They’ve Got Metrocards in Their Pockets, But Transit’s Not on Their Minds

The candidates share a laugh about distracted driving at last night's debate.

In New York — the most walkable city in America, where millions of people ride trains and buses every day — transit and street safety tend to be second- or third-tier issues in mayoral elections. At last night’s Democratic mayoral debate, none of the candidates seemed inclined to change that.

With 90 minutes and seven candidates on stage, opportunities to substantively debate any given issue were limited. Still, one question from Juan Manuel Benítez of NY1 Noticias opened the door to articulate a vision for NYC streets. Benítez asked what the candidates would like their physical imprint on the city to be, specifically citing the addition of bike lanes, pedestrian plazas, and smoking-free zones under Bloomberg. No one on stage took the opportunity to mention the largest piece of real estate that the mayor of New York directly controls: the city’s streets.

While all the major candidates had the presence of mind to bring a Metrocard with them to claim some straphanging bona fides, no one responded to Benítez with a plan to prioritize transit on NYC streets and give bus riders relief from the city’s grinding congestion. On a day when a violent Midtown cab crash was all over the news, none of the candidates told Benítez they would redesign streets to prevent injuries and deaths.

Instead, the only clues the candidates provided about their views on transportation policy and livable streets came during the “lightning round,” when they were supposed to give yes or no answers.

When asked whether they had ever texted while driving, provoking amused titters from the audience, most of the candidates wore sheepish grins, even before serial Tweeter Anthony Weiner scored the biggest laugh line of the night simply by saying yes. John Liu tried to keep the guffaws coming when he said, “I have, but I’ve never smoked pot.” And that was the closest brush with the issue of traffic violence, which injures tens of thousands of New Yorkers every year, in the whole debate.

What else did we learn from the lightning round? Quinn, de Blasio, and Weiner are the three candidates who don’t want to mandate bike helmets (Liu wants to require them for “city-sponsored programs,” a.k.a. bike-share). All the candidates except for Erick Salgado (who said he’s had a driver for the past 10 months) remembered to carry a Metrocard with them. And the candidates are mostly sticking to their previous positions on congestion pricing, the single most important transit and traffic policy proposal that’s out there.

Here’s what they said when moderator Errol Louis asked if they support it…

Sal Albanese: Yes, I have my own plan, it’s more sophisticated, called the fair tolling plan. I don’t support the Bloomberg measure.

John Liu: I did because it would have provided more outer borough mass transit options.

Christine Quinn: Yes.

Bill Thompson: Not now.

Erick Salgado: Yes.

Bill de Blasio: Did not approve of Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal, no.

Anthony Weiner: No.

  • mo-flatbush

    I was so disappointed (but not surprised, sadly) that they all — the candidates and the audience — found texting while driving an amusing subject.

  • Joe Enoch

    A total disregard of these issues seems to be a theme among all of these candidates. They talk a big game when answering a questionnaire from Transportation Alternatives, but outside of pandering to safer street advocates, you never hear a peep.

    It’s frustrating because I feel like we have momentum and unfortunately, unless someone else steps forward, we won’t have a mayoral candidate who takes this seriously and will make it a priority.

    All of these candidates are so afraid of pissing off any niche that they don’t take strong stands on anything, especially transit.

    DeBlasio’s comment about not supporting congestion pricing is particularly frightening because he’s probably the strongest bicycle advocate, but clearly he prioritizes car ownership.

  • Cycling Voter

    What in De Blasio’s record suggests he’s the “strongest bicycle advocate?” He was in council for eight years, and public advocate for three and a half. That’s 11 years to create a public record as a voice for better biking. Did he? How?

  • Anonymous

    No. He didn’t. But he’s less of a phony than Quinn. And Liu and Thompson are openly hostile towards biking.

  • Ian Turner

    Wait, does that mean that Albanese is in favor of mandatory bicycle helmets?

  • Other Cycling Voter

    I think he meant “strongest advocate for people who hate bicycle lanes.”

    http://www.streetsblog.org/2012/12/20/the-nbbl-files-ppw-foes-pursued-connections-to-reverse-public-process/

  • Anonymous

    I would have liked to have seen the candidates asked whether they would retain JSK at the DoT.

  • Who cares if de Blasio has supposedly had some sort of change of heart regarding bike lanes if he’s against congestion pricing! Honestly, I was no fan of Quinn going into this thing, but now I feel her association with Bloomberg is her best bona fide and she has the most credibility on safe cycling issues.

  • Joe Enoch

    I meant of all the candidates, I think DeBlasio is probably the strongest bike advocate and I’m basically basing that on the TA questionnaire. However, it’s hard to tell what any of these candidates actually think since they’re all just a bunch of panderers.

    It will be interesting to see who StreetsPAC will endorse…

  • vnm

    It’s a good point. But it comes down to this. Congestion pricing would be a question put before the State legislature – as we saw in 2008 (and again in 2009 with a similar proposal for bridge tolls from the Ravitch Commission’s report on funding the MTA). We would need a mayor who not only supports the concept, but would advocate for it in Albany.

    Quinn said she supports it in the abstract. That is great. But would she be likely to actively push for it? De Blasio said he didn’t support *Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal,* but he left the door open to supporting a new proposal for congestion pricing.

    So it’s up in the air as far as I’m concerned. I greatly appreciate Quinn’s support for it in 2008. She deserves credit for that, but it doesn’t mean she’s necessarily the best standard bearer for the issue if she’s not inclined to push for it actively.

  • vnm

    It’s a good point. But it comes down to this. Congestion pricing would be a question put before the State legislature – as we saw in 2008 (and again in 2009 with a similar proposal for bridge tolls from the Ravitch Commission’s report on funding the MTA). We would need a mayor who not only supports the concept, but would advocate for it in Albany.

    Quinn said she supports it in the abstract. That is great. But would she be likely to actively push for it? De Blasio said he didn’t support *Mayor Bloomberg’s proposal,* but he left the door open to supporting a new proposal for congestion pricing.

    So it’s up in the air as far as I’m concerned. I greatly appreciate Quinn’s support for it in 2008. She deserves credit for that, but it doesn’t mean she’s necessarily the best standard bearer for the issue if she’s not inclined to push for it actively.

  • de Blasio has consistently positioned himself as the anti-Bloomberg candidate. Since so much progress has been made under Bloomberg, do we really want to jeopardize that by supporting a candidate whose knee-jerk reaction is to oppose anything Bloomberg started?

  • Alex Knight

    This is in the same vein as how many people subconsciously think of car crashes: They’re just something that happens and we really can’t do anything about them, not unlike lightning strikes and tornadoes. And so long as that false perception prevails, candidates won’t push the issue. However, incidents like yesterday’s taxi crash remind the masses that there is in fact a person in charge of operating every vehicle and that they should be held accountable for their actions. It took a while to get people to hold drivers accountable for drunk driving, but it did happen. The same holds true for dangerous (sober) driving. We just need to keep working at it.

  • Anonymous

    I don’t think she wants the job. She and Amanda Burden are going to start their own consultancy and make bank.

  • Same comment I made to Brad Aaron’s similar question re Bernie / Hillary.

ALSO ON STREETSBLOG

Score the Candidates at Tonight’s Mayoral Debate

|
The first Democratic mayoral debate hosted by the Campaign Finance Board is scheduled for tonight. The debate’s sponsors — NY1, Citizens Committee of New York City, Citizens Union, Gothamist, Hispanic Federation, Transportation Alternatives, and WNYC — have developed a scorecard [PDF] so viewers can rate how the candidates performed. Streetsblog will be covering the debate tonight, […]

This Week: Debates Galore and a Big Party

|
With the September 10 Democratic primary coming up in just three weeks, the Streetsblog calendar is packed with candidate debates. On Thursday you can schmooze about the politics of livable streets in NYC and celebrate a big milestone for Transportation Alternatives at the organization’s 40th anniversary bash. Tuesday: Candidates running to represent the 38th District […]