a bus at a stop that is situated directly adjacent to the 125th St subway entrance. Simply put, there is too much demand for too small a sidewalk space. Relocating to the stop to 125th Street would eliminate the problem at the current location and would not require a left turn from a right lane. Relocating the stop to 125th Street would allow waiting passengers to congregate on a very wide sidewalk without totally impeding pedestrian traffic or access to business or building entrances, while still having easy access to an entrance to the 125th St subway entrance.

    Given CB11’s past support for SBS, it stands to reason that they’d be amendable to reconsidering supporting for the 125th Street SBS if and when the M35 stop was relocated.

  • Pepe

    Relocating to the stop to 125th Street would not require a left turn from a right lane as the bus would not be required to be in the right lane to make a stop. Instead, the bus would turn left from 126th St. onto Lexington Ave, stay on the left and turn on to 125th Street.

  • Andrew

    Thanks for clarifying the issues.

    But I’m still confused. Once past the subway entrance, the sidewalk by the Duane Reade and the AHRC Fisher Center looks just as wide as the one by Pathmark. Wouldn’t pushing the M35 stop back a few feet solve the problem just as well as moving it around the corner? In fact, I see that the plans include a new bus bulb for the M35 on Lex, addressing the exact problem you’re trying to solve.

    The Pathmark location is already a bus stop for the Bx15, M60, and M100, and it is a proposed M60 SBS stop. The M35 now has a dedicated stop of its own, but by moving it around the corner, it would interfere with crosstown 125th St. service. I’m afraid I don’t see the benefit.

    Finally, even if there is merit to the proposal, I am perplexed that the community board would reject a major transit improvement simply because they’re not getting their way on a different, only tangentially related, issue. Don’t cut off your nose to spite your face. Somehow I get the sense that the people involved don’t ride buses, have no interest in riding buses, and don’t care about people who do ride buses – even though their community relies heavily on buses.

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