In Harlem Council Race, Two Very Different Positions on 125th Street SBS

Last night at a candidate debate hosted by block associations in Harlem, incumbent Council Member Inez Dickens, first elected to the District 9 seat in 2005, faced off against challenger Vince Morgan, a community development banker and former chair of the 125th Street Business Improvement District. While transportation didn’t come up much in the debate itself, some important differences between the candidates were discernible — particularly on the issue of Select Bus Service on 125th Street and the city’s plans for a waste transfer station on East 91st Street.

Council Member Inez Dickens is facing a challenge for her Harlem seat from Vince Morgan. Photos: ##http://council.nyc.gov/d9/html/members/home.shtml##NYC Council## and ##http://vincemorgan.com/##Vince Morgan##

Dickens has a history of staying publicly silent as community boards stonewall pedestrian safety and bus projects in her district. She did not respond to Streetsblog’s requests for comment when Community Board 10 asked DOT to scale back a traffic calming project on Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard. (The complete plan, and then some, was eventually implemented without a resolution of support from CB 10.)

She did not reply to repeated requests for comment about the plan for Select Bus Service on 125th Street. DOT and the MTA cancelled the SBS project after pressure from, among others, State Senator Bill Perkins and Community Board 10.

After the debate, I asked Dickens about the cancelled bus plan. “They had not talked to the community, they had not included the community board,” she said. “They did not take into consideration the local businesses along 125th Street.” In fact, the planning process for the project included a survey of local retailers, as well as representation from three community boards and the 125th Street BID.

When I asked Dickens if she supported bus lanes on the street in principle, she ignored the question and walked away, heading over to talk to aides and supporters.

Morgan took a different position. “Select Bus Service is one of these things where our local politicians have ginned up an issue where they’ve gotten completely out of whack,” he told me after the debate. “It just doesn’t make any sense that we wouldn’t have Select Bus Service on 125th Street.” Morgan added that he supports removing on-street parking from 125th Street and replacing it with bus lanes, more pedestrian space, and potentially bike lanes as well.

During the debate, in response to a question about sanitation enforcement, Morgan brought up parking tickets. “I want to extend it out beyond the unfair tickets that a lot of homeowners are getting,” he said. “Let’s talk about in the morning when you wake up, and it seems like our neighborhood is inundated with traffic enforcement that seems to just prey on communities where working people are.”

When it comes to the proposed solid waste transfer station at East 91st Street, which lies outside of the district, Morgan was equivocal. The transfer station, originally proposed for West Harlem, was moved to the East Side as part of the city’s comprehensive Solid Waste Management Plan, which aims to cut down on truck traffic and more evenly distribute environmental burdens that have disproportionately affected low-income areas.

Morgan said he opposes the transfer station at East 91st Street, and that he would be open to locating it in Harlem. “It would be silly of me to say, no, I don’t want it in Harlem, if there’s some type of accommodation that this community can get to facilitate it, like jobs, like other things that may go in to sweeten the pot,” he said.

Morgan also said there was a need for more planning work, even after the completion of the SWMP. “We need to come up with…an equitable plan so that everybody’s waste has somewhere to go,” he said during the debate. “We’ve got to come up with a plan.”

“That’s exactly what the City Council’s resolution was,” Dickens replied, referring to the SWMP. “We are right now fighting to put that transfer station right there on the East Side,” she said. “So it is not located in Harlem once more, where asthma is prolific, where heart trouble is prolific.”

After the debate, Morgan compared the marine transfer station to SBS on 125th Street. “This side wants it; they don’t want it here, they don’t want it there,” he said. “Before you get to the final solution, you’re really going to have to address those issues about neighborhoods vying against each other.”

Morgan also told Streetsblog that he supports a car-free Central Park, as well as replacing parking minimums with maximums in the zoning code. “I would like to limit the amount of parking for new development,” he said. “We live in Manhattan and we need to have more of a reliance on public transportation, and make it a little more difficult for people to own cars who don’t necessarily need them.”

Morgan expressed support for bridge tolls or congestion pricing, and wants to dedicate the revenue to schools. When I asked why he wouldn’t dedicate the funds to transit, Morgan said “the increase in those bridge tolls” should support education. In 2008, Dickens voted to support congestion pricing, with the revenue dedicated to transit.

  • JK

    About 80% of household’s in this Harlem council district don’t have a car. Of those that do have a car, few use them everyday. Please ask Inez how she gets to work at City Hall or her district office. The 2/3 train goes express from the center of her district to a couple of blocks from City Hall. Does she take it? Her district is fairly compact, how does she travel around it? What in her everyday life has anything in common with the people in her district?

  • mfs

    Morgan is too reasonable by half on the E 91st street station. SWMP was a plan that makes sure everyone’s garbage has somewhere to go. It’s time to implement it fully.

  • Mark Walker

    I once wrote to Dickens about street safety concerns and got back a surprisingly detailed email from a member of her staff who clearly knew what was going on. So to maintain this impressive level of cluelessness and inaction, she is ignoring her own staff. My address has been redistricted, so I regret that I won’t have a chance to vote for Morgan in the primary. But I hope others will do so.

  • Anonymous

    Somehow, advocating for a waste transfer station to be moved from a different neighborhood to your neighborhood doesn’t sound like a smart political strategy.

  • James

    Bridge tolls for transit is good, but education wouldn’t be an awful thing either, don’t you think, Stephen? (I’m asking because I wonder if you have a clever rejoinder to that that I haven’t thought of).

  • Reader

    I’m confused. Dickens is glad the waste transfer station won’t be located in Harlem because they already have too many people with asthma and heart problems. But she doesn’t have a position on better bus service that might take a few cars off the road. These two positions are incompatible.

    It suggests she only really cares about having some place to park her car.

  • Anonymous

    She probably has internalized the old chestnut that says that bus lanes and bike lanes create traffic congestion.

  • Anonymous

    What’s the nexus between bridge tolls and education?

    I’m not Stephen, but this is not a good thing at all. It would set a pretty bad precedent. Revenue that originates in the transportation system ought to stay in the transportation system, and the whole point behind congestion charging generally (not to mention the way the MTA already subsidizes transit with bridge and tunnel tolls) is that money from the toll is used to support transit that keeps cars off the roads and reduces congestion (and avoids the need to widen the bridge or highway). Despite this, the general public impression is already that tolls are a money grab – if you don’t dedicate the money back to transportation-related stuff, it really starts to look like a money grab.

  • Anonymous

    What’s the nexus between bridge tolls and education?

    I’m not Stephen, but this is not a good thing at all. It would set a pretty bad precedent. Revenue that originates in the transportation system ought to stay in the transportation system, and the whole point behind congestion charging generally (not to mention the way the MTA already subsidizes transit with bridge and tunnel tolls) is that money from the toll is used to support transit that keeps cars off the roads and reduces congestion (and avoids the need to widen the bridge or highway). Despite this, the general public impression is already that tolls are a money grab – if you don’t dedicate the money back to transportation-related stuff, it really starts to look like a money grab.

  • Anonymous

    What’s the nexus between bridge tolls and education?

    I’m not Stephen, but this is not a good thing at all. It would set a pretty bad precedent. Revenue that originates in the transportation system ought to stay in the transportation system, and the whole point behind congestion charging generally (not to mention the way the MTA already subsidizes transit with bridge and tunnel tolls) is that money from the toll is used to support transit that keeps cars off the roads and reduces congestion (and avoids the need to widen the bridge or highway). Despite this, the general public impression is already that tolls are a money grab – if you don’t dedicate the money back to transportation-related stuff, it really starts to look like a money grab.

  • Anonymous

    Beat me to it.

  • Alex Knight

    Totally agree. When you use the congestion pricing for transit, you’re basically saying, “Yes, this will cost more, but the money will go toward giving you a reliable alternative.” Anything else creates a bad precedent for funding government.

  • Andrew

    When I asked Dickens if she supported bus lanes on the street in principle, she ignored the question and walked away, heading over to talk to aides and supporters.

    This woman is not fit for public office. Vote her out.

  • LoLo

    when and where will the next debate between these two?

  • Julius Tajiddin

    Dear Mr. Miller: You got to get some of your facts straight. If anybody knows about any major thing going on in Harlem period, it’s going to be me. As for the traffic calming project on Adam Clayton Powell, Jr. Boulevard, Ms. Dickens was keeping a watchful eye on what was going on. It’s improper for city council members to get involved in the day to day operations of the executive branch of government. That doesn’t mean she won’t aid her constituents or facilitate a process if she sees it being neglected. But when it’s time for her to act in her capacity, she’s fully involved. If the mayor is acting outside of his authority she’s vocal. There were over a thousand petitioners who opposed the plan and these petitioners were not being properly heard on how they felt about it. She made dozens of copies of the petition and signatures so that every relevant agency and/or elected official could receive a copy. As a result, the full plan was not implemented. As for the SBS, again, Ms. Dickens is watching closely. The community boards and community’s involvement is strong. Ms. Dickens’ aides are at all of the meetings. The SBS plan was never an absolute thing. It’s a work in progress. There was no deadline or definitive date when the service would take place. But whoever is for or against the plan without qualifying that his/her position is based on a prima facie showing of the plan without hearing from the public is someone you don’t want representing you. Ms. Dickens often waits to hear what her community has to say about something first before she makes statements. If the community is doing a good job she’ll get involved when the right time comes. That’s how she operates and there is nothing wrong with that. Now what you should do is ask me who has been attending these meetings. I already told you she has her aides always attending these meeting. And if a meeting is properly noticed I’m there most of the time.

  • Julius Tajiddin

    The reason why Ms. Dickens didn’t answer you is because the issue is complicated. 125th Street is a main corridor but it only has two lanes each direction. A bus lane would make it one. 34th Street (a select bus route) is wider than 125th. So you can’t compare the two. 125th is more local and has more foot traffic per area than 34th. There are more stake holders than 34th Street because the 125th area is more residential. In fact east of 5th Avenue and West of St. Nicholas is very residential. So to ask her in principal about bus lanes would be to ask her if she likes the idea of bus lanes. You didn’t ask her that. You said, “supported bus lanes on the street.” Harlem has a different character to it than other commercial districts because of its hybrid character. Harlem also has a distinct history period. Unless you know that history you can’t make general statements. So Ms. Dickens wasn’t going to spend time with a loaded question like that because city council isn’t involved.

  • Julius Tajiddin

    Reader: Read my comments above about better bus service. Unless you hear all of the pros and cons about the bus service plan you will make statements like you’re making. But as to the transfer station: why should Harlem have more than its share of transfer stations? Harlem does have a high asthma rate than other areas and it has less to do with traffic. Excessive construction and illegal construction are two reasons.

  • Julius Tajiddin

    Well said exdriver.

  • Julius Tajiddin

    Ms. Dickens had some health issues in the past, including major operations on her feet. So you wouldn’t be expecting her to take public transportation. But she has a lot in common with her district. She attends meetings and social events on a regular. So let’s not get petty. Let’s state things that are factual. But on a final note, I have attended meetings and rallies on every major issue affecting Harlem. Most of the time she is there or staff members attend.

  • Anonymous

    125th St has more foot traffic than 34th St? It sure doesn’t look that way to me. Could you post your data?

  • Anonymous

    Harlem has a distinct history: a history of buses crawling at 3 mph. Let’s fight to preserve that, just like you fought hard to preserve the distinct history of rampant speeding and death on Adam Clayton Powell Blvd.!

  • Joe R.

    Or put more succinctly, it sounds like she won’t put support behind something until the polls say it’s popular. That’s not leadership. That’s pandering. True leaders put their support behind projects which are needed, regardless of whether or not they’re popular. I can’t say without further study if SBS falls into that category, but certainly traffic calming on Adam Clayton Powell is needed based on the death/injury statistics. In fact, it should be solely up to DOT to decide where traffic calming, bike lanes, bus lanes, daylighting, traffic signals, stop signs, and other street improvements are implemented. Neither community boards nor local City Council members are experts on these subjects, nor should they have any input. All too often the primary reason these types of projects are opposed is because it reduces the amount of free, on-street parking. The privilege to store private vehicles on city streets is exactly that-a privilege. That privilege can and should be revoked at any time the city feels it has a more logical use for the space, regardless of the feelings of local residents or businesses.

  • Joe R.

    If you reduce the number of traffic lanes from two to one then traffic will decrease because the congestion will provide a disincentive for people to drive. That’s traffic engineering 101. Making a road wider encourages more driving while making it narrower discourages driving. Same thing with parking. Decrease it and fewer people will drive. For many reasons we should be proactively taking steps citiwide to make it much more difficult and costly for nonessential street users to drive. Reducing the number of travel lanes on major throughways dovetails nicely with this. One travel lane in each direction is perfectly adequate if traffic is restricted only to essential vehicles (i.e. police, fire, delivery trucks, sanitation, paratransit).

  • Joe R.

    I agree also. As things stand the NYC Board of Education already is overfunded compared to other school systems which do a better job with less money. If you dedicate some of the money collected from bridge tolls to education, it will just disappear into a black hole like most of the prior educational funding increases. Schools have shown themselves to be very inventive when it comes to ways to spend taxpayer money while not providing tangible results. Any money collected from new bridge tolls should be put into a lock box and dedicated 100% to mass transit.

  • According to this source, pollution triggers for asthma are mainly autos and coal fired power plants. Specifically ozone, which “is produced at ground level when tailpipe pollution from cars and trucks reacts with oxygen and sunlight. Ground level ozone is a big problem in cities with lots of traffic, such as Los Angeles, Houston and New York City.”
    http://www.nrdc.org/health/effects/fasthma.asp

    Where can we find more information about Harlem’s high asthma rate having less to do with auto traffic, and more to do with construction? And shouldn’t we reduce auto use regardless, as a known source of pollution that triggers asthma?

  • Helen

    She’s there for the parties just not for the work. Interesting.

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